Overview of the main changes since the previous report update

Belgium

Country Report: Overview of the main changes since the previous report update Last updated: 08/04/22

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The report was previously updated in April 2021.

Asylum procedure

 

  • Key asylum statistics: In 2021, a total of 25,971 applications for international protection were lodged on the Belgian territory, at the border and in closed detention centres. Out of this number, 5,432 were subsequent applications. Throughout 2021, the CGRS granted the refugee status to 9,222 persons and subsidiary protection status to 871 persons, bringing the total recognition rate to 43.5%. A total of 11,817 persons were refused international protection (56.5% of all applications). Among such rejection decisions, 6,041 were refusals after an examination on the merits of the case in the context of the normal asylum procedure. 607 were decisions declaring the application ‘manifestly unfounded’ in the context of an accelerated procedure. 5,169 consisted of inadmissibility decisions, taken either in the case of subsequent applications or towards beneficiaries of international protection in another Member state. If only decisions on the merits are considered, the recognition rate would rise to 58.3%. By the end of 2021, 15,685 cases (concerning 18,835 applicants) were pending before the CGRS. The average length of the first instance procedure, counting from the moment the case was transferred to the CGRS until its first decision – thus not considering the period between the lodging of the application before the Immigration Office and the moment the Immigration Office sends the file to the CGRS – was 266 days. In the context of the Dublin procedure, a total of 9,808 take charge and take back-requests were sent to other states, 5,568 of which were accepted. A total of 429 persons were effectively transferred from Belgium to other Member States in 2021. There was a total of 2,284 incoming take charge and take back requests, of which 1,241 were accepted by the Belgian authorities, but only 418 persons were actually transferred to Belgium in the context of the Dublin-procedure.
  • Access to the asylum procedure: Since October 2021, Belgium is facing a reception crisis that also severely affected the possibility for new applicants to access the asylum procedure. From October 2021 onwards and until the time of writing (end of March 2022), large numbers of single men had to wait in line for days before being able to make their asylum application. As these men were not yet considered ‘asylum seekers’, they could not claim certain rights linked to this status, such as the right to reception. Consequently, dozens of single men were forced to sleep rough and camp outside the arrival center every night, hoping to be able to introduce their asylum application the following morning. In a judgment of 19 January 2022, the Brussels court of first instance ordered the Belgian state to ensure access to the asylum procedure. In the first period after the judgment, all applicants were once more able to access the asylum procedure. However, the improvement was short-lived; the increase of applicants following the outbreak of the war in Ukraine (mainly prior to the implementation of the temporary protection status for persons flying from Ukraine) led to numerous applicants being denied access to the asylum procedure from the first week of March 2022. Access to the asylum procedure remains a major problem at the time of writing (see Registration of the asylum application).
  • Measures to reduce the backlog of cases at asylum services: The government started several processes aimed at clearing the backlog at all stages of the asylum procedure, including an audit of the asylum authorities involved in the procedure (CGRS, Immigration Office, Fedasil and CALL) and the recruitment of 700 new staff members in these services. The results of the audits are expected in the summer of 2022. Moreover, first steps were taken towards the establishment of a new Migration Code in replacement of the current Aliens Act, aiming to make all migration procedures – including the asylum procedure – more coherent and streamlined and leading to swifter procedures and more legal certainty. An advisory expert commission started its activities at the beginning of 2021 with the consultation of around 90 stakeholders, including civil society organisations and public administrations who work with the law in practice on a daily basis. The government aims to send a first version of the new Migration Code to the Council of State for advisory opinion in the beginning of 2023.
  • Digitalisation of procedures before the CALL: Before March 2022, appeal petitions and all other procedural documents included in procedures before the CALL could only be introduced by registered letter. Thanks to a digitalisation process, they can also be introduced digitally through the application ‘J-BOX’ since 1 March 2022. The CALL is in its turn allowed to send procedural documents (such as invitations for hearings, judgements, etc.) to the parties through this same digital application. Although questions are raised as to the decision to cease using faxes and any other easily accessible digital communication means, as this may negatively affect the possibilities of successfully submitting an appeal for applicants not assisted by a lawyer, the digitalisation of the procedure before the CALL was a long-awaited measure.
  • Applications for international protection from Afghan citizens: After the fall of Kabul on 15 August 2021, the Belgian government evacuated and transferred 1,426 persons to Belgium through the evacuation mission ‘Red Kite’. Afghan citizens who did not already have a Belgian residence permit received a short-term visa valid for 15 days, after which they were able to apply for international protection. From mid-August, the CGRA decided to temporarily and partially suspend certain decisions on Afghan applications for international protection, putting the investigation of many cases regarding Afghan applicants on hold for an indefinite amount of time. In the subsequent period, the CGRS examined the new situation in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover. On 2 March 2022, the CGRS resumed decision-making in all cases involving Afghan applicants. Overall, the CGRS indicates that the situation for many Afghans has clearly deteriorated and various “profiles at risk” will be eligible for the refugee status. With regards to the need for subsidiary protection, however, the CGRS states that the level of indiscriminate violence has significantly decreased since the Taliban takeover, most attacks being of targeted violence. As a result, subsidiary protection status will no longer be granted on the basis of the security situation.[1] This point of view is in contrast with the UNHCR ‘Guidance Note on the International Protection Needs of People Fleeing Afghanistan’, published in February of 2022. This policy change might result in a serious increase in the amount of negative decisions issued for cases of Afghan applicants for international protection. (see Differential treatment of specific nationalities in the procedure)
  • Response to the crisis in Ukraine: Following the activation of the European Temporary Protection Directive through the Council of the European Union decision of 4 March 2022, (1) Ukrainian nationals residing in Ukraine who have been displaced on or after 24 February 2022 and their family members, as well as (2) stateless persons and nationals of third countries other than Ukraine who can prove that they were legally residing in Ukraine before 24 February 2022 on the basis of a valid permanent residence permit issued in accordance with Ukrainian law, and who are unable to return in safe and durable conditions to their country of origin or region within their country of origin, are eligible for a temporary protection status in Belgium. People who are granted temporary protection have a right to work, social aid and medical insurance. In a first phase, a registration centre was set up in ‘Bordet’ (Brussels), but this location was inadequate to process the large numbers of applicants arriving every day. The registration centre therefore moved to Brussels Expo Hall Palais 8 (Heysel, Brussels). By 28 March 2022, 23,361 persons were granted temporary protection. People who are not eligible for the temporary protection are channelled in the asylum procedure, which remains also accessible for Ukrainian citizens who are eligible for, have applied for or received temporary protection. However, the examination of an application for international protection is suspended as long as the applicant enjoys temporary protection.[2] (see Differential treatment of specific nationalities in the procedure)

