The report was previously updated in April 2022.
- Key asylum statistics: In 2022, a total of 36,871 applications for international protection were lodged on the Belgian territory (36,023), at the border (580) and in detention facilities (268). Out of this number, 4,652 were subsequent applications. Throughout 2022, the CGRS granted refugee status to 10,632 persons and subsidiary protection status to 429 persons, bringing the total recognition rate to 43%. The refugee status was mostly granted to Syrians (2,499), Afghans (2,467), Eritreans (1,357) and Palestinians (760). The subsidiary protection status was mostly granted to Yemenites (133), Somalians (130), Syrians (37) and Palestinians (23). A total of 13,041 persons were refused international protection (57%). This covers the number of persons who received a decision refusing refugee status and refusing subsidiary protection status (7,742) and those whose applications were declared inadmissible after subsequent applications and towards beneficiaries of international protection in another member state (4,253) or were declared manifestly unfounded (1,046). If only decisions towards ‘first-time applicants’ were considered, the recognition rate was instead of 52.8%. By the end of 2022, 16,415 cases (concerning 19,157 persons) were pending before the CGRS. In 2022, the CGRS decided on the cessation or withdrawal of the protection status in 120 cases. In the context of the Dublin procedure, a total of 15,052 take charge and take back-requests were sent to other states, 8,735 of which were accepted. A total of 831 persons were effectively transferred from Belgium to other Member States in 2022. There were 2,787 incoming take charge and take back requests, of which the Belgian authorities accepted 1,696. Still, only 357 persons were transferred to Belgium in the Dublin procedure (for more statistics about the Dublin procedure, see: Dublin).
- Limitation of access to the asylum procedure: In the context of the reception crisis that started in mid-October 2021 and endures up until today, access to the asylum procedure has been severely impacted in 2022. During several periods in the first half of 2022, the number of persons allowed to apply for international protection at the ‘arrival centre’ (‘Petit Château’/’Klein Kasteeltje’) was limited to the places available on that day in the reception system. Some men had to wait in line for days before being able to make their asylum application. Consequently, these men were not yet considered ‘asylum seekers’ and could not claim certain fundamental rights linked to this status, such as the right to reception. In a judgment of 19 January 2022, the Brussels court of first instance condemned the Belgian State and Fedasil for not ensuring access to the asylum procedure and reception conditions. During the first period following the judgment, all applicants went back to receive immediate access to the asylum procedure, being allowed to make their asylum application on the first day of presence at the arrival centre. However, an increase in applicants following the outbreak of the war in Ukraine led to people once more being impeded from accessing the asylum procedure. On 29 August 2022, the registration centre for applications for international protection moved from the ‘arrival centre’ to the building of the Immigration Office (‘Pacheco’) since the situation in the neighbourhood around Petit Château became untenable for the neighbours due to the numerous people sleeping on the streets around the arrival centre. After this move and throughout the second half of 2022, not all people could apply for asylum on the day they presented themselves due to the limited registration capacity at Pacheco. The Immigration Office cannot predict how many people they can register on a given day. Priority is always given to minors, families and vulnerable people. Single men who could not register on the same day were sometimes given a paper with an invitation to present themselves at another specific moment within 3 working days. On other days, these men did not receive any paper and they were simply refused entry. The daily number of applicants being lower during the first three months of 2023, all applicants were able to register on the day of presentation at the registration centre.
- Audit of the Belgian asylum authorities: An audit of the Belgian asylum authorities (Immigration Office, CGRS, CALL and Fedasil) was conducted in 2022. The main results indicate a lack of staff at the Immigration Office and the CGRS, outdated IT-systems hindering the efficient exchange of information between the different authorities and significant backlogs of cases at the different authorities. In her policy note of 28 October 2022, the Secretary of State for asylum and migration paid specific attention to the shortage of staff on the level of the asylum authorities. She announced that the Council of Ministers agreed to hire 800 new caseworkers for the different services, and a specific website – www.werkenbijasielenmigratie.be – will be created for this purpose. The Commissary-General for Refugees and Stateless Persons stressed the importance of reducing the backlog at the level of the CGRS. To this purpose, actions were taken to increase the number of decisions – leading to an increase in the number of decisions in the period September-December 2022 by 25 % compared to the number of decisions in the same period in 2021 – and the CGRS also continued to invest in the recruitment of new staff. Despite these efforts, the caseload at the CGRA steadily increased to an all-time high of 18,390 files. The CGRS considers 4,800 as an average working load, meaning that only 13,590 files are considered as backlog.
