Border procedure (border and transit zones)


Country Report: Border procedure (border and transit zones) Last updated: 30/05/24


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General (scope, time limits)

Belgium has 13 external border posts: 6 airports, 6 seaports, and one international train station (Eurostar terminal at Brussels South station). Belgium has no border guard authority as such; the border control is carried out by police officers from the Federal Police, in close cooperation with the Border Control Section at the Immigration Office, as opposed to the territory’s control, primarily within the competence of the Local Police.

Persons without the required travel documents will be refused entry to the Schengen territory at a border post. They will be notified of a decision of refusal of entry to the territory and “refoulement” by the Immigration Office (“Annex 11”).[1] Such persons may submit an asylum application to the border police, which will carry out a first interrogation and send the report to the Border Control Section of the Immigration Office.[2] The “decision of refoulement” is suspended until the CGRS decides. The “decision of refoulement” is also suspended during the time limit to appeal and the whole appeal procedure itself.[3]

The CGRS shall examine whether the application:[4]

If these grounds do not apply, the CGRS will decide that further investigation is necessary, following which the applicant will be admitted to the territory. This does not automatically mean that the asylum seeker will not be detained. If a ground for detention is present, they can be detained ‘on the territory’ under another detention ground.

Although the law provides that a person cannot be detained at the border for the sole reason that they have applied for international protection[6] (see Grounds for Detention), the asylum application will in most cases be examined while the applicant is detained in a closed centre at the border. Civil society organisations report that asylum seekers who apply for asylum at the border are almost systematically detained without a preliminary assessment of their personal circumstances.[7] The only exception based on vulnerability is made for unaccompanied children and families with children. Families with children are placed in so-called open housing units, which are more adapted to their specific needs but are legally still considered border detention centres.[8]

Most of the asylum seekers who apply for asylum at the border are held in a specific detention centre called the “Caricole”, situated near Brussels Airport, but can also be held in a closed centre located on the territory, while in both cases, legally not being considered to have formally entered the country.[9]

The first instance procedure for persons applying for asylum at the border, detained in a closed centre or held in a return house (see Return houses) is the same as the regular procedure, although the law states that applications in detention are treated by priority.[10] If the CGRS has not taken a decision within four weeks, the asylum seeker is admitted to the territory.[11] Again, this does not automatically mean that the asylum seeker will not be detained. If a ground for detention is present, they can be detained ‘on the territory’ under another detention ground.

For the removal of rejected asylum seekers at the border, the Immigration Office applies the Chicago Convention, which implies that rejected asylum seekers have to be returned by the airline company that brought them to Belgium, to the place from where their journey to Belgium commenced or to any other country where they will be admitted entry.[12] In many cases, the point of departure (and return) is not the country of origin. The CGRS does not examine potential persecution or serious harm risks in countries other than the applicant’s country of origin. Not all issues arising under Article 3 ECHR in the country where the person is (forcibly) returned will therefore be scrutinised. This is the case in particular where the country of return is a country other than that of nationality or also outside the scope of application of the Chicago Convention, where the CGRS has doubts over the person’s nationality or recent stay in that country, making it impossible in their opinion to pronounce itself on the risk of being treated inhumanely there.

In 2023, 650 asylum applications were made at the border.[13]


Personal interview

As is the case in the regular procedure, every asylum seeker receives a personal interview by a protection officer of the CGRS after the Immigration Office has conducted a short interview after the registration and lodging of the application, and after the asylum application seeker has filled in the CGRS questionnaire.

However, as the border procedure concerns asylum applications made from detention and thereby treated as a priority, the interview by the CGRS takes place much faster after asylum seekers’ arrival and in the closed centre. This implies little time to prepare and substantiate the asylum application. Most asylum seekers arrive at the border without the necessary documents providing material evidence substantiating their asylum application. Contacts with the outside world from within the closed centre are difficult in the short period between the arrival and the personal interview, which constitutes an extra obstacle for obtaining documents and evidence.

Vulnerable asylum seekers also face specific difficulties related to this accelerated asylum procedure. Since no vulnerability assessment takes place before detention, their vulnerability is not always known to the asylum authorities and may not be taken into account when conducting the interview, assessing the protection needs and taking a decision. However, it is clearly provided that the asylum seeker should fill in a questionnaire specifically intended to determine any specific procedural needs at the start of the asylum procedure.[14]



The appeal at the border is the same as in the regular procedure, except for the much shorter time limits that need to be respected.  The time period within which any appeal against a decision refusing international protection must be lodged to the CALL while in border detention (including for families in an open housing unit) is only 10 days, or even 5 days in some cases, such as a second or further order to leave the territory, instead of 30 calendar days in the regular procedure.[15]

Due to this short deadline, asylum seekers may face severe obstacles in appealing negative decisions. The Immigration Office only notifies of a “decision of refoulement” after the CGRS has taken a negative decision on the application.