Reception conditions

 

  • Reception crisis: Since mid-October 2021, Belgium has been facing a reception crisis. Each day, dozens of applicants for international protection – mainly single men – do not receive access to a reception place, often for various days, if not for weeks.[3] In a judgment of 19 January 2022, the court of first instance of Brussels condemned the Belgian State and Fedasil for not ensuring access to the asylum procedure and to reception conditions and ordered both parties to ensure the respect of these fundamental rights. Nevertheless, access to the reception system remained precarious after 19 January 2022 and limited to available places. The situation further deteriorated as of 28 February 2022, due to the increase in newly arrived applicants following the outbreak of the war in Ukraine led once more to dozens of individuals being temporarily denied access to the asylum procedure and the reception system. The situation remained problematic until the time of writing. (see Criteria and restrictions to access reception conditions)
  • Reception of people with temporary protection: Building on a wave of solidarity among Belgian citizens after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the Secretary of State launched a campaign called “#plekvrij” to look for emergency housing for Ukrainian citizens. Local governments and individual citizens can indicate if they have extra housing places for Ukrainian citizens. On 4 March 2022, the number of offered places reached over 15,000.[4] People receiving a temporary protection status and indicating a reception need are linked to the available public and private housing opportunities by a Fedasil team present at the registration centre Heyzel. This is an emergency housing solution. In the meantime, further steps are taken to develop more structural and long-term housing opportunities for Ukrainian refugees.[5]
  • Denial of access to reception for applicants with Eurodac-hit: On 24 January 2022, the government launched a ‘five-point action plan’ to counter the ‘growing problem of asylum seekers crossing into Belgium’.[6] One of the pillars of this action plan consists in giving priority to ‘first time applicants’, who have not yet applied for or/and received asylum in another Member State, in case of shortage of reception places. As of 24 January 2022, applicants for whom, at the moment of registering their asylum application, a Eurodac hit indicates they have already applied for or received international protection in another country, are being denied access to the reception network and requested to send an e-mail to Fedasil to be included on a waiting list.[7] Between 24 January and 25 March, 515 persons were denied access to the reception network on these grounds. During the same period, 386 registered for the waiting list.[8] It is currently unknown how many applicants on the waiting list have been offered a place in the reception network.