- Legal framework for remote interviews: Since 19 September 2022, two Royal Decrees allow the Immigration Office and the CGRS to organise ‘remote’ interviews, allowing the caseworker to be physically present in another room than the applicant and conduct the interview through communication tools that would enable a conversation on distance in ‘real time’, such as audio-visual connections or videoconference technology. Audio(visual) recordings of the interviews are not allowed. Physical interviews remain the standard procedure. The Immigration Office and the CGRS investigate on a case-by-case basis whether a remote interview should be preferred. Applicants can object to this measure on the level of the Immigration Office or the CGRS, but no appeal is possible against a decision to conduct the interview remotely. Guardians, lawyers and trustees can attend the remote interview. However, both Royal Decrees allow the agent conducting the interview to decide that they can no longer be present in case they do not respect the measures that aim to ascertain the confidentiality of the interview. The interview can continue in their absence. In two judgments of 3 October 2022, the Council of State has suspended the execution of these exceptions as far as the guardians of unaccompanied minors are concerned. Article 9 of the ‘Guardianship Law’ requires the presence of guardians during interviews of their pupils. The Council of State did not suspend the exception concerning lawyers and trustees. For all three categories, action for annulment of the articles stipulating the exceptions are currently pending. Following the entry into force of these Royal Decrees, the CGRS has resumed the interviews by videoconference in the closed centres. The project for conducting remote interviews from open reception centres has been put ‘on hold’. Lawyers or trustees need to be present in the same room as the applicant because the current software does not allow a third party to participate in the videoconference while also ensuring its confidentiality.
- Granting of international protection without personal interview: In 2022, the CGRS continued granting international protection to certain applicants without first conducting a personal interview. This practice first started in the context of the COVID-19 sanitary measures and has continued since. In these cases, the application is investigated based on the elements and documents provided by the applicant, internet and social media research etc. The CGRS selects the cases through an internal screening procedure. The CGRS indicates that this approach is applied to applicants from all countries of origin, not only those with a high recognition rate. Sometimes, the CGRS asks the applicant for additional information through a written questionnaire.
- New way of submitting documents in support of an application: From 1 March 2023, the CGRS has changed the procedure for submitting documents in support of an application for international protection. Because practical and technical issues sometimes create difficulties in assessing documents transmitted by electronic mail or on a digital data carrier (e.g. firewalls blocking the opening of documents or internet links) the CGRS now decided that these documents may only be submitted by registered mail or by delivery to the CGRS against receipt.
- Dublin caselaw – CALL, 5 December 2022 & 7 December 2022: In November 2022, the Croatian Ministry of Internal Affairs sent out a communication regarding its willingness to correctly apply the provisions of the Dublin III Regulation. However, the CALL ruled that this communication from the Croatian Ministry of Internal Affairs does not provide the same guarantee as individualised guarantees, which means that this communication is not sufficient to exclude any risk of a violation of Article 3 ECHR. Similarly, the CALL suspended the Immigration Office’s decision to transfer an applicant to Croatia due to the lack individualised guarantees in a case of 5 December 2022. This case concerns an applicant who was mistreated and arrested in Croatia. The applicant’s statements are supported by, among others, Croatia’s AIDA report. Moreover, for Dublin applicants, there is a risk of refoulement in Croatia, in the absence of individual guarantees from the Croatian authorities prior to transfer. Given that no individual guarantees were demanded from the Croatian authorities in this case, the risk of refoulement and a violation of Article 3 ECHR has not been ruled out, which is why the CALL suspended the Immigration Office’s decision.
- Shortage of guardians: Due to a shortage of guardians, 1,700 minors were waiting for the appointment of a guardian in October 2022, the average waiting time amounting up to 4 months in Brussels, Wallonia and East-Flanders and even 8 months in the Flemish region of Limburg. This is problematic since the appointment of a guardian is required before the minor can undertake certain essential things, such as getting access to legal representation and financial aid (“Groeipakket”) and subscribing to a school. The Guardianship Service indicates that selection processes for new voluntary and professional guardians were ongoing but that it is difficult to find appropriate candidates.
