- The centre in itself is a pathogenic middle, just like prison. A report by a psychiatrist written on the basis of testimonies by detainees of the centres of Bruges and 127bis asserts it: “In months following their release or deportation, some detainees present a post-trauma syndrom on a short term (a few weeks) or a long term (a few months or years).» (13).
I never imagined I would be in prison. My first period of detention was here in Belgium. I felt like I was underground, my moral was very low, my hair whitened. Prison is difficult, prison kills, there are people who rot in prison. The healthy become ill and it is not clear why. Detention centres create a culture of hate because people find themselves there for no reason and they are treated badly for no reason. Because of this everyone who leaves a detention centre leaves full of hate and bad thoughts.” Testimony
- The proximity of 127bis from Zaventem airport runways makes the noise unbearable and it increases stress and anxiety. The guards nurture this insecurity feeling inside the centre through extremely strict security rules that prevail on the well-being of the people. Days go over in idleness, apart from a few sport or occupational activities that help maintain the pressure at an acceptable level. “The Foreign Office statistics show that several suicide attempts and hunger strikes take place each year in detention centres. In 2008 for example, in the Vottem centre, there were 33 hunger strikes of more than 48 hours (individual or collective), 3 suicide attempts, and one suicide by hanging… Those figures do not seem to reflect the despair of lots of detainees: it is indeed hard to really act out because of the group regime, of the security measures, and of the frequency of the searches. Besides, how they define a suicide attempt varies from one centre to the other, and it seems that an act is only considered as a ‘serious’ suicide attempt and taken into account in statistics when there is physical damage!” (15)
It is horrible here. I can’t sleep at night. They come every night to keep an eye on us and see if we are sleeping or not. But what is happening here? At 4am when you are sleeping they suddenly whack your door and ask you “Are you ok? Do you need anything?” They do that to mess with our heads, they are taking the piss out of us. Testimony
- A lot of psychological pressure is exerted on the detainees, besides imprisonment, which in itself can be extremely traumatising. Social assistants play a key role in this. Indeed, they are there to convince the detainees that they should accept the voluntary return, not to help them out of the centre. Detainees call them Mr or Mrs Plane. On top of all that you have the linguistic barrier, the fact that you ignore the date of the deportation, that you are not aware of your rights, the permanent noise by other detainees in the centre, the lack of privacy, the lack of hygiene, etc. All these things maintain the detainees in a state of permanent stress. “To be deprived of liberty may have serious consequences on the psychic and physical state of the detainees. Anxiety is omnipresent in detention centres: anxiety about detention, about deportation, feeling of injustice linked to the arbitrary nature of the detention (“Why am I in prison when I did not do anything wrong?”) that provoke a total incomprehension and a huge anger.” (15)
“I am suffering. I have bouts of madness, sometimes when I am talking to people I can’t hear them anymore... The centre provoked that, I did not have that before”. Testimony
“It’s really another world in the centre. I don’t really know how to explain it…we are like dogs or sheep. They tell us to “do this, do that” Testimony
“Honestly, I was severely shocked to see how people are taken away just like animals.” Testimony
“One night you fall asleep and they come to handcuff you and take you away, it is so shocking…. You are with someone and they call you, the assistant calls you, she wants to talk to you, and that’s the way they isolate someone. Can you imagine the state we can be in, the fear to be taken away and isolated for 24 hours, and then to hear that your flight is for the day after. You come and take a person away and you don’t bring her back normally but handcuffed and surrounded by police officers, all these police vans that follow you just like if you were going to vanish in the air… it is really scandalous.” Testimony
“The third time they made me undress. Two police officers stood in front of me and there were also four of five of them behind a little door. I heard one woman say: “He’s pretty fat eh?” Testimony
“The employees here don’t treat us well. They think that we are rubbish or animals. They don’t think that we are humans.
We are nineteen years old. Another girl slapped my sister in front of two police officers and they didn’t do anything.” Testimony
“There are lots of suicide attempts, we put up with moral torture. Regardless of the type of health problem you have the doctors will give you an aspirin or a sedative. I had really sore teeth and my cellmate was suffering from kidney stones: we were both given aspirin, nothing else.” Testimony
“When you are waiting to be deported, nothing is good, your head is not there anymore. Your mind is weak. Even now, until now I am not OK yet. Because you are demoralised, you have never been detained, you have never… when it is the first time it is too hard you know…” Testimony
(13) Private report by the Psychiatrist Christine Dormal, Psychological consequences of imprisonment, 2009.
(14) Foreign Office, Report of activities 2008, p. 131
2016: How UK detention policy worsens migrants’ mental health