They are real prisons

15 January 2011 – Story of someone who spent 3 months in the 127bis centre and in the centre in Bruges

Listen to the story (in French): [audio:]

Hello, my name is Sylvain. I am from the Ivory Coast, Abidjan. I arrived in Vottem on 14 October, by accident, I was not controlled. I was just coming back from my training and I was told that policemen had passed by my house, so I directly went to the police to justify my absence and explain where I was. Directly the police told me that I had no longer the right to stay on the territory and they brought me to Vottem, in the detention centre.

There the conditions were harder. You have all these barriers, the first one, the second one, and then you have several smaller barriers, and then you’re directly incarcerated.

I was brought to the first floor, I was given a little bag that contained towels, a toothbrush, and also sheets. Then they showed me where my bedroom was, in the red wing, room n°2. I spent three months there.

You only get one hour to go outside and fool around, the rest of the time you’re always locked up. It was really a tough period, it was extremely cold, there were days when we could not go out.

There are no sports activities, sometimes you are allowed to play games like bingo and you can also go to the weights room downstairs.

There are lots of different nationalities. There was a young boy from Guinea who wanted to get married, he went to the commune with his girlfriend to deal with their legal cohabitation but the Office took advantage of the situation to go and arrest him at the address they had given. This girl was there every day, even when it rained, she was there to assist her husband.

And I have other examples, I have seen an Algerian man who got deported, his wife is living in Belgium, they are legally married but…as I speak he is back there in his country.

There also was a Tunisian man who had arranged the date of his wedding but who couldn’t go because they went to arrest him at his place. He already had planned the date of his wedding!

When he was driven to the airport for the first time, he did not leave, the second time he went on hunger strike, and on the twelfth or thirteenth day he got freed because his health was getting too bad.

The worst case I’ve seen was when I was brought to Bruges. Because I had been transferred to Bruges they said I was undisciplined, thus I had to say 4 days in Bruges… There was a Guinean man who was in transit with his wife and daughter, he had a three months visa but he was brought back to Bruges and he didn’t know where his wife was. He had already been there for three days. However his stay was in order. They said they could not justify his stay because he only had a hotel booking for four days. Thus, I don’t know if he is still living in the detention centre.

Oh Bruges, personally I think that Bruges is really harsh, but it is respectful, because in Bruges the food is good, you eat properly in the morning, but they wake you up early, at 7 a.m. And you have to go out even if it rains, you must have a walk for one hour in the yard, and you can not go back to your room until 10 p.m, they only reopen the rooms at that time.

The most difficult thing is that you never committed any crime. Besides, it’s the first time. When you arrive, your moral is strong, but it gets weaker and weaker as you know you will be deported from your country. You have a house like this one, you have everything you need inside, you are already well integrated, but you are not allowed to take anything anymore, you only have the clothes you were wearing when they arrested you, you may not go back home to pick up some stuff and make a small suitcase, that’s even harder.

For anyone entering Vottem, after 7 working days they start contacting the embassies to get the ‘laissez-passer’. Or at the police station they give you the order to leave the territory. The Foreigners’ Office always aims at deporting you to your country as long as you can be identified in Belgium.

There were many deportations during my stay there. Among all the people with whom I shared a room, almost all of them are gone. There were loads of deportations.

It was difficult because there were people who were leaving a first time, and the second time they were not coming back.

One was even ‘scotch taped’, you know the Algerian guy I mentioned earlier. ‘Scotch taped’ means that they had put scotch tape all around his ankles, knees, hands, everywhere. They carried him and put him at the back of the plane (he laughs), they put you at the back of the plane!

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…

They are prisons, they really are prisons, they are not detention centres! If one says they are centres, then they should be centres such as the Red Cross ones. But they are prions. You are behind bars! To go somewhere you first need to open this door, to go there they close that door and open this other door, it is a prison!

There are yellow cards, red cards, there is the prison cell where you don’t have anything, it is just concrete with a mattress and it is very cold in there. You don’t have TV, you don’t have anything. Only a place to drink and toilets.

– Can you explain the principle of the cards?

(he laughs)

For example, if you insult someone you get a red card, if you get 3 red cards you are directly brought into the prison cell! (he laughs again). That’s how it is! Before I left the centre, they brought me to the prison cell because I was claiming for my mail.

People do not realise how it can be… because now imagine: I stayed 3 months in the detention centre, I lost my house, so I am starting from scratch again… I am now living in the street. The CPAS must help me, so it is something that has reached nowhere! It is just like if you had been punished!

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