Place of detention


Country Report: Place of detention Last updated: 21/04/23


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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


127 bis (Steenokkerzeel)


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





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-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 (See General).

The following table gives an overview of the amount of detentions per centre in the year 2022:[4]

Detention centre Amount of detentions
Caricole 1,787
127 bis (Steenokkerzeel) 801
Centrum voor ‘illegalen’ Brugge (CIB) 380
Centrum voor ‘illegalen’ Merksplas (CIM) 665
Centrum voor ‘illegalen’ Vottem (CIV) 420
Centrum voor ‘illegalen’ Holsbeek (CIH) 232
Total 4,285


In 2022, 3,300 persons were forcibly returned. It concerned 1,174 repatriations, 795 Dublin transfers, 1,329 refoulements at the border and 2 voluntary returns facilitated by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).[5]


Return houses

As regards families with children, they can be detained in return houses. The family or housing units in the return homes are individual houses or apartments where families are detained 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 authorized to stay further in the territory (see Alternatives to detention). When those families with children are being transferred from the border, these persons are legally speaking not considered to have entered the territory.

In 2021, 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 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.[6]

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.[7] Until now, no independent evaluation of the conditions of such facilities has been carried out, although NGOs have urged for it.[8]

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 March 2023.

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

[6] Information provided by the Immigration Office, February 2022.

[7] 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”, available in Dutch at: 

[8] 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