News from the detention centres – December 2023

Not enough phones at Bruges detention centre
For several weeks now, detainees in Bruges have rarely received a SIM card, and received no telephone. Around twenty inmates in several wings of the centre with which we are in contact are said to be in this situation. After insisting with management, many have finally received a SIM card but still no phone. Some inmates are forced to share a single phone and a single SIM card. Those who have obtained a SIM card have to put it in their cellmates’ phones from time to time in order to be able to make calls. The staff tells them that their stock of phones has run out. 
    “We’re fighting to get access to the phone. It’s really difficult. I’ve been to several centres, but I’ve never seen anything like that! It’s a shame.”
Telephones and SIM cards are essential for people in detention, as the phone is the only means of contact with the outside world. The centre is legally obliged to provide them with a SIM card. However, prisoners have to buy their own phones. Getting the Voice Out sent five phones to one of the wings to help them out; they have received them and will be sharing them.
Crackdown at Merksplas detention centre
A prisoner locked up in Merksplas told us about the completely disproportionate reaction of the centre’s staff when he simply asked for an extra portion of rice during his meal. As a result, he ended up in solitary confinement.
    “They put people in solitary confinement for rice. They put people in solitary confinement for asking for medical assistance. It’s the middle of winter, there’s no heating in the rooms. What’s that? It has to be made public, people have to know. We’re here, speechless. We’re being mistreated like cattle in the middle of Europe. You [Europeans] travel everywhere saying “human rights, human rights”. Where are the human rights? Brussels decides to kill people. Everyone needs to know what’s going on here.”
Collective deportation to Guinea cancelled thanks to mobilisation
A collective flight to Guinea was scheduled for Tuesday 19 December. To oppose the expulsion, members of the Guinean diaspora and their supporters mobilised and demonstrated in front of the Guinean Embassy to put pressure on the Embassy not to issue the entry passes, so that the expulsion could not take place. At the rally, after discussions with members of the Embassy, we learned that the passes had initially been requested directly in Guinea. Eventually, the Embassy announced that it was going to proceed with an analysis of each specific situation, and that the collective expulsion could therefore not take place on the planned date.
Following the media coverage of this situation, the Guinean Minister of Foreign Affairs, Morissanda Kouyaté, who had previously stated that he would no longer accept “the uncontrolled repatriation of its nationals”, reacted by stating that “faced with the specific case of a charter flight preparing to send Guineans from Belgium back to Guinea, I have activated the crisis unit of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”.
We are firmly opposed to the idea of a case-by-case analysis, and therefore to the idea that anyone could be forcibly repatriated. The collective expulsion planned for 19 December was successfully avoided, but the mobilisation continues!
Recap of the demonstration against detention centres
Following a call from several groups, 150 people travelled to Steenokkerzeel on Saturday 9 December 2023 to demonstrate in front of the two detention centres in the Brussels area, 127bis and Caricole. The demonstration was an opportunity to condemn the confinement, deportation and criminalisation of undocumented people, and to show solidarity with those in detention by reaffirming their right to freedom of movement and settlement. Arriving in front of centre 127bis, the demonstrators saw that the detainees had been moved to other wings, out of sight and out of touch. A few hundred metres away, in front of the Caricole centre, the demonstrators managed to make contact with the detainees from the windows of the building.
    “In any case, to see that all these people had come together to support us, to see that we’re not all alone and that people are thinking about us, that warms our hearts.”
This mobilisation was an opportunity to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the law on the detention of undocumented migrants (law of 9 May 1993), as well as the 25th anniversary of the death of Semira Adamu by police officers during a deportation, and the 5th anniversary of the murder of two-year-old Mawda, who was killed by police during a chase at the border. 2023 is also the year of Tamazi Rasoian’s death, which took place in unclear circumstances at the Merksplas detention centre in February. A fund is still being set up to provide financial support to the family in their fight for truth and justice.
Torture in a detention centre
A man that has been detained in a detention centre for over a year has been hold in total isolation for 10 months. He never sees anyone except NGOs, which have visiting rights. His physical and mental state is deteriorating by the day. This amounts to real torture. “It’s like Guantánamo”, he tells us.
Second death in 2023 at Merksplas detention centre
On 25 December 2023, a man in his forties was found dead in an isolation cell at the Merksplas detention centre. A first inmate informed us that the person concerned was in block 3 and that he was then placed in isolation because he was seeking medical treatment. According to another inmate, his request for medical attention followed a beating by the police. Another source told us that he was subject to the Dublin regulation and was therefore due to be deported to Germany this week. Clearly, according to his fellow detainees, this tragedy is “the result of the poor conditions” and inhumane treatment they receive. The following day, on December the 26th, at around 10am, the management announced to the inmates that this man had died, having committed suicide by hanging himself with his belt.
On 26 December, some of his closest fellow inmates went on hunger strike for a day, marked by grief. But, as is always the case when detainees put up resistance, regardless of the tragic circumstances that led them to do so, they were threatened with repression by the staff. 
Our thoughts are with the victim, and our solidarity with his fellow inmates and his family.
Full article:
Reports of police brutality at Zaventem and Charleroi airports
We regularly receive reports of police violence during attempted forced evictions.
    “I was stripped naked and strip-searched, handcuffed and heavily belted. I was carried onto the plane. […] Then they pushed me with my head down between my knees and took me by the hair by two cops… I kept shouting. That went on for 15 minutes. I was suffocating. Then they straightened me up for 1 minute, then upside down again. I thought I was going to die […]”.
    “As I sat there, I shouted for help in French and then in English. They pressed my head down as hard as they could, then released me just as I was starting to lose consciousness”.
We denounce these shameful and unspeakable acts perpetrated by public officials, who are paid for their racist and sickly behaviour towards people in extremely vulnerable situations. And they do so out of sight, without any monitoring. 
Full article:
Again and again, people in prison express their anger and indignation at the violence of the prison environment and the injustice of their situation:
    “We’re not treated well. It’s really difficult. We have to do something. Where are human rights? Everyone waits their turn.”
    – An inmate at the Bruges detention centre
    “Because we don’t fit into the system, we’re kidnapped, locked up and thrown out like rubbish. It’s simply racism. I left my country when I was 15, brought there by some friends after my father died. I was dragged all over Europe. I have to go to my country’s embassy to identify myself, but there’s no trace of me in my country. What are they going to do? Why are they keeping us? Because we’re black? We’re trash to them. Let me live my life. I can live without being part of the system. That’s my right.”
    – An inmate in a detention centre  
We reiterate our unconditional solidarity with all those locked up and their loved ones. 
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