Special reception needs of vulnerable groups



Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen

Detection of vulnerabilities

The law enumerates as vulnerable persons: children, unaccompanied children, single parents with children, pregnant women, persons with a disability, victims of human trafficking, violence or torture and the elderly.1

At the Dispatching Desk of Fedasil, the specific situation of the asylum seeker (family situation, age, health condition) should be taken into consideration before assigning him or her to a reception centre, since some are more adapted to specific needs than others. The Dispatching has access to the “Evibel” database in which AO can register the elements that indicate a specific vulnerability that has become apparent at the moment of the registration of the asylum application. Since August 2016 the AO uses a new registration form in which they should indicate if a person is a (non-accompanied) minor, + 65 years old, pregnant, a single woman, LGBTI, a victim of trafficking, victim of violence (fysical, sexual, psychological), has children, or has medical or psychological problems.2 In addition to this, the Dispatching does its own evaluation, but this is mostly on medical grounds. A medical worker of Dispatching meets personally with the asylum seeker in case the AO has mentioned a medical problem during the registration, in case the workers of dispatching notice a medical problem themselves, or in case an external organisation draws attention to the specific reception needs of an asylum seeker. In case there is a need for a specifically adapted place due to medical reasons the medical worker of dispatching will fill in a “medical checklist” and Fedasil will look for the most adapted place possible. The identification of vulnerability in general is not conducted in a formalised assessment. In practice most asylum seekers are assigned to a collective centre, only exceptionally, mostly in case of serious health problems, they will be directly assigned to individual housing of NGOs or LRIs (see section on Forms and Levels of Material Reception Conditions). It is mostly only in the reception centres that other vulnerabilities than medical ones are identified by the social workers.

A legal mechanism is put in place to assess specific needs of vulnerable persons once they are allocated in the reception facilities. Within 30 calendar days after having been assigned a reception place, the individual situation of the asylum seeker should be examined to determine if the accommodation is adapted to his or her personal needs. Particular attention has to be paid to signs of vulnerability that are not immediately detectable.3 A Royal Decree has formalised this evaluation procedure, requiring an interview with a social assistant, followed by a written evaluation report within 30 days, which has to be continuously and permanently updated, and should lead to a conclusion within a maximum of 6 months The evaluation should contain a conclusion on the adequacy of the accommodation to the individual medical, social and psychological needs, with a recommendation as to appropriate measures to be taken, if any.4 A finding of vulnerability may lead to a transfer to more adequate accommodation, if necessary. In practice, a transfer is often not possible because of insufficient specialised places.

In a new report from February 2017, Fedasil has highlighted several barriers to identification of vulnerable persons with specific reception needs.5 These include a lack of time, language and communication barriers, a lack of information handover and a lack of training and experience related to vulnerable persons. The report also found that the identification tools are not applied in a coordinated manner and strongly influenced by the reception context. In terms of communication, adapted means of communication with deaf and blind persons are lacking, as well as specialised interpreters. The study concluded that the way in which reception is organised can have an impact on vulnerable persons due to location (remote small villages), size (less privacy in big centres) and facilities (lack of adapted sanitary facilities).


Specific and adapted places

There are a number of specialised centres or specific individual accommodation initiatives for:

  • Unaccompanied minors;

  • Pregnant minors;

  • Vulnerable single women with or without young children;

  • Young single women with children;

  • Minors with behavioural problems (time-out);

  • Persons with psychological problems;

  • Victims of trafficking (although these places are not managed by Fedasil);

  • Refugees who were resettled;

  • Vulnerable persons who received the refugee status or subsidiary protection and who are experiencing problems (linked to their vulnerability) with finding their own house and leaving the shelter.

There are also a number of specialised medical centres or specific medical individual accommodation initiatives for:

  • Persons with limited mobility, for example when they are in wheelchairs;

  • Persons who are unable to take care of themselves (prepare food, hygiene, eat, take medication…) without help;

  • Persons with a mental or physical disability;

  • Persons who receive medical help in a specific place for example dialysis, chemotherapy;

  • Persons with a serious psychological dysfunction;

  • Persons for who it is necessary to have adapted conditions of reception due to medical reasons, for example special diet, a private toilet, a private room.

Unaccompanied children should in principle first be accommodated in specialised reception facilities:  in centres for observation and orientation. While staying in these centres a decision should be made on which reception facility is most adapted to the needs of the specific minor.6 In practice there are some specialised centres, and specific places in regular reception facilities like collective centres and NGOs and LRIs as well, Although it is important to add that in an instruction of 9 November 2016, Fedasil provides the possibility of accommodating minors who are older than 17 years old, and minors about who there is a test pending to clarify their age, in general collective centres for adults. As of February 2017 there are no minors left in these adult places. According to Fedasil, all the minors who were in adult places were transferred to specific minor places in the centres, unless their tutor decided this was not in their best interests.

