Cross-checking many testimonies, we are more and more worried about the treatments prisoners are submitted to in Belgian closed centres and about the violence displayed during deportation attempts.
‘Tortures’, ‘terror’ say the prisoners
When we have them on the phone, the detainees of the different closed centres explicitly ask to remain anonymous and that we ‘do not write everything because they will know it was me’. They are scared that their testimony may prejudice them. They say that it is very risky to phone us: ‘I’ll try to warn you but it will be very dangerous for me!’.
Some people in the centres are engaged in the fight for the freedom of movement; a fight they had started already in their home or transit country, and they are ‘undesirable’ that have to be deported ‘at all costs’, dixit a representative of the Foreigners Office.
They all feel muzzled and have no resort against these schemes.
Solitary confinements happen daily. Rough police raids are frequent following hunger strikes or ‘other prison order offences’.
There are testimonies of certain detainees being stripped bare, sometimes all the detainees of one same wing. Racist statements are countless. Medical care is almost non existent.
In the secure wing in Vottem, the ‘troublemakers or dangerous ones’ are isolated. The regime allocated to them by the management is decided on a case by case basis. For more than a month, a man has been totally isolated in a soundproofed cell. He doesn’t see anyone (except the educators which he calls ‘indicators’), he doesn’t hear anything and has no contact at all with the other detainees.
The scheming of the Foreigners Office
Several testimonies report that the Foreigners Office puts huge pressure on embassies in order to get let passes. If the embassy does not collaborate, they come to the centre and intimidate the detainee to try and make him sign an agreement for his own deportation.
‘One has to be really strong to refuse this in front of representatives of the Foreigners Office accompanied by their enforcers’ says a prisoner to us.
‘But we know our rights Madam, don’t take us like we’re dumb!’.
The Office even organises gatherings in their offices with a so-called representative of the embassy to put the pressure on the detainee. After calling this embassy, the ambassador told us that he never comes out and that he only signs let passes if the detainee is present in his office.
‘This race for let passes is relentlessness’ some detainees tell us.
Forced deportations are daily and very very harsh. Sometimes they come back from the airport in extremely bad states!
Fight in the centres
Following different contacts in the centres, prisoners spread these messages:
They protest against:
– their imprisonment
– racism in the centres
– the Machiavellian decisions by the Foreigners Office
– the real psychological and physical tortures in the centres and during deportations
They claim for:
– freedom of movement
– the return of capitals to their home countries
– respect for the right of the human being
– the end to deportations (sometimes) to the slaughterhouse
And they call on
all visitors in closed centres
‘Do not remain silent about what you hear and see! Do not collaborate with this relentlessness, this policy with no name! Do not forget that silence means consent!’
In front of the European and Belgian policies to ‘monitor migrations’, in front of the racist discourse by some and by right and far right movements, extremely violent behaviours are being encouraged with impunity by those who have or think they have a certain power, be it the wardens in the centre, the police, the authorities that take the decisions on asylum and migration etc.
The return of children in centres
In the coming weeks, we may assist to the awakening of some sleepy associations and media. Indeed, after the statements by the new Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration Theo Francken (N-VA), it might be considered again to imprison children in the closed centre 127bis in Steenokkerzeel! A ‘step backward’ some say. Above all it shows that the reforms in view of ‘humanising’ the closed centre are complete nonsense. It only leads to partial and unsatisfactory victories, less photogenic on the humanitarian postcard. According to the adage ‘divide and conquer’ would it become more acceptable to be in a closed centre from the age of 18 years old and for one day? Let’s not fall in the trap that will slowly but surely nibble the freedoms by starting a partial fight. Neither adults nor children in the hell of imprisonment!
And in parallel – Azerbaijan at the holiday centre in Vottem
A delegation of Azerbaijan came to visit the closed centre of Vottem. The management deployed the necessary resources: the detainees had received a very clean chasuble and they could hang around in the centre while the delegation was visiting! The centre was looking like a holiday centre.