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: 30/11/20

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The report was previously updated in March 2019.

 

Political context

 

On 26 May 2019, regional, federal and European elections took place in Belgium. As a result, the anti-immigrant party Vlaams Belang gained a significant number of votes, thus further posing risks to the (basic) human rights of migrants. At the regional level, new governments – who are responsible inter alia for housing and the integration of newcomers – have been established. However, at the Federal level negotiations were still ongoing as of March 2020. Migration remains a priority in these negotiations.

In 2019, the number of applications for international protection increased by 18.3% compared to 2018 and by 40.9% compared to 2017. The increase in the number of applications for international protection in Belgium is due to several factors. The Commissioner-General for Refugees and Stateless Persons (CGRS) has stated that this should be interpreted with caution.[1] However, it considers that the increase of secondary movements within Europe is an important factor for this increase as well as the fact that Belgium is more “popular” than other Member States.[2]

In 2019, 36.9% of the final decisions were positive decisions granting international protection. Protection was mainly granted to Syrians, Afghans, Turks, Iraqis and Eritreans. The recognition rate steadily decreased since 2016 however. While it reached 57.7% in 2016, it went down to 50.7% in 2017, 49.1% in 2018 and 36.9% in 2019. This decrease is mainly due to the increase of inadmissibility decisions and the number subsequent applications (i.e. multiple applications) as well as applications from persons with protection status in another Member State. When excluding these cases, the recognition rate reaches 50.5%; thus indicating that a significant number of applicants are still in need of protection.

The number of applications lodged by protection status holders sharply increased in 2019. These applications are generally declared as inadmissible because the persons concerned are already beneficiaries of international protection in another EU Member State. Policy measures have been put in place to address this issue. Since the second half of 2019, priority has been given to the examination of such applications. In the last three months of 2019, 660 inadmissibility decisions were taken regarding 906 beneficiaries of international protection in another EU Member State. Moreover, since 7 January 2020, Fedasil no longer provides reception for protection status holders who apply for international protection in Belgium.

 

Asylum procedure

 

  • Delay in the asylum procedure: In 2019, there has been a significant delay in the processing of asylum applications. The period between the lodging of the asylum application until the first interview at the Immigration Office may take more than four months. Some asylum seekers are proposed a new date for an interview up to 5 to 6 times without being provided further information on why their interview is being postponed. This delay is mainly due to a lack of resources. Although extra staff has been recruited within the Immigration Office, the CRGS and the Council of Alien Law Litigation (CALL), the Immigration Office – who has received the least additional staff – stated that this number is insufficient to address the current backlog of cases.[3]    

 

  • Examination of applications for international protection: Between March 2019 and January 2020, three friendly settlements on asylum applications were concluded by Belgium at the level of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).[4] In all three cases (two of which concerned subsequent asylum applications), the applicants complained about the lack of a rigorous examination of the evidence and facts of their respective cases. Through the friendly settlements, the government ensured that it would examine a new application for international protection by conducting a rigorous examination of all available evidence. In this way, the Belgian State avoids a (possible) negative ruling by the ECtHR and the applicants save both time and strength. The Belgian government has guaranteed that the CGRS would examine a possible new asylum application in accordance with the procedural obligations of Article 3 ECHR.

 

  • Palestinian applicants for international protection: Following the increase of asylum applications of Palestinians originating from Gaza at the end of 2018-beginning of 2019 some policy changes were noted, including several dissuasion campaigns. Until the fall of 2018, the CGRS usually granted refugee status to persons originating from Gaza but, on 5 December 2018, it announced that this would no longer be the case. Following this policy change, there have been some judicial developments in 2019. In recent judgments of 18 and 19 November 2019, the united Chambers of the CALL clarified that not all Palestinians from the Gaza Strip are eligible for international protection. Country information indicates that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is still operational in Gaza. The security situation is precarious, but a return via the Rafah border is possible and there is no systematic persecution of Palestinians nor appalling living conditions. However, the CALL also confirmed that individual circumstances may give rise to the granting of international protection in specific cases.[5]

 

Reception conditions

 

  • Lack of reception capacity: Despite the numerous warnings of the federal reception agency for asylum seekers Fedasil as well as civil society actors, a new reception crisis emerged in 2019.[6] Fedasil had to look for 750 extra places each month over the past year, due to an increasing shortage of places for asylum seekers. This is due to the government' scaling down of capacity to adapt reception systems to a drop in asylum applications in recent years, which was therefore not able to address the increase of applications for international protection in 2019.[7] Moreover, as a result of the lack of staff within the determining authority, asylum procedures took longer and asylum seekers had to remain in reception centers for longer periods.[8] On 18 of November 2019 for example, 65 people were not allowed to apply for asylum due to a lack of reception space and had to come back on the following day.[9] The saturation of Fedasil’s reception network has led to a suspension of resettlement operations of refugees since July 2019.

