Belgium: Reform reducing asylum standards in Belgium to minimum requirements

On 23 June 2017 the Belgian State Secretary for Asylum and Migration submitted a new legislative proposal amending the Aliens Act with the aim of transposing the recast Reception Conditions Directive and Asylum Procedures Directive. The law indicates a lowering of the Belgian standards to the minimum set out in the EU Directives.

The 393-page bill brings about a wide array of modifications to the Belgian asylum procedure, including the following:

 

Detention of asylum seekers

The proposed reform introduces grounds for detaining asylum seekers during the procedure as set out by Article 8(3) of the recast Reception Conditions Directive. According to the proposal, an asylum seeker may be detained where he or she does not cooperate in the establishment of his or her identity, where there is a risk of absconding, where the application is made with a deliberate purpose of delaying or hindering return, or for reasons of public order and national security. The maximum duration of such detention is 2 months, except for cases related to public order and national security where it may be prolonged.

In line with the clarification brought by the Court of Justice of the European Union in the Al Chodor case, the proposed bill lays down objective criteria for the definition of the “risk of absconding”. However, the definition refers to overly broad criteria such as the making of an application more than 8 days after arrival or non-cooperation with the authorities. Moreover, since there is no definition in the proposal of ‘non-cooperation’ with the authorities, this provision is open for wide interpretation and possible abuse. In total the proposal sets out no less than 11 criteria for the risk of absconding.

 

Inadmissibility grounds

The proposal transposes the grounds set out in the recast Asylum Procedures Directive as reasons for declaring an asylum application inadmissible. These will introduce new concepts such as the “first country of asylum” and “safe third country” concepts as inadmissibility grounds in Belgium. The Commissioner-General for Refugees and Stateless Persons (CGRS) shall decide on the admissibility of applications within 15 working days. 

The introduction of the “safe third country” concept in Belgian law is presented as an effort to “end the current practice whereby asylum seekers choose their country of asylum”. The proposal further connotes abusive conduct on the part of individuals transiting through other countries to reach Belgium, as it refers to the “safe third country” under a heading entitled “Fight against abuse” in the proposal.

 

Consideration of sources

The asylum procedure during the first instance procedure at the CGRS is also subject to various changes. Among other elements, the CGRS will be allowed to take a decision on an application based on undisclosed sources. The proposal furthermore disregards the benefit of the doubt principle enshrined in Article 4(5) of the recast Qualification Directive by stating that the lack of proof regarding identity or nationality shall be taken into account as an indication for the credibility of the asylum application. 

 

The proposal will be discussed in the Belgian parliament on 4 July and voted on 10 July 2017.

 

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The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) is a database managed by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), containing information on asylum procedures, reception conditions, detenti