Once again, the visit is harsh and discouraging. The retention conditions of the foreigners who are being watched, behind closed doors, are unacceptable and appalling for anyone with a sound mind. Request to enter with RTBF TV refused. Verification of the names, handing out of our ID cards which we’ll get back only when we come out. Going through a metal detector (gate). If it rings, take out all metal objects and go through it again… Bag deposited in a locker at the entrance – nothing is accepted except paper and pens.
On that day, there were 120 retainee in the centre.
A member of the management team guides us, enabling the access to the ‘wings’ we want to see, and the meeting with hunger strikers.
We walk past rooms of two people called ‘rooms of adapted regime’, for ‘retainees who can not live in the community’.
It is impossible to communicate with one of the hunger strikers seen her obvious dazed state.
They bring us to a common hall. Several women tell us about their disarray and incomprehension about the reasons of their retention. Their stories are edifying. Although she requested asylum, a woman has been retained for several days and doesn’t understand.
A woman of Congolese origin living in Belgium for many years tells us that she fled her country because she was persecuted as a natural child. In 2009 she asked for her regularisation here but it was rejected. She found herself in the middle of a traffic control and was immediately brought to a closed centre. ‘When you don’t have papers, you are nothing’.
A young man tries to communicate with us, which is very difficult because he only speaks Farsi (he must be from Afghanistan). He ends up asking me to follow him to his room, I think it might be to find an interpreter. When he opens the door of his room I am totally stunned. There is a strong smell of urine, an old woman is sitting on the floor in a fallback position, there are 4 beds, the last one being occupied by a man lying down, visibly asleep.
The young man tells me they are his father and mother! As far as I understood, the bed in the middle on which lies a visibly already used adult diaper would be the father’s. The young man would have a sister in Belgium. His eyes full of tears, he feels desperate to see his fathers treated that way. He is calling for urgent help. Later on his mother joins us in the common hall, imploring us.
The visit goes on at the men’s, where many tell us their stories, all humanly dramatic and incomprehensible. They denounce in particular the separation of families. One of them has been in Belgium for 17 years. He arrived when he was minor, in order to study. He has a daughter 8 months old with a woman who has documents from the Netherlands. He is retained in view of his deportation to Morocco. ‘I don’t know that country, I don’t know anyone overthere. I don’t want to be separated from my wife and my daughter.’ But the administration doesn’t seem to care. He was told ‘You came here to study, not to get married’.
A Syrian man in Belgium for 9 months doesn’t understand that he will be deported to Spain whereas he didn’t introduce any asylum request. He was forced to leave his fingerprints there.
Two male hunger strikers share a room with two beds a bit apart.In hunger strike respectively since April 20th and 21st. One, Moroccan, put the pictures of his daughters (1 year and 2 years and a half) on the wall. Their mother is Belgian. He wanted to get married but he didn’t succeed and is now retained before his deportation to Morocco.
The other one is Pakistani. He explains us the serious problems in his country. Members of his family would have been murdered there. He looks very weak.
It seems they haven’t seen a doctor for more than 3 days, only the nurse who passes by daily.
2 or 4 retainees had been placed in confinement cells as a precautionary measure seen the festival going on outside. An internal “risks analysis” concluded it was too risky to eventually let them become troublemakers.
The strongest denunciations go to the Foreigners Office which, according to the retainees, functions in a totally arbitraty, shocking and inhumane way.
- the admnistration of tranquilizers (sleeping pills even) by the doctor during any kind of care request. For e.g toothache, tranquilizers are given because it seems the retainee is nervous: retainees tell us they feel in the clouds after the administration of these pills;
- the lack of information. for eg. the list of associations that come to visit is not communicated to them; they don’t understand what is expecting them;
- the lack of follow-up by the lawyers: no one to accompany them at the court; sometimes no visit at all;
- difficulty to understand Dutch ;
- the relationship with the social assistant are not helpful at all, on the contary. Their attitude is of someone seeking to convince them to accept deportation, they explicitly say they are there for that reason and not th help them. One sentence one of them would have said: “I don’t help anybody” or “when I enter this centre, I cut my two hands so I may not help anyone”.
- a serious problem of medical follow-up: a Guinean man was suffering from hepatitis B cured outside the centre. He didn’t get any medication again since his retention at the centre.
This visit only confirms the revolting functioning of these centres where people are being retained because their documents to live in Belgium are not valid. However these people sometimes have been living here for 10, 15 or even 20 years. Besides, the length of retentions is too long, it can go up to 8 months, through circuitous routes to avoid any release. Retentions administratively and randomly decided. Living conditions are intolerable.
Only one solution : immediately close the centres of shame!