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 Belgian government stated that the current overall capacity of closed centres is 660 places, up from 609 in 2017, 453 in 2016 and 452 in 2015. In 2018, 8,158 persons were detained in a detention centre for the first time.
Since its decision of 14 May 2017, the government has been steadily increasing the number of places in existing detention facilities.In 2019 the open reception centre (Holsbeek) has been turned into a closed centre for women. Two additional detention centres will be established in Zandvliet and Jumet. These plans will bring Belgium’s detention capacity to 1,066 places by 2022.
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. However in practice, 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 2019, there were 5 sites with 27 housing units with a capacity of 169 persons spread over the communes of Zulte, Tielt, Tubize, Sint-Gillis-Waas and Bauvechain. A total of 497 persons resided in the housing units throughout that year, compared to 629 persons in 2018. Out of the 497 persons in 2019, 218 were adults and 279 were children. Moreover, 78 families (equalling to 259 persons) were released in 2019.
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.
 Chamber of Representatives, Policy Note on asylum and migration, 26 October 2018, available in Dutch and French at: https://bit.ly/2sJL8uz.
 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 2020.