Cessation and review of protection status

Belgium

Country Report: Cessation and review of protection status Last updated: 30/11/20

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In October 2017, a specific unit was created as part of the Immigration Office focusing specifically on requests towards the CGRS to end the international protection status and to follow-up on the cases where the status was put to an end.

In practice the Immigration Office will inform the CGRS of any elements it has at its disposal on travels to the country of origin, based on which the latter will effectively take a decision ending the status or not. This applies both to withdrawal and cessation decisions.

From 2016 to 2018, the Immigration Office send a request to the CGRS[1]:

  • in 279 cases to end the refugee status based on such travels, and the number of requests increased from year to year. During the same time period the CGRS decided:
  • to end the refugee status (cessation and withdrawal combined) in 92 of these cases;  
  • to maintain the refugee status in 93 cases;
  • 93 cases were still pending;
  • in 1 case the Immigration Office annulled its request.

 

  •  in 129 cases to end the subsidiary protection status based on such travels, and the number of requests increased from year to year. This concerns the number of cessation and withdrawal requests combined (see below). During the same 3-year period the CGRS decided:
    • to end the subsidiary protection status in 76 of these cases due to travels to the country of origin,
    • to maintain the protection status in 22 cases;
    • 30 cases were still pending;
    • and in 1 case the Immigration Office annulled its request.

The grounds for cessation of refugee status are laid down in Article 55/3 of the Aliens Act. The article refers to the situations in Article 1C of the 1951 Convention.

If a refugee falls under Article 1C(5) or 1C(6), the authorities have to check whether the change in circumstances in connection with which the refugee has been recognised is sufficiently significant and of a non-temporary nature. During the 5-year period of temporary residence granted to recognised refugees, the Immigration Office can ask the CGRS to cease refugee status on the basis of actions that fall under Article 1C of the Refugee Convention.[2] The CGRS can also decide this ex officio. There is no time limit in this situation. The possibility of cessation of the refugee status was included in the Aliens Act after a legislative amendment in 2016.[3] In its decision to end the residence title following a cessation decision, the Aliens Act requires the authorities to take the level of integration in society into account.[4]

As mentioned above, travelling back to the country of origin can lead to the cessation of the refugee status. The government strongly focuses on the control of refugees who travel to their country of origin. For this purpose, it has created a procedure to detect such travellers together with the Federal Police at the airport. Belgium has also concluded agreements with a number of neighbouring countries, such as the Netherlands and Germany, in order to exchange information about the travel behaviours of refugees to their country of origin. [5]  In July 2019 the European Migration Network published an extensive study on beneficiaries of international protection travelling  to  their  country of origin and the challenges, policies and practices that apply in this context in Belgium”.[6] A main finding was that the UNHCR Handbook is being used, but there are no formal internal guidelines with criteria. Determination is done on a case-by-case basis. However, there is internal supervision and support by the central legal service of the CGRS on such cases. The study gives an overview of the main considerations and criteria the CGRS uses to make a decision: amongst others, this is the length of the stay, the frequency of the traveling, the time span between the travel and the granting of the protection status and the circumstances during the stay.

Moreover, contacting the authorities of the country of origin – e.g. consulates, embassies, or other official representations of the country of origin – as a refugee can lead to the cessation of the refugee status. This is not explicitly foreseen in law (similarly to the fact of traveling to the country of origin), but in practice it can be considered as a change in personal circumstances and/or a re-availment of the protection from the authorities of the country of origin.[7] It can be visits in person or other forms of contact with the purpose of requesting the issuance or extension of their passports or other official documents. In practice, cessation decisions in Belgium in this regard are often based on contacts with the authorities of the country of origin in combination with travels to the country of origin. In its report EMN Belgium found no case law on ending status for the sole reason of contacting the authorities of the country of origin. [8]

Regarding the cessation of the subsidiary protection, it is regulated in Article 55/5 of the Aliens Act and applies to situations where the circumstances – on which subsidiary protection was based – cease to exist or have changed in such a way that protection is no longer needed. As ruled by the CALL, the authorities have to check whether the change in circumstances is “sufficiently significant” and of a “non-temporary” nature – otherwise the decision of the CGRS will be declared void. [9]

