The Aliens Office (AO) is the authority responsible for the registration of asylum applications, which according to the law should be done immediately when the asylum seeker presents the application at their offices. However, since the summer of 2015 asylum applications are no longer registered immediately, but go through a pre-registration phase. During this phase the asylum seeker is not considered as an asylum seeker and therefore cannot open his rights as an asylum seeker. This phase is called the pre-registration phase and has no legal basis in the Belgian legislative framework. The Belgian authorities maintained the pre-registration phase throughout 2016 and will continue to do so in 2017. Asylum seekers receive a letter with a number which they can use online to verify the day on which they can register their application. This letter literally states: “You have not yet lodged your asylum application in Belgium”.
Although the Aliens Office commits itself to register the asylum claim as soon as possible, it also admitted that it could take up to two weeks, meanwhile leaving asylum seekers in a vulnerable situation. It should be noted that asylum seekers that have visible vulnerabilities (pregnant women, children, wheelchair patients, etc.) are being registered on the same day;
At the border, asylum applications can be made with the border police section of the Federal Police, and in penitentiary institutions with the prison director. These authorities refer the asylum application immediately to the AO, which informs the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons (CGRS) thereof.1
The asylum section of the AO is responsible for:
Receiving the asylum application;
Registering the asylum seeker in the so-called waiting register, a provisional population register for foreign nationals;
Taking fingerprints and a photograph, taking a chest X-ray to detect tuberculosis; and
Conducting the Dublin procedure.
At the AO, a short interview takes place to establish the identity, nationality and travel route of the asylum seeker. The AO and the asylum seeker, with the help of an interpreter fill in a questionnaire for the CGRS about the reasons why they fled their country of origin, or, in case of a subsequent asylum application, which new elements are being submitted. A lawyer cannot be present during this interview.
If Belgium is the responsible State under the Dublin Regulation, the file is sent to the CGRS. The questionnaire about the reasons for the asylum application and impossibility of a return to the country of origin is transferred to the CGRS as well.2
The asylum section of the AO is furthermore responsible for the follow-up of the asylum seeker’s legal residence status throughout the procedure as well as the follow-up of the final decision on the asylum application. This means registration in the register for aliens in the case of a positive decision, or issuing an order to leave the territory in the case of a negative decision.
Within the AO, the Closed Centre section is responsible for all the asylum applications lodged in detention centres and prisons, while the Border Inspection section is responsible for asylum applications lodged at the border. The three sections within the AO (Asylum section, Closed Centres section and Border Inspection section) follow the exact same procedure within AO’s general competence, each for their respective ‘categories’ of asylum seekers.
On the territory, whether at liberty or detained or in prison, asylum applications have to be made within 8 working days after the arrival.3 At the border, they have to be made immediately upon the request of the border police officer about the purpose of the journey to Belgium.4 There is no specific sanction for not respecting this time-limit, but this can be taken into consideration by the CGRS as one of the elements in assessing the credibility of the asylum claim.
For subsequent applications the AO is also competent to register the asylum seeker’s declaration about the new elements and the reasons why they could not deposit them earlier, and transfer the file “without delay” to the CGRS.5 It should be noted that technically the AO could refuse to transfer the subsequent application to the CGRS if it considers that no new element was submitted and therefore cannot be registered as such. However, no cases have been brought to our attention where this possibility was used. In times of high influx of asylum seekers subsequent applications are not always prioritised. Therefore, it can take some weeks before these asylum seekers can register their subsequent asylum claim.
In practice, the right to reception conditions under a subsequent application is only applied once the claim is taken into consideration by the CGRS,6 so it is important that the AO transfers them to the CGRS immediately. Nevertheless, in 2016 we have received signals that it can take up to 4 months before the CGRS has taken a decision whether or not it will take the asylum claim into consideration.
- 1. Article 50 Aliens Act and Article 71/2 Royal Decree 1981.
- 2. Articles 51/3-51/10 Aliens Act; Articles 10 and 15-17 Royal Decree on AO Asylum Procedure.
- 3. Article 50 Aliens Act.
- 4. Article 50ter Aliens Act.
- 5. Article 51/8 Aliens Act.
- 6. However, Article 4 of the Act on Reception states that asylum seekers when submitting a subsequent application cannot be excluded automatically, but should receive an individually motivated decision. In practice these asylum seekers will receive a standardized decision that excludes of reception until the decision to take the claim into consideration.