‘Voluntary returns’ and ‘Deportations’: testimonies


It is more and more frequent that social assistants, spokespersons of the Foreigners Office in closed centres (the Office call them ‘return assistants’) advise to opt for a ‘voluntary return’, sometimes under the threat of a ‘forced return with the police and the prohibition to come back before several years (from 2 to 5 years)’. For info: a deportation that follows an Order to Leave the Territory goes together with a Schengen ban from 2 to 5 years.

For ‘transit’ exiles, this proposal is almost systematic: a voluntary return to their country of origin or to their Dublin country. For some Dublin countries (Germany, France, the Netherlands, Nordic countries, etc.) lawyers generally advise to sign for a voluntary return, save in exceptional cases. This voluntary return will prevent the intervention of lawyers, it will considerably reduce the retention period and amount to a release in their Dublin countries. There they will be able to re-submit or continue their asylum request or resume their migratory journey. In other Dublin countries (Italy, Switzerland, Eastern countries, Spain, etc.), appeals are possible and advised according to the situations.

Certain retainees refuse these deportations and resist; which does not please the staff of the centres:

Here is a testimony among others:

The guy was beaten by 5 guards and placed in isolation for 3 days because he refuses to go back to Italy. He would be OK to go to France where his asylum request is ongoing.”

Others, i.e. asylum seekers, regularisation seekers or transit exiles who are being threatened with a deportation to their countries of origin hold up, resist during the deportation attempt, testify or act. Others go on hunger strikes in the centre, others refuse to meet the embassy which would enable the Foreigners Office to get a let pass necessary for their repatriation, others find other means.

Testimony by a host :

Today we were able to grasp A’s situation who understands perfectly well the options that are proposed to him. Personally, I can but admire the dignity with which he told us: “I’m in Europe, not in Africa, I have rights, I’m not a criminal, if I ask asylum in Belgium it is outside, not here”. He understands the zigzag but he doesn’t want to zigzag, in the end he came to Europe because he believed in human rights; rights that were violated because of his retention. Humble and proud. He doesn’t have many things to loose anymore, having no family left… Of course we tried to argue for another hour, we will see… But today I was able to understand him fully.”

Very often these actions bear their fruit. For example, hunger strikers are released after 20, 30 or 40 days because they became « Not Fit to Fly » seen their health status.

It is simply inconceivable that after using all the legal ways to obtain a release, some people have to risk their lives. These actions are often supported by the co-detainees and/or outside people, but almost never by NGOs or the associative sector who abstain from taking a stand.

Words by a detainee after a demonstration in front of the 127bis :

I am voiceless, you are admirable. You struggled against the rain, the wind and the police to cry for our freedom. It made me cry, you are wonderful people whom I’d like to meet. Thank you everybody, I am deeply moved. I felt that if you had the power we would all be free. It gave me joy and hope. From the bottom of my heart, thank you !”

But very often these naysayers will be repatriated unexpectedly, without respecting the rules of the procedure.

For example, for a woman who had related the violence she went through during a deportation attempt:

Five men came to fetch her this morning at the centre to drive her to the airport in her pyjamas.”

And for a man retained in Vottem:

They just gave me my ticket at 6 p.m for tomorrow morning at 10.30 a.m. A man stopped me at the canteen to give it to me, it is a joke! I haven’t seen my assistant for at least a week and now they are giving me a ticket on the Saturday evening, as if they didn’t know before. They don’t want to leave us the time to realise, they always do things unexpectedly,to prevent us from reacting, it is terrible”, when I get there in Congo, I will need money, how will I manage?”

He is totally lost, he is shared between the aversion for the system and still hopes to have a dialogue with the staff members to avoid the deportation, I am not convinced he still wants to resist.

In Vottem too, the repatriation attempt implies lies:

In a devious way, they tried to make him sign a request for voluntary return instead of the confirmation receipt of a parcel. They pretended the call of a doctor to take him away from the group and placed him in confinement with no means of communication before his repatriation.”

For asylum seekers and undocumented in closed centres whose requests are rejected by the Foreigners Office or the CGRA, this proposal of voluntary return is done. After a retained several months they break down and accept.

Testimony by a support person to a woman retained for several months:

Madam E, that I have been supporting for two weeks, decided to sign a ‘voluntary’ return and will be repatriated. She has been living in Belgium for 9 years, has family here and mainly her daughter who is 19. She had different jobs, including voluntary jobs for public institutions (!) that could not give her a contract since she was undocumented. The Court ordered her release (on several occasions, if I got it well). The Foreigners Office however insisted and systematically brought the case to another court in appeal that proved them right. Madam E also tells me that her regularisation request was ongoing but that the time was too short for it to succeed. She cannot stand the retention anymore and she asked her lawyer to arrange her voluntary return. She doesn’t know anyone in her country anymore and so far she was not able to reach anyone who could welcome her on arrival. Nevertheless what makes her panic the most is to leave her daughter alone since to her she still is a child. The latter also knows some administrative problems with her EU residence permit and also has personal problems. She is organising everything for her daughter to have several people to turn to after she is gone. Really ridiculous and shameful.”

F, 21, Moroccan, 5 months in a closed centre. Her family is living in Belgium legally.

The social assistant is threatening her: “Soon you will get a ticket, if you go to the airport and let them deport you, I will talk to the police so that they do not forbid you Schengen entry for three years, you’d better think twice, it is better for you”. Under pressure, she signed a paper to accept her return and avoid a Schengen ban. She did not get a copy and could not read to me what was written on the paper – it seems that she signed a voluntary return.”

Under threat, these people would sign anything after a terribly exhausting stay in a closed centre to put an end to these daily tortures and to escape forced deportations.

They call these practices Firm and humane.

Lies, intimidations, violences, fake promises are their practices.






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