Asylum seekers are detained in specialised facilities and are not detained with ordinary prisoners. The Criminal Procedures Act, as well as the Aliens Act, provide for a strict separation of persons illegally entering or residing on the territory and criminal offenders or suspects. 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.
The following table gives an overview of the detention centres and their respective capacity:
|127 bis (Steenokkerzeel)||60|
|Centrum voor ‘illegalen’ Brugge (CIB)||56|
|Centrum voor ‘illegalen’ Merksplas (CIM)||151|
|Centrum voor ‘illegalen’ Vottem (CIV)||60|
|Centrum voor ‘illegalen’ Holsbeek (CIH)||14|
|Gesloten Gezinsunits bij 127bis||0|
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 closed centre for 60 women. The new government-coalition, that was inaugurated 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.
As regards families with children, the family or housing units in the return homes are individual houses or apartments that are provided for a temporary stay. When they are being transferred from the border, these persons are legally speaking not considered to have entered the territory. In practice however, although they are detained, these families enjoy a certain liberty of movement, under the control of a so-called “return coach”. Children are able to go to school and adults can go out if they get permission to do so.
In 2021, there were 5 sites with 32 housing units with a capacity of 169 persons spread over the communes of Zulte, Tielt, Tubize, Sint-Gillis-Waas and Beauvechain. A total of 205 persons resided in the housing units throughout that year, compared to 497 persons in 2019. Out of the 205 persons in 2021, 85 were adults and 120 were children. Moreover, 21 families were released in 2021.
As for unaccompanied children, the Observation and Orientation Centres (OOC) are not closed centres but they are “secured” and fall under the authority of Fedasil instead of that of the Immigration Office.
 Article 4 Royal Decree on Closed Centres, referring to Articles 74/5 and 74/6 Aliens Act.
 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.
 Information provided by the Immigration Office, January 2021; concerns the situation at the end of 2020. The severe reduction of capacity was due to Covid-safety measures.
 Return coaches are staff members of the Immigration Office that assist the families concerned during their stay in the family unit. For further information see Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen et al, An Alternative to detention of families with children. Open housing units and coaches for families with children as an alternative to forced removal from a closed centre: review after one year of operation, December 2009.
 Royal Decree on Closed Centres, amended in October 2014.
 Information provided by the Immigration Office, February 2022.