Detaining migrants who are in transit, doubling the number of places in holding centres, and increasing police controls: Belgium on September 10 announced a vast new plan to fight illegal immigration.
Belgium continues to crack down on migration. Following a Royal Decree in August - which cleared the way for detaining families with children - the Belgian government on Monday unveiled a string of new measures to combat illegal migration.
Interior Minister Jan Jambon announced the opening of a "national administrative centre for transmigration". The centre will be located on 127 bis in Steenokkerzel, in the Brussels suburbs, where everyone who wants to transit to the United Kingdom through Belgium will be taken. It is the same place where families awaiting deportation are already being held. In practice, this means that anyone entering Belgium illegally will be held there, in the same way as in a normal detention centre.
"In a first phase, this will concern transmigrant (migrants in transit) groups intercepted in major operations. But the short-term objective is that all transmigrants intercepted by local or federal police – whatever may be the case in the country – will also be taken there," Belgian news agency Belga reported, citing the interior ministry.
At the centre, police will process migrants’ administrative files (for example, asylum applications, protection demands and Dublin cases) take their fingerprints and conduct searches against the Belgian database. The Belgian Immigration Office will then have 24 hours to decide whether the migrant will be freed, or be kept in detention before being deported to his or her country of origin or the European country where he or she first arrived.
In theory, asylum seekers risk being deprived of their liberty while their asylum applications are being processed.
‘Authorities want to get rid of migrants’
In line with the new strategy, authorities also plan to more than double the number of places in its detention centres, from 70 to 160.
Other measures include increasing police controls on routes typically used by migrants (train stations, parking lots, motorway rest areas…). Federal police vehicles will be made available for the efforts and the army is set to deploy a bus service between Brussels and the northern coastal town of Zeebrugge, from where many migrants try to make their way to Britain.
Belgian migrant aid agencies have lambasted the government’s new plans to fight illegal immigration, accusing it of applying "policies of deterrence and expulsion rather than that of protection," several of them wrote in a joint statement after the announcement.
"All the government wants is to get rid of migrants who are perceived as fraudsters. But the majority of migrants in Belgium are of Sudanese and Eritrean origin - countries whose nationals are granted asylum more easily," Sotieta Ngo, the director of refugee help organization Ciré Belgique, tells InfoMigrants.