 

  • Withdrawal of reception conditions: Although new centres opened throughout 2019, the occupancy rate was at 96 % as of 1 January 2020 – while saturation is already reached at 94 % of occupancy.[10] Subsequent policy measures were thus adopted to withdraw reception conditions of certain asylum applicants. Since 7 January 2020, Fedasil no longer provides reception for two categories of applicants of international protection:
  1. applicants for international protection who have received an Annex 26quater on the basis of the Dublin III Regulation, but for whom Belgium becomes responsible by default due to failure to transfer within the six months deadlines (Article 29(2) Dublin III Regulation).
  2. applicants for international protection who make a first application in Belgium but who already have an international protection status (i.e. refugee or subsidiary protection status) in another EU Member State.

This measure is based on an instruction of Fedasil of 3 January 2020 which was communicated to the reception network of Fedasil on 6 January 2020.[11] In January 2020 alone, more than 80 persons have subsequently been refused reception, including some single women with minor children.

This instruction has no legal basis and violates national and European law as it excludes categories of individuals from reception beyond the ones foreseen by Article 20 of the recast Reception Conditions Directive. Moreover, these decisions are standard decisions issued systematically to the persons falling within these two categories, without any individual assessment taking into account the specific situation and/or vulnerability of the concerned person.

 

Detention of asylum seekers

 

  • Increased detention capacity: Since 2017 and including in 2019 the government continued its engagement to increase detention. In 2019 the open reception centre (Holsbeek) has been turned into a closed centre for women and two additional detention centres will open in Zandvliet and Jumet in 2020. While the current detention capacity is 660 places,[12] these plans will bring Belgium’s detention capacity to 1,066 places by 2022.[13]

 

  • Detention of children and families: In August 2018, the government opened five family units in the 127bis repatriation centre, as a result of which families with children were being detained again. Detention is applied where the family manifestly refuses to cooperate with the return procedure.[14] However the Royal Decree of 22 July 2018 that establishes the rules for the functioning of the closed family units near Brussels International airport, [15] has been suspended by the Council of State in April 2019, [16] and thus no more families have been detained. The council of state still has to pronounce its decision on the annulation of this Royal Decree.

 

Content of international protection

 

  • Housing: Access to housing remains problematic for people having obtained a protection status. This is mainly due to the current “housing crisis” and the general shortage of qualitative and affordable housing for beneficiaries of protection, including vulnerable groups.

 

  • Family reunification: Beneficiaries of international protection continue to face important obstacles in the context of family reunification procedures, stemming inter alia from the difficulty to obtain visas and to prove family ties, the financial cost of the procedure, its strict conditions and the narrow definition of family members.

 


[1]  CGRS, Statistiques d’asile – bilan 2019, 9 January 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3aRnXmY.

[2]  CGRS, Statistiques d’asile – bilan 2019, 9 January 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3aRnXmY.

[3] Myria, Contact Meeting, 18 September 2019, lines 60 and further, available in French at: https://bit.ly/36woHKI.

[4]  ECtHR (decision), App no. 15388/18, 16 January 2020, R.L. V. Belgium; ECtHR (decision) 7 March 2019, application No. 26763/18, H.G.S. against Belgium; ECtHR (decision) 26 September 2019, application No. 51705/18,. A.A.against Belgium. Entering into friendly settlements seems to be actively applied by the Belgian government. In another case related to the detention of a third country national, the Belgian government paid 20.000 euros in order to settle the case. ECtHR (decision), App No. 47142/18, 20 June 2019, Elizabeth Matondo t. België

[5]  CALL, Decisions No 28889; 228888; 228946 and 228949; 18 and 19 November 2019

[6]  Fedasil, ‘Critical capacity in the reception network’, 13 November 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2O8cDZA.

[7]  In recent years, the government continued its policy of reducing capacity, from 26,362 places in 2016 to 21,343 at the end of 2018 and to 21,014 as of 15 January 2019. By summer 2018 it became clear that due to these closures and a growing number of asylum applications there would be a lack of reception capacity.

[8]  VRT, ‘Lack of staff causes shortage of places in asylum reception centres’, 26 October 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2tbi17e.

[9]  Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen, ‘Opnieuw asielzoekers op straat: kroniek van een aangekondigde opvangcrisis’, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/303Pr3C; Le Vif, ‘Des demandeurs d'asile trouvent de nouveau les portes closes au Petit-Château’, 18 November 2019, available in French at: https://bit.ly/2R50xkI; De Standaard, ‘65 mensen kunnen geen asiel aanvragen in Klein Kasteeltje’, 19 november 2019, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/2sTibjA.

[10Fedasil, Statistics, 1 January 2020, available at: http://bit.ly/fedasilstatistics.

[11Fedasil, Instruction, 6 January 2020, available in French: http://bit.ly/2TVXUEz.

[12] Vrt.be, ‘Eerste gesloten terugkeercentrum voor vrouwen geopend’, 7 May 2019, available in Dutch at:          https://bit.ly/2VmZXTa

[13] Chamber of Representatives, Policy Note on asylum and migration, 26 October 2018, available in Dutch and French, available at: https://bit.ly/2sJL8uz.

[14] Chamber of Representatives, Policy Note on asylum and migration, 26 October 2018, available in Dutch and French, available at: https://bit.ly/2sJL8uz, 34.

[15] Arrêté royal du 22 juillet 2018 | Koninklijk besluit van 22 juli 2018.

[16] Council of State, Decision no 244.190, 4 April 2019.

 

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