Place of detention


Country Report: Place of detention Last updated: 30/05/24


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Asylum seekers are detained in specialised facilities and are not detained with ordinary prisoners.[1]  The Criminal Procedures Act and the Aliens Act provide for a strict separation of persons illegally entering or residing on the territory and criminal offenders or suspects.[2] Asylum seekers can be detained with other third-country nationals and the same assistance is given to them as to irregular migrants in detention centres. However, in practice, some people who find themselves in prison as a result of criminal charges have also applied for international protection. After completing their sentence/or upon early release they can thus be transferred to a closed detention centre, if legal conditions are met.


Detention centres

The following table gives an overview of the detention centres and their respective capacity in March 2023:[3]

Detention centre Capacity
127 bis (Steenokkerzeel) 120
Caricole 100
Centrum voor ‘illegalen’ Brugge (CIB) 104
Centrum voor ‘illegalen’ Merksplas (CIM) 110
Centrum voor ‘illegalen’ Vottem (CIV) 77
Centrum voor ‘illegalen’ Holsbeek (CIH) 28
Gesloten Gezinsunits bij 127bis 0
Total 539

The government decided on 14 May 2017 to maximise the number of places in existing detention facilities. In 2019 the open reception centre (Holsbeek) has thus been turned into a detention centre for 50 women. The new government taking office on 1 October 2020 has confirmed the construction of additional places. With the construction of two additional detention centres in Zandvliet (144 places) and Jumet (200 places), the construction of a new centre in Jabbeke (112 places) as replacement for the centre in Bruges and the creation of a new quick-departure centre in Steenokkerzeel, the total detention capacity in Belgium will amount to 1,145 places in 2030 (See General).

The following table gives an overview of the number of detentions/detainees per centre in the year 2023:[4]

Detention centre Amount of detentions
Caricole 1,991
127 bis (Steenokkerzeel) 825
Centrum voor ‘illegalen’ Brugge (CIB) 566
Centrum voor ‘illegalen’ Merksplas (CIM) 764
Centrum voor ‘illegalen’ Vottem (CIV) 499
Centrum voor ‘illegalen’ Holsbeek (CIH) 270
Total 4,915

In 2023, 3,822 persons were forcibly returned. It concerned 1,354 repatriations, 1,135 Dublin transfers and 1,333 refoulements at the border.[5]


Return houses

As regards families with children, they can be held in return houses, also called family units or FITT. The family or housing units in the return homes are individual houses or apartments where families are held during the time required to prepare their return to the country of origin, their readmission by the EU Member State responsible for processing their asylum application, or to be authorised to stay further in the territory. When those families with children are being transferred from the border, these persons are legally speaking not considered to have entered the territory.

In the strict sense, the return homes are considered an alternative to detention since they are considered as open facilities. In practice however, families residing in return houses are subject to freedom restrictions (e.g. one adult must be present in the home at all times) and are, under the control of a so-called “return coach”.[6] Children are able to go to school and adults can go out if they obtain permission to do so.[7] However a recent study conducted by NGO’s concluded that some fundamental rights of children were not respected. The fact that children are removed from their usual living areas, do not always have access to school[8] or leisure activities is clearly contrary to the best interest of the child. Due to these and other reasons, civil society organisations do not consider the return houses to meet the conditions of a proper ‘alternative to detention’.[9]

In 2022, there were 5 sites with 28 housing units with a capacity of 169 persons spread over the communes of Zulte, Tielt, Tubize, Sint-Gillis-Waas and Beauvechain. A total of 111 families, which amounts to 347 persons (195 children, 105 woman and 47 man) resided in the housing units throughout that year. The majority of the families detained in return houses have made applications for international protection at the border (in 2022, 91 out of the 111 families). The average duration of stay is 41 days. At least 35 families were released in 2022.[10]

In its general policy note in November 2021, the previous Secretary of State declared the intention to create more places in the return houses. The plan to double places in return houses was then repeated on a blog post of the current Secretary of State in December 2022.[11] Until now, no independent evaluation of the conditions of such facilities has been carried out, although NGOs have urged for it.[12]

As for unaccompanied children, the Observation and Orientation Centres (OOC) are not detention centres but they are “secured” and fall under the authority of Fedasil instead of that of the Immigration Office.




[1] Article 4 Royal Decree on Closed Centres, referring to Articles 74/5 and 74/6 Aliens Act.

[2] Article 609 Criminal Procedures Act and Article 74/8 Aliens Act. The latter provision only allows for a criminal offender who has served his sentence to be kept in prison for an additional 7 days as long as he or she is separated from the common prisoners.

[3] Information provided by the Immigration Office in March 2023.

[4] Information provided by the Immigration Office in April 2024.

[5] Information provided by the Immigration Office in March 2023.

[6] Return coaches are staff members of the Immigration Office that assist the families concerned during their stay in the family unit.

[7] Royal Decree on Closed Centres, amended in October 2014.

[8] Access to school depends on several factors such as the duration of the stay in the FITT, agreement of the parents, possibility to register in a school in the middle of the school year, etc. In practice, civil society organisations observe that children above 12 years old are almost systematically deprived of access to school.

[9] Platform of children on the move (Plate-forme mineurs en exil/Platform kinderen op de vlucht), ”Return houses in Belgium: a full-fledged, efficient and child-friendly alternative to detention ?”, January 2021, available in French at: and in Dutch at

[10] JRS Belgium, Monitoring report 2022, available in English at:

[11] Chamber of Representatives, Policy Note on asylum and migration, 3 November 2021, available in Dutch and French, available at:; Chamber of Representatives, Policy Note on asylum and migration, 12 July 2022, available in Dutch and French at:; Nicole de Moor | Nicole de Moor: “Plannen voor terugkeercentra worden bakstenen” (

[12] Plateforme mineurs en exil, Report: Return houses in Belgium, a fully-fledged alternative to detention, effective and respectful of children’s rights?, available in French at:

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