Currently, there are 190 places in the centres for observation and orientation (currently occupied at 62%), 2,124 places in collective reception centres (currently occupied at 77.21%) and 325 places in individual reception facilities (currently occupied at 94.76%). Currently there is enough capacity in the centres for observation and orientation to be able to follow-up the minors correctly, according to their needs and vulnerabilities. In the second phase, when the minor should be transferred to another shelter, Fedasil can currently take into account for example the age of the minor: when he/she is under 15 and is in need of a more structured and small scale shelter, Fedasil can refer to “AGAJ – Administration Générale de l’aide à la Jeunesse” (for the French-speaking side) and “AJW – Agentschap Jongerenwelzijn” (for the Dutch-speaking side). According to Fedasil, currently there is enough place in these facilities. Through Mentor-Escale and Minor Ndako, some unaccompanied minors can also be sheltered in a foster home. For minor pregnant girls or young girls with children there are specific places. Minors with behavioural problems or minors who need some time away from there reception place can be temporarily transferred to “time-out” places: in the reception centres of Sint-Truiden, Sugny, Synergie 14, and Pamex-SAM asbl Liège. There is a high demand for these places so during 2017 additional places will be created.

For unaccompanied minors who have not applied for asylum there is a special reception facility in Sugny that meets the requirements needed for their particular vulnerabilities (for example, often they have been living on the street, or had a lack of structure for longer periods of time). Unaccompanied minors whose asylum procedure ends with a negative decision can apply for a specific accompaniment in the collective centres in Bovigny and Arendonk. There they will be helped intensively to make informed decisions on their future. They are advised on their further options like voluntary return, future in illegal stay and secondary migration.

There are only about 70 places in 21 apartments (run by Caritas in Louvranges – this is 25 places for women + maximum 53 children) and some individual reception initiatives for single women with children, where they get a specifically adapted accompaniment.

Further there are 30 places in a specialised centre (run by Fedasil in Rixensart) for unaccompanied pregnant girls and young mothers, where child care is also provided for, besides some separated wings or corridors reserved for this group in regular centres.

Furthermore, there are specialised centres (Payoke, Pagasa, Surya, which are external to the Fedasil-run reception network) for victims of trafficking and for persons with psychological problems (40 places in the Croix Rouge CARDA centre, of which 5 places for minors) and “medical rooms” in the regular network adapted for people with specific medical needs and their family members (84 places in Fedasil centres– and 147 places run by Ciré and Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen).

Families with children are allocated in a family room, guaranteeing more privacy.

Finally, it is also possible to refer people to more specialised institutions such as retirement homes or psychiatric institutions outside the reception network.

Next to asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors, Fedasil also has to ensure the reception of a third category: families with children without legal stay when the parents cannot guarantee the basic needs.7 To this end the open return centre in Holsbeek was created. This open return centre for families has been harshly criticised by the federal Ombudsman, together with the Commissioners for children’s rights, in his annual report of 2013. Major criticisms relate to violations of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Belgian Constitution, because the right to education is not guaranteed and social assistance focusses mainly on return assistance. Additionally it is the AO, and not Fedasil, who deliver the material aid, making this right to material aid conditional on the collaboration of the children’s parents with the return.8 The Bruges and Liege Labour Courts have also ruled this conditionality to be a violation of the fundamental rights of the child. They ordered Fedasil, and not the AO, to provide accommodation also after the 30-day period for the execution of the return decision.  This would be in accordance to the Royal Decree of 24 June 2004 on the conditions and modalities of material aid to minor foreigners who reside stay with their parents on the territory illegally.9

In a Judgment of 24 April 2015, the Council of State declared the agreement of 2013 between Fedasil and the AO concerning the reception conditions of families with minor children in the Holsbeek open return centre in violation with the 2004 Royal Decree. The argument was that it only provides in accommodation for 30 days instead of accommodation according to the needs, health and development of the child. Nevertheless, the judgement allowed Fedasil to subcontract their obligation to the AO.10 In June 2015 the open return centre in Holsbeek was closed due to a lack of staff in detention centres. Up until today it has not been reopened. The families currently are sheltered in “open return houses” organised by the AO. These houses are used an alternative for detention for families with children as well.

  • 1. Article 36 Reception Act.
  • 2. Fedasil, Study into vulnerable persons with specific reception needs, February 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2jA2Yhj.
  • 3. Article 22 Reception Act.
  • 4. Royal Decree of 25 April 2007 on the modalities of the assessment of the individual situation of the reception beneficiary.
  • 5. Fedasil, Study into vulnerable persons with specific reception needs, February 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2jA2Yhj.
  • 6. Article 41 Reception Act; Royal Decree of 9 April 2007 on the centres for the orientation and observation of unaccompanied minors.
  • 7. Article 60 Reception Act and Royal Decree of 24 June 2014, about the conditions and modalities for reception of minors who reside in Belgium illegally with their families.
  • 8. Federal Ombudsman, Annual Report 2013, available at: http://bit.ly/1AZrewH, 26-30.
  • 9. Labour Court, Bruges, Judgment 13/1179/A of 19 February 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/1QHEkA9. Labour Court, Liege, Judgment 2014/AN/90 of 18 November 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/1NWMLug. The Labour Court of Charleroi has also found the transfer of a family to the family centre in Holsbeek (in Dutch speaking Flanders) a violation of the right to education guaranteed for children of irregularly residing families by the Royal Decree of 24 June 2004 on the conditions and modalities of material aid to minor foreigners who reside stay with their parents on the territory illegally since it would force the children to change from a French speaking school to a Dutch speaking one. Labour Court, Charleroi, Judgment of 6 May 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/1F5Hyqq.
  • 10. Council of State, Judgment No 230.947 of 23 April 2015, available in French at: http://bit.ly/1RZgJg8.

About AIDA

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