- Reception crisis: The reception crisis that started in mid-October 2021 (see AIDA report Belgium 2021) endured for the whole of 2022 and persists at the time of writing (April 2023). Because the shortage of places has only increased, available places are prioritised to ‘the most vulnerable’ applicants for international protection. In practice, these are families with children, single women and unaccompanied minors. At the end of 2022, there were days on which not all families with children and unaccompanied minors received access to the reception network.
Adult single male applicants for international protection are systematically denied access to the reception network and have to register on a waiting list. Priority is given to men who, with the help of a lawyer, have denounced the violation of their right to reception before the court. Over the course of the whole reception crisis, these legal proceedings have led to more than 8,000 convictions of the federal reception agency (Fedasil) on the national level and more than 1,100 interim measures against the Belgian state granted by the European Court of Human Rights (Rule 39). Even after receiving a positive court injunction, applicants have to wait for several months before receiving an invitation to access the reception network. In practice, obtaining shelter without appealing to a court is nearly impossible. During this time, they are forced to sleep rough (on the street, in tents or squats) or seek shelter with friends or family. Medical civil society organisations such as Doctors of the World and Doctors Without Borders have denounced the dire medical situation of destitute applicants on numerous occasions. They have warned of the risk of hypothermia in winter and the spread of highly infectious diseases such as scabies and diphtheria. Legal practitioners, judges and courts have denounced the impact of the reception crisis on the legal apparatus. The crisis significantly increased the courts’ workload, negatively impacting other legal proceedings.
- Limited access to reception for unaccompanied minors: Between October and December, there was a prolonged period during which not all unaccompanied minors received reception. In case of doubt about the self-proclaimed minor’s age on the day of registration of the asylum application, no reception place was assigned as long as there was no proof of their effective minority. Initially, they were invited to undergo an age assessment (see Age assessment of unaccompanied children). If this test proved minority, the minor was given a reception place. If the test proved that the youngster was above 18 years old, he was not given a reception place and was invited to register on the waiting list for reception. However, between 16 October and 13 December, the Guardianship Service responsible for conducting the age assessment no longer conducted these tests. According to the Guardianship Service, asking minors without access to reception to undergo an age assessment was not justified. As a result, these minors were not given access to the reception network and could not dispute the doubt about their minority. In the second week of January 2023, Caritas International Belgium reported that 24 of these minors were gone missing.
Relevant case law on the reception crisis
- Tribunal of first instance Brussels, 19 January 2022: Condemnation of 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, imposing a €5000 penalty payment for the respective parties for each day during the following 6 months on which at least one person would not receive access to the asylum procedure (penalty for the Belgian State) or to the reception system (penalty for Fedasil), with a maximum amount of €100.000 that can be claimed per party.
- Tribunal of first instance Brussels, 25 March 2022: Heightening of the penalties imposed on Fedasil by the judgement of 19 January 2022 to €10.000 for each day during the following 3 months on which Fedasil does not give someone access to the reception system.
- Court of Appel Brussels, 22 October 2022: Rejection of Fedasil’s appeal against the judgement of 25 March 2022. Lifting of the maximum amount of €100.000 that can be claimed from Fedasil and lifting of the 3-month period during which the penalty against Fedasil can be obtained. As a result, the penalty against Fedasil can be claimed until the judgement on the merits without a maximum amount. The decision on the merits is expected in June 2023.
- Tribunal of first instance Brussels (distraint chamber), 30 January 2023: Based on the judgements of 19 January 2022 and 25 March 2022, Fedasil was ordered to pay €490.000 of fines by the claiming parties for the period between 24 January and 10 June 2022. Fedasil did not pay these fines, so the claiming parties brought the case before the seizure court. The seizure court drafted a list of goods owned by Fedasil that can be claimed. Fedasil contested the list, arguing that it was not established that the right to reception was violated between the 24th of January and the 10th of June. The Court found that “Fedasil is clearly failing to provide unconditional and timely material assistance to any person applying for international protection”. It further states that Fedasil did not execute the convictions of the orders of 19 January and 25 March 2022. The existence of the waiting list for persons without reception provides ample evidence. As long as at least one person is on this waiting list, Fedasil does not respect the right to reception, according to the Court. As a result, the Seizure court confirmed the list of goods that can be claimed.
