The Amsterdam Treaty, june 1997
Knocking at the gate, june 1997
Rumania, preselection for the European Fortress
France, Human rights for 'sans-papiers'
Belgie, "He who keeps silent now must fear everything" Ratko Zamir
"He who keeps silent now must fear everything" Ratko Zamir
At this moment the belgian parliament is discussing bills that are meant to sharpen the belgian refugee politics. The socialist Minister of the Interior, vande Lanotte, wants to introduce a new set of measures. Preventing, locking up, locking out and deporting are also major elements in the belgian refugee policy just as they are in the Netherlands. A look at Belgian refugee politics.
Detention of refugees and illegal aliens in Belgium takes place at transitzone Zaventem, transitcentre 127 at Melsbroek, transitcentre 127bis at Steenokkerzeel, the Refuge at Sint- Andriesbrugge, the closed detention centre at Merksplas and the new prison at Vottem to be opened in 1996. The people in the first three centres are mainly those that entered via the airport Zaventem. The word transit in the name keeps the illusion alive that it is still international territory as if the refugees are not yet on belgian soil.
In transitzone Zaventem refugees are held who are not in the possession of the proper documents or means of livelihood and who have not yet applied for political asylum. They are expelled with the next plane going out. The first and for some the only contact with belgium is with the border police. The consultation centre for the integration of refugees in Brussels concludes that: "for some asylumseekers who have fled for governments having an interview with a man in uniform might be threatening. It is not unthinkable that some refugees do not dare to state their request for asylum in this circumstance".
If they do apply for asylum they are locked up in transitcentre 127 and they are interviewed after which the decision is negative for most people and they are expelled. There is still the possibility of appeal. When this second decision is also negative the refugee is locked up in transitcentre 127bis. The irony with this centre is that it is build next to the landing strip of the airport Zaventem, they can see planes take off and land every few minutes. In Brugge, Merksplas and Vottem people are held that are labelled as illegal aliens. These are refugees who stay in belgium without the proper documents. Refugees who have got no legal means of livelihood and are not able to get one in a legal way. Refugees and illegal aliens are also locked up in regular prisons. This despite the fact that the Ministry of internal affairs makes it seem like there are no illegal refugees in regular prisons. The situations of refugees and illegal aliens that are locked up is comparable for the netherlands and belgium. "The climate is constantly tense and explosive. They stay in wards for 15 to 20 people, all of different nationalities and all conscious of the fact that each moment they can be expelled. You have to ask permission for almost anything you do and everything is checked", according to members of the group for refugee policy from Brugge. The lack of supervision on what is happening in these prisons has already led to one conviction of belgium by the European Committee for the Prevention of torture and inhumane or degrading punishment. The committee visited the detention centre in Walem, which was closed later, and the transitcentre at Zaventem, which was converted after that. The conclusion of the committee (14 october 1994) was crushing. Belgium treated its nonaccepted refugees and illegal aliens in a inhuman way and situation was qualified as shameful. Whether or not this conclusion has contributed to the improvement of the situation of the refugees is to be questioned. At the end of 1994 the transitcentre 127bis was seriously compromised. From internal reports it was gathered that regular abuse was being made of the practice of putting refugees in isolation and that medical attention was deplorable. In march of 1995 the risen tension caused by the harsh regime and insecurity came to a height in the prison. After some Nigerian refugees were expelled a rebellion took place, after which refugees were transferred to other prisons.
Minister vande Lanotte says that the human rights situation in the transitcentre 127bis has improved, however, organisations concerned with the fate of the refugees are refused entry. Supervision is made impossible. "Visiting rights are seriously censored. Only relatives in the first degree are allowed to visit. They must apply for this in writing or by telephone which is then investigated. Aid workers, friends or other members of the family can not under any circumstance enter the centre. The only exception to this ruke is for the lawyer", according to the group from Brugge.
The lack of supervision and the tightening of the policy, which has been going on since 1987, have led to a national actiongroup based in Leuven. The initiative came from the action group "Recht op vluchten". After the proposing of the bills by Minister vande Lanotte they established a platform which aimed at not passing these bills. At this moment (march 1996) this platform is supported by 160 to 170 organisations, ranging from trade unions, youth organisations and Third world committees to environmental groups.
Since october last year demonstrations have been held in Gent, Luik and Leuven. On the 27th of january 1996 a tribunal was held about the prisons for refugees and illegal aliens in Belgium. Ruben vande Vijvere member of the actiongroup "Recht op vluchten": "Most refugeeorganisations are charuty based. On the one hand this is important for things like aid and support for refugees, on the other hand things like that are made hopeless by tightening of the law and they risk to be blocked altogether. This makes it necessary to expand the political territory you work on". "Recht op vluchten" (Right to refuge) aims at the whole of the belgian (european) refugee policy and not just a part of it. The separate parts are connected into a whole. Ruben vande Vijvere: "There should be more dialogue between the third world movement and refugee movementsand between the latter and the trade unions. The trade union has much to gain by a more hospitable policy. People will keep coming here anyway. If the policy stays repressive a category of people will be created that will be willing to work under bad circumstances for very low wages. This will put some strain on the working conditions of everybody".
What measures are proposed in the bill by Minister vande Lanotte?
-The belgian government should increase the number of deportations to 15000 (which is a doubling) by 1998.
-The period of allowed detention which is now 60 days should be made unlimited as is the case in the Netherlands.
-New asylumseekers will be force to settle themselves in centres as long as their request is being investigated. If they refuse they will not be eligible for any support.
-The social department should not provide the means of living for refugees who do not have a permit to stay. So people still awaiting the result of their request cannot apply for social benefits. vande Lanotte even wants to force people to report people who do not have a permit.
-More severe punishnments for companies if they bring people into the country who are not entitled to be there.
-Heavier fines and prison sentences for helping with "illegal immigration" or "illegal stay" in the whole of the Schengen countries.