Legal assistance

In the border procedure, asylum seekers are entitled to free legal aid. In administrative detention, staff have a crucial role in making access to legal assistance effective for applicants for international protection. Where occupants do not have a lawyer upon arrival in the centre, the prompt submission of an application for the designation of a lawyer is essential, especially as the time limits for the various procedures are very short. In practice, it seems that in some closed centres, there is a difference in treatment between applicants for international protection considered as “real” by the staff and foreign nationals that, in the course of their procedures, are applying for asylum for the first time in the centre or just before repatriation, which is considered as “false”. A lawyer is automatically proposed to the former category, whereas the latter are not systematically offered one, thus rendering access to legal assistance arbitrary and dependent to the staff’s judgement. Moreover, practices concerning the request for the appointment of a lawyer for an applicant for international protection in administrative detention are very different from one detention centre to another. It also appears that no request for an appointment is made during weekends since no social service duty is provided at that time. It is an additional challenge to meet applicable deadlines and represents an obstacle to effective access to legal assistance.[17]

In principle, the same system described under the regular procedure applies to appointing a Pro-Deo lawyer. However, most bureaus of legal assistance assign junior trainee lawyers for these types of cases, which means that lawyers who do not have adequate experience handle, on some occasions, highly technical cases. The contact between asylum seekers and their assigned lawyers is usually very complicated. Lawyers are often not present at the personal interview because asylum seekers cannot get in touch with them prior to the interview, and lawyers tend not to visit them before the interview to prepare their clients.  When the CGRS issues a negative first-instance decision, it is not always easy to contact the lawyer over the phone or in-person to discuss the reasons given in the decision. Often the lawyer decides that there are no arguments/grounds to lodge an appeal with the CALL and advises the asylum seeker not to appeal without explaining why. Some bureaus of legal assistance have or intend to create pools and lists of specialised alien law lawyers to be exclusively assigned in this type of case. Still, the necessary control and training to effectively guarantee quality legal assistance seems lacking[18] (see also: Legal assistance for review of detention).




[1] Article 72 Aliens Decree; Article 52/3(2) Aliens Act. Remarkably, in French the word “refoulement” is used (“terugdrijving” in Dutch), though it does not concern a violation of the non-refoulement principle, since the persons concerned have been allowed to introduce an asylum application and have it examined.

[2] Articles 50-ter and 50 Aliens Act.

[3] Article 39/70 Aliens Act.

[4] Article 57/6/4 Aliens Act.

[5] Except for the ground relating to the failure of the applicant to apply for asylum as soon as possible.

[6] Article 74/5(1)(2) Aliens Act.

[7] The Immigration Office, in the context of its right to reply to the AIDA report, remarked that in the context of asylum applications at the border every case is treated and any detention decision taken, on an individual basis. Civil society organisations, however, observe that by far every person applying for asylum at the border is detained, and this based on a decision that contains a mostly standardised motivation. This issue has been confirmed by the Committee Against Torture (CAT) in its Concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of Belgium, 25 August 2021, available in English at, §29. See also Belgian Refugee Council Nansen: Vulnerabilities in detention : motivation of detention titles, November 2020, available in French at

[8] Article 74/9 Aliens Act.

[9] For jurisprudence on the fictitious extraterritoriality at the borders, see CBAR-BCHV, Grens, Asiel, Detentie – Belgische wetgeving, Europese en internationale normen, January 2012, available in Dutch at:, 13-15.

[10] Article 57/6(2)(1) Aliens Act.

[11] Articles 57/6/4 and 74/5(4)(5) Aliens Act.

[12] Article 74/4 Aliens Act.

[13] Myria, ‘Contact Meeting International Protection’, 24 January 2024, available in French and Dutch at:, 3.

[14] Article 48/9(1) Aliens Act.

[15] Article 39/57 Aliens Act.      

[16] The Immigration Office, in the context of its right to reply to the AIDA report, indicates that persons in detention immediately receive legal assistance.

[17] UNHCR, Accompagnement juridique des demandeurs de protection internationale en Belgique, September 2019,, 34.

[18] In some specific cases the system of exclusively appointing listed lawyers to assist asylum seekers at the border, seems to have attracted some lawyers for purely financial reasons rather than out of expertise or even interest in the subject matter or their client’s case. 

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation