Second death of 2023 at the detention centre of Merksplas

27th December 2023
On 25 December 2023, around 6 p.m., inmates told us that ambulances, fire brigade and police had arrived at the Merksplas detention centre, in block 5, where the solitary confinment and isolation cells for “people with special medical needs” are located. Very quickly in the evening, rumours spread of a death in block 5. This was later confirmed by the directorate. The person found dead was due to be deported to Germany this week.
Threatened with deportation to Germany, a man allegedly commits suicide in his isolation cell
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 treatment. “As soon as you ask for treatment, you are isolated in the medical wing of block 5, or sometimes put in a real solitary confinment cell”, prisoners told us.
This North African man had been detained for around three weeks in the detention centre and was in his forties. According to another detainee, his request for medical treatment followed a beating by the police. Another source told us that he was subject to Dublin regulations and was therefore due to be deported to Germany this week. Clearly, according to his fellow inmates, this tragedy is “the result of the poor conditions” and inhumane treatment they receive daily. 
Another source tells us that the man who died was in a common room with other inmates and that he asked to be taken back to his cell at around 5:15 p.m. Shortly before 6 p.m., he was found dead by a guard who had come to collect him to take part in the Christmas meal.
The following day, on the 26th of December around 10 a.m., the directorate announced to the inmates that the man had died, having committed suicide by hanging himself with his belt.
Throughout the day of 26 December, several inmates told us of their doubts about the suicide. They told us they knew the cell and that, according to them, it was impossible to hang oneself there: “there is a small window in the cell with bars, but they are very high and out of reach“.
The prisoners asked for an investigation. They know that several months ago, another inmate died in medical isolation. And while the Immigration Office had described this death as a “natural death”, investigations by journalists cast doubt on this version. An investigation is still underway1. 
On 26 December, some of his closest fellow inmates went on hunger strike for a day, marked by grief. But, as it is always the case when prisoners put up resistance, regardless of the tragic circumstances that led them to do so, they were threatened with repression by the staff. 
Deaths and suicides as a result of detention in detention centres and the threat of deportation
Prisoners in distress are regularly subjected to self-harming behaviour, such as self-mutilation or even suicide attempts, as a result of their confinement and the conditions of detention to which they are subjected. These people find themselves locked up, in “administrative detention” with no trial or end date, because their papers are “no longer in order” and they risk deportation to their so-called “country of origin” or supposed country of origin. Often, however, they have built their lives here and are unable or unwilling to return to these countries, where they may no longer have any ties or, in some cases, where their lives are in danger. One of them asks: “Because we are without papers, does that mean we have to die here?“.
It is indeed these detentions in detention centres, in extremely precarious conditions, violent by nature and governed by repressive dynamics, that lead to despair and acts of violence, including this one, which is unfortunately not the first2.
Detention centres are nothing more than prisons, the aim of which is to break down the resistance of individuals to deportation by inflicting inhuman treatment, both psychological and physical, throughout their detention, with violence that can be taken to extremes at the very moment of deportation.
Our thoughts are with the victim, and our solidarity goes out to his fellow detainees and their families.
Getting the Voice Out
CRACPE – Collectif de Résistance Aux Centres Pour Étrangers
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