We regularly receive increasingly desperate calls or messages from people still being retained in the closed centre in Vottem (CIV).
« We are the forgotten of the Kingdom of Belgium, help me”.
They still are approx. 30 who ignore why they have to remain imprisoned whereas approx. 80 others have been released.
The release requests introduced by their lawyers, who really made a heavy job, jointly, based on the coronavirus pandemy and the current impossibility to send them back in the countries of origin (or another one), give mixed results: when the judge instructs the release, it is often followed by an appeal from the Foreigners Office and it takes several weeks. And time is very slow when one is imprisoned.
They are obviously all very worried about their health: in this pandemy, they assert that social distancing is not respected, and it is rare to see a security guard wearing a mask. If every retainee has shower gel, often insufficently, they do not have soap to wash their hands, unless they buy it themselves at the “shop” in the centre.
After many remarks by a retainee to the staff about the lack of individual protection and the disrespect of social distancing, he was firstly told that this was going to be discussed during a meeting, then he was placed in solitary confinement (courtyard forbidden, no internet, and alone) in a “disgusting” cell. He no longer has contacts with his co-retainees except on the phone. The reason they gave him, after him asking several times is: “You may provoke a rebellion when asking for better sanitary measures.”
When they had visits from family or friends, they still could get tobacco and a little money to buy cigarettes or waffles from the distributors, but since the visits have been forbidden, they are even more deprived. The CRACPE gave a little support, like us who continued sending phone recharges through text messages thanks to the emergency mobile phone set up since the start of the quarantine, which also allows us to have a constant contact with the retainees.
Many have family in Belgium, sometimes even wives and children, and the fact of not seeing them adds to the psychological stress of their retention. Others have their families very far, or in another European country; the whole world is affected by COVID-19. They fear for their health but also for their families’.
We heard that the staff of the centre led work stoppages; claiming for a risk premium. For us, it is obvious that such a promiscuity with so few protection means increases the risk of propagation of the virus, both for the staff and for the retainees.
For that reason, and because the function per se of closed centres, according to law, i.e implement deportation measures, became purposeless, seen the current situation, we call for the immediate release of all the retainees and in all the closed centres of Belgium.
Of course, we maintain our main demands: that closed centres be abolished and that deportations be stopped, as well as the demand to regularise the undocumented. At the time when agriculture lacks workers but also elderly houses, hospitals etc. all the undocumented we know are willing to put their skills at the service of the community!
Also a call by a lawyer:
The Foreigners Office is relentless
Even after disgusting images on the retention conditions in the Merksplas closed centre were diffused, the Foreigners Office remains relentless on some files so as to maintain foreigners in retention.
While the courts are pronouncing releases on the basis of the illegality of retentions, the Foreigners Office makes appeals, which extends the retention of at least two weeks and obliges the court of appeal and the lawyers to meet during quarantine.
Retentions are clearly illegal since in theory they should only serve for deportations which are currently impossible.
Above all, retentions are criminal since they go on in a quarantine period and under conditions of promiscuity and insalubrity which are unworthy of a country like Belgium. The conditions in the five closed centres in Belgium are unspeakable and it must end.
Once again, we demand the release of all the people retained in the closed centres.