Multiple actions to empty the centres: new testimonies by retainees


At the time when, to confront the Coronavirus, several retention cetres are emptied in France, others are burning in Italy, the closed centres of Belgium are still quite full. Full of retainees who have no or very few information. We get loads of phone calls by retainees who are extremely stressed out by the situation. 

In several centres, the retainees try to resist and make themselves heard by organising meetings, collective actions, demonstrations, gatherings with the management of the centres, hunger strikes and sometimes also less pacifist actions. Their protests are often repressed, notably with stays in confinement cells as retaliatory measures. Article by Knack:

Last week, a few people retained in wing L of the 127bis closed centre who were totally exasperated “got nuts” and expressed their anger by protesting.  “It was real war”, told us one witness. Their rebellion was punished and several were placed in confinement cells. 
Beginning of March, among the 700 people retained, from 200 to 300 were spontaneously released, only the ‘sick and vulnerable’ ones, according to the Foreigners Office. Nevertheless, these releases happen very slowly and randomly, at the discretion of the Foreigners Office who would fear not to convey a ‘good image’ if they released everybody in one go.

Formal notices and appeals to courts against the illegality of retentions during the Coronavirus crisis enable the release of several retainees, but the closed centres still retain a certain number of persons. It is outrageous that retainees are only released thanks to the intervention of third parties because of the illegal nature of these retentions. Several social assistants even try to dissuade retainees to follow their steps because “if they take a lawyer it will prevent their release”. 

Inside the closed centres, the stress caused by the situation is extremely high. Most of the retainees only get information through television. They live with thefear that the virus enters the closed centre through the staff who work there and continue to go back and forth from inside to outside. 
“In the prison next door, in Turnhout, one person was positively tested to the coronavirus, I am worried, I saw that on TV. In the prison of Forest too. Everybody here is worried because for sure there are people infected here. 60 people are working every day here in the centre. The situation is really dangerous. We don’t get any information, they do not tell us anything. They release certain people because they have to reduce the numbers, but others remain here, we don’t know why, although we didn’t do nothing wrong”, tells us a retainee in Merksplas.

The retainees are well aware of the difference there is between their fate and what is happening outside. The hygiene conditions are very bad and dangerous. The retainees are still several in their rooms, in the common spaces like the refectories, the bathrooms, etc. Very few measures are being taken, there are almost no masks, gloves, disinfectant gel for the staff or the retainees. 

In the Merksplas closed centre: “We are three per room and we use the same toilets and shower, and 20 people are very close to each other in this block.  Nothing is done to protect us from the virus, we are eating and playing together, we are touching the same doors and we are smoking in the same room. Many people are working in this block, who come and go. Nobody wears a mask here and there is no machine to control the virus. We saw on TV that two retainees of Merksplas are infected. If everybody falls sick, what will they do? They should empty and close the centre so that everybody may remain in good health!” 

In Bruges and Holsbeek closed centres, “medication is given from hand to hand, withouth gloves nor masks”.

Besides, a parliamentary visit was even refused at the closed centre in Vottem (Liege). No control from the outside is possible for the moment.

In the centres, some have been retained for several months. One of them has been expecting his deportation to Bengladesh for 8 months. Others are under the so-called double penalty, i.e situations where people were convicted to sentences for public disorder, served their sentences, and once out of jail are directly transferred to a closed centre to be deported. Some of them have parents, wives and children here in Belgium.

We call for the immediate release of all the retainees in closed centres. It is unacceptable that they are kept retained behind these walls whilst all of Belgium is under confinement. We call for the definitive closure of all the centres, camps, hotspots, as well as for the regularisation of all the undocumented. 

FREEDOM FOR ALL, with or without documents. 

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