(Non)management of the coronavirus in closed centres, between abandonment and repression. Testimony06/04/2019.

For the past weeks, the whole Belgian society is being reorganised so as to follow the sanitary measures decided by the government. The whole Belgian society, well.. almost. In closed centres, prisons, psychiatric hospitals and for homeless people, the measures taken are not the same. The forgotten people of this capitalist society are still and even more subject to social inequalities, including gender and race inequalities.”We are abandoned to ourselves”, declares a retainee at the Merksplas closed centre.

Since the transmission of the virus happens through droplets, either by coughing, sneezing and/or touching objects such as door handles, food, cutlery, etc.,the measures prescribed by the Belgian sanitary services have been to avoid as far as possible that too many people find themselves in a same space, touch the same objects, in the common living spaces. 

Testimony 01-04-2020:

no measures and in case of fever you are placed in isolation cell. Last week in Merksplas, a man had 39oC fever. They placed him in confinement for 5 days although there is not even a table there to eat, and no ventilation system.They took him out and placed him back with the others without making any test. Still in Merskpas, block 3, a man tells us: there is no distancing of 1.5 meter, water in the shower is cold, there is no soap to wash your hands. We are 4 per room, the guards do not respect the distance either, and do not wear masks. Today, on the floor above block 3, they controlled the people, they took all their clotes (even their underwear) supposedly after medicine had been stolen,but they could not find anything. They brought people to the showers to search them. He says that the centre must be clsoed and that it will be closed. 
Concerning collective institutions, washing hands, objects, surfaces and wearing a mask is highly recommended in order to protect,  notably, the persons at risk  (persons suffering from chronic respiratory diseases, cardiac diseases, renal diseases or diabetes) who could have respiratory complications if they contracted the virus. However, in closed centres, persons at risk have not been detected and no prevention measures have been implemented on 6 April 2020. 

Visits have been suspended, but the workers of closed centres are doomed to leave the institution every day and have loads of contacts with many other people, contrarily to the persons retained. As far as the latest are concerned, they are never informed on the institutional decisions related to possible measures and existing cases. Already being exposed to a traumatic system (deportation threat, imprisonment, promiscuity, loss of landmarks, institutional violence, etc.), they are also exposed to the climate of societal fear surrounding the coronavirus, but with no access to information which could enable them to make individual or collective choices for their health.

Testimony 30/03/2020: 

“Now my wife and sons can’t come to visit me. I’m in block n°3 in the closed center and it’s a very critical and dangerous situation, it’s like hell. We are three in each room using the same toilets and shower and 20 people leave close to each other in this block. Nothing’s done to protect us from the virus, we eat and play together, we touch the same doors and we smoke in the same room. There’s a lot of people working there going in and out. Nobody carry masks here and there’s no machin to control the virus. We saw on TV that 2 prisonners in Merksplas’ prison got affected. If everybody get sick what are they gonna do ? Now I always stay in my room because I’m afraid also for my family. I’m so stressed up that I only eat twice a day. They have to empty and close the center so everybody can stay healthy !I saw on TV that people are dying, I want to go out and join my family. Everyday my wife calls me and cries, she’s alone working and taking care of the children.”

The retainees are subjected to a hierarchical institutionnal power, against which they have very few means of action. Some try to respond to the constant violence and injustice they face by organising themselves collectively in different ways, by revolting, by trying to speak to the director of the centre, or sharing their testimonies. Each time the repression of their acts and attempts to make their voices and choices heard is very harsh so as to stifle any kind of solidarity

Testimony : 01-04-2020:

Demonstration and isolation cells!Strike began upstairs in block 3 : Two weeks ago, people from upstairs of block 3 started a demonstration and shouted because they refused to go back inside after their lunch outside because of coronavirus. Everybody shouted in solidarity downstairs but they didn’t do no strike. The police came, 6 guys from upstairs were put in isolation cells and 4 guys from downstairs as well for 3, 4 and 5 days : ” we didn’t fight and didn’t touch anybody !”

Testimony 30/03/2020:” after lunch, (which they continue to have in the refectory), the retainees led an action, they refused to leave the room without having talked to the director. A. strongly spoke to the director, telling him that it would cost absolutely nothing to the Belgians to empty the closed centres in this crisis period, that anywaythey would be locked down at home, and above all that in 3 months, after the crisis, they would still be able to find plenty of ‘illegals’ to fill back the closed centres…’ The director finally said that he would investigate/wait for news or information from Brussels. The retainees are ready to start that again, they are waiting for news beginning of next week. If nothing comes on Monday or Tuesday, on Wednesday they will ask to speak to the director again.  A. insists on the fact that the talks will be peaceful, without violence. A.A. agrees for us to relay the information he gave us under the condition that he remains anonymous. 

Testimony 30/03/2020:

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. (…) do you follow sanitary measures? Really, nothing has changed here since the outbreak of the virus. Business as usual, at the refectory, the people serving the food wear masks and gloves. The guards don’t say a word, they don’t wear masks. We are exposed to danger constantly, everybody. We spoke to the director this morning because we should all leave the centre, it is too dangerous.  (…) Nothing changed,we go to our rooms from 10 p.m till 7.45 a.m, they lock us in. They come back to open at 7.45 a.m, we go to breakfast. In the refectory we sit as usual, then we go to the veranda where there is the snooker, the babyfoot, we play there as usual. In the room? We can all be there at the same time, which is 20 people currently.   In the bedrooms we are now three, before we were 5, but apart from that nothing has changed  (…) Please, something has to be done, otherwise we are all going to die here.

Hence, the persons retained in those centres do not have access to adequate sanitary measures and are confronted to the exacerbation of institutionnal violence. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, they are even more forgotten. In front of imprisonment and increased violence, more and more retainees get weaker,develop post-traumatic and psychosomatic symptoms(amenorrhea or heavy menstrual periods for many women; vomiting, headaches or traumatic injuries, severe depressions, even depersonalisation symptoms) or inflict this violence against themselves (escalation of self-mutilations).

Western capitalist societies rank and prioritise human beings through the system of imprisonment and borders. There are those who may access certain territories and those who may not. 
The (non) management of the coronavirus epidemy in closed centres strengthens this prioritisation. There are those who deserve their lives to be taken care of and… the others… the retainees of any kind (prisons, closed centres, psychiatric hospitals, factory workers, etc.), the unproductive of society who are usable (as shown by the call for undocumented or retainees to produce masks at a lower cost) and disposable…  

We are deeply outraged, revolted and opposed to that inhuman unequal racist and capitalist system borne by Belgian authorities. 

We call for the opening of all the closed centres, the release of all the retainees and the provision of places to welcome them. 

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