In relation to individual conduct, the CGRS has stated that, in principle, cessation is not inferred from the sole fact that a beneficiary contacts his or her embassy, when subsidiary protection is granted on the basis of Article 15(c) of the recast Qualification Directive.[10] However, in the case of subsidiary protection, travelling or even returning to the country of origin may also lead to the cessation of the protection status, as it could imply that the circumstances and the overall situation have evolved positively there. A return to the country of origin can also indicate that there are flight alternatives and therefore lead to the removal of the subsidiary protection status. In fact, the CALL confirmed the cessation of the subsidiary protection of an Afghan national who turned back to Kabul for two months right after having received its status. The fact that he turned back demonstrated that there were flight opportunities that were safe and that the overall circumstances, on which the protection was granted, changed.[11]

Cessation of status is possible during the 5 years of temporary residence as provided for in Article 49/2 of the Aliens Act.[12] The Immigration Office has to request the CGRS to cease the status. This situation is not applicable when a beneficiary of subsidiary protection can put forward compelling reasons originating from previously incurred harm to refuse protection from the country of which the beneficiary used to possess the nationality. The Aliens Act requires that the authorities take the level of integration in society into account when taking the decision to end the residence title.[13] The CGRS can also decide this ex officio and there is no time limit in such a situation.

The CGRS always informs the beneficiary of the reasons for reinvestigating the granting of the status but will not necessarily hear the refugee or beneficiary of subsidiary protection during the procedure. The CGRS does however have the possibility to ask the person concerned to formulate his or her arguments to retain the status in writing or orally.[14]

A 2016 amendment changed the wording of the Aliens Act, thereby allowing the Immigration Office to end the right to residence of a person whose protection status is ceased. The Aliens Act requires that when the protection status is ceased on the grounds of Article 55/3 or 55/5 Aliens Act, the authorities take the level of integration in society into account.[15] Furthermore, in the event of a cessation on the aforementioned grounds, the Immigration Office has to assess the proportionality of an expulsion measure. This requires the Immigration Office to take the duration of residence in Belgium, the existence of family, cultural and social ties with the country of origin and the nature and stability of the family into account.

 

So far there has not been any policy of systematically applying cessation for certain nationalities because the situation in the country of origin would have changed in a durable manner. In practice this only happens for individual reasons, such as return to the country of origin or acquisition of another nationality. Usually cessation is triggered upon request of the Secretary of State or the Immigration Office.[16]

In 2019, the CGRS took 75 cessation decisions.[17] In 34 cases it concerned the cessation of the refugee status: Russian Federation (10), Iraq (6), Undetermined (4), DRC (3), Serbia (2). In 41 cases, it concerned the cessation of subsidiary protection: Afghanistan (20), Iraq (21).

In case of a (final) decision to cease international protection status, this has no automatic consequences on family members and dependents of the former beneficiary of international protection a case by case decision is taken if they keep or lose their international protection status.  The conditions for cessation or withdrawal need to be fulfilled for every family member separately.

 


[1]EMN, Beneficiaries of international protection travelling to their country of origin challenges, policies and practices in Belgium, July 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2NIHhbP, 42 and 55.

[2] Article 49(1) Aliens Act.

[3] Article 49(2) Aliens Act.

[4] Article 11(3)(1) Aliens Act.

[5]Commissie voor de Binnenlandse Zaken, de Algemene Zaken en het Openbaar Ambt, Integraal verslag, 5 December 2017, 13 , CRIV 54 COM 774.

[6]EMN, Beneficiaries of international protection travelling to their country of origin challenges, policies and practices in Belgium, July 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2JD4UAq

[7] See also Article of the 1951 Convention.

[8] EMN, Beneficiaries of international protection travelling to their country of origin challenges, policies and practices in Belgium, July 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2NIHhbP, 34.

[9] CALL, 24 February 2017, No 182.917; CALL, 13 September 2017, No 191.961; CALL 13 September 2017, No 191.956.

[10] Myria, Contact meeting, 22 November 2017, para 23.

[11] CALL, 27 October 2017, No 194.465.

[12] Article 49/2(3) Aliens Act.

[13] Article 11(3)(1) Aliens Act.

[14] Article 35/2 Royal Decree on CGRS Procedure.

[15] Article 11(3)(1) Aliens Act.

[16] Myria, Contact meeting, 20 September 2017, para 22.

[17] Information provided by the CGRS, February 2020.

 

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