Detention of asylum seekers

 

  • Extension of detention capacity: After the government announced in 2020 the will to construct additional places for the administrative detention of migrants, the plans for this extension of the detention capacity were further developed in 2021. construction of new centres started in 2021. According to the current plans, the total detention capacity in Belgium will amount to 1,145 places in 2030. (see Detention of asylum seekers)

 

Content of international protection

 

  • Reform of integration trajectories: A new Flemish decree on integration and civic integration policy was announced and partly implemented in 2021, including some important changes for both international protection applicants and beneficiaries of international protection. As of 1 January 2022, the integration trajectory – including a course on social orientation focusing on life, work, norms and values in Belgium, Dutch language courses and individual guidance in the search for work, studies, and assistance with credential evaluation – is no longer accessible for applicants for international protection still in the asylum procedure. For beneficiaries of international protection, the new decree includes new measures such as the obligatory registration with employment services and the participation in network trajectories. Also new is the obligation to pay fees to access different parts of the trajectory, reaching up to 360 euros per person. (see Access to the labour market)

 

 

 

[1] CGRA, ‘Afghanistan: New Policy’, 2 March 2022, available in English: https://bit.ly/35H5pIe.

[2] Art. 51/9 Aliens Act.

[3] ECRE, ‘Belgium: Asylum Seekers (Once Again) Left Destitute’, 29 October 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3hT2HC3; ECRE, ‘Belgium: Accommodation Shortage Leaves Men in the Cold, Court Insists on Reception Conditions, Charities Launch Judicial Challenge, Media Access Curtailed’, 3 December 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3wzNHS3; The Brussels Times, ‘A crisis foretold’: Belgium’s system for asylum seekers is overwhelmed’, 18 November 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3tAog0W; Infomigrants,Belgium: Hundreds of asylum seekers on the street’, 10 December 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3MxGJCJ.

[4] The Brussels Time, ‘More than 10,000 temporary shelters made available to Ukrainian refugees in Belgium’, 3 March 2022, available in English: https://bit.ly/3tQGs6k; The Brussels Time, ‘Municipalities can create temporary shelter for Ukrainian refugees without permit’, 7 March 2022, available in English at: https://bit.ly/3J5RbhT.

[5] VRT Nws, ‘Secretary of State Mahdi expects 200,000 refugees from Ukraine and wants emergency centres in all provinces’, 9 March 2022, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3DrKju0.

[6] Website Secretary of State Sammy Mahdi, ‘Sammy Mahdi sharpens approach of asylum seekers who already applied in other country’, 24 January 2022, available in French at: https://bit.ly/35Jk3Pb ; Bruzz, ‘Sammy Mahdi sharpens approach of asylum seekers who already applied in other country’, 24 January 2022, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3HT2vxb; RTBF, ‘Belgium sharpens approach of asylum seekers who already applied in other country’, 24 January 2022, available in French at: https://bit.ly/3i015WQ.

[7] MO Magazine, ‘Ongoing reception crisis in asylum policy, while humans are concerned’, 17 February 2022, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3IZhaY.Q.

[8] Commissie voor binnenlandse zaken, veiligheid, migratie en bestuurszaken, Integraal verslag, 30 maart 2022, 27, CRIV 55 COM 752.

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