- ECtHR, Interim measures:
- Interim measure of 31 October 2022, Camara v. Belgium, application no. 49255/22;
- Interim measure of 15 November 2022, Msallem and 147 Others v. Belgium, applications nos. 48987/22 and 147 others;
- Interim measure of 21 November 2022, Reazei Shayan and 189 Others v. Belgium, applications nos. 49464/22 and 189 others;
- Interim measure of 1 December 2022, Almassri and 121 Others v. Belgium, applications nos. 49424/22 and 121 others.
- Rechtbank Den Haag, NL23.382, 20-02-2023: Especially given the interim measures of the ECtHR, the judge decides that the Dutch government needs to motivate that on the subject of the reception situation in Belgium, the Netherlands can still rely on the principle of mutual interstate trust.
Detention of asylum seekers
- Move Coalition monitors situation in detention centres: In 2021, a formal coalition of NGOs accredited to visit detention centres was created: “Move: Beyond detention of migrants”. Visitors of Move visit all detention centres in Belgium on a weekly basis. In 2022, JRS Belgium published a monitoring report of the detention conditions in the centres, explicitly focusing on the centres of Merksplas, Brugge, Caricole and the FITT-unit that they visit every week.
- Continued practice of systematic detention of asylum seekers at the border: In its fourth periodic report on Belgium, the UN Committee against Torture formulated its concerns about the continued practice of systematic detention of asylum seekers at the border. In practice, standard motivations for the detention of asylum seekers at the border are being used without adequately considering their individual situations. This confirms the concerns about arbitrary detention previously formulated by UNHCR.
- “Article 3 cell” verifies the compatibility of detention and expulsion with articles 3 and 8 ECHR: Mid 2021, a specific cell with 3 legal experts was created within the Immigration Office to verify whether the detention and/or expulsion would violate article 3 and 8 ECHR. Figures provided by the Immigration Office show that in 2021, the cell analysed 1,131 files and gave its advice in 28 cases, of which 7 concerned general questions and 21 were individual cases. Move Coalition finds that the unit is not easily reachable, and the decision-making process generally lacks transparency.
- ICAM-coaching as an alternative to detention: In 2021, 60 new civil servants were recruited for the Immigration Office to start working for the newly founded department of ‘Alternatives to Detention’ as “ICAM-coaches” (Individual Case Management Support). These return-coaches provide intensive guidance for return. After receiving an order to leave the territory, a migrant will be invited to a series of interviews, where his/her file will be explained to them, and a trajectory towards a return or other existing procedures will be organised (depending on the individual). Attendance is mandatory, and failure to cooperate with return procedures or to show up may result in detention. In 2021, several cases of asylum-seekers in the Dublin procedure were arrested after the first or second appointment with an ICAM coach. Since 2022, Dublin cases are, among other target groups, the priorities of the ICAM coaches. It is yet too early to report on the concrete impact of these so-called ICAM coaches and whether this approach can be considered an effective alternative to detention. However, due to the influx of Ukrainians after the Russian invasion, most of the ICAM coaches were deployed in the registration centre at the Heysel to process the requests for temporary protection. As a result, the ICAM coaches could no longer follow up on their files for several months in 2022.
- Condemnations by the Committee on the Rights of the Child for the detention of children: In two decisions of March 2022, Belgium was condemned by the Committee on the Rights of the Child for having detained children in the family units of the 127bis repatriation centre. The Committee recalled that the detention of any child because of their parent’s migration status contravenes the principle of the child’s best interests and that “detaining children as a measure of last resort must not be applicable in immigration proceedings”. The Committee, moreover, reminded Belgium of its obligation to use alternatives to detention. Belgium has already been condemned before by the ECtHR for the detention of children in closed centres that provided inhumane living conditions. In the context of the ‘Migration Deal’ of 9 March 2023, the government has announced it would officially insert the prohibition of child detention into the law.
- Relevant case law on detention
- CALL, 10 February 2023, 284.595: The Court of Alien Law Litigation (CALL) has criticized the use of this fast-tracked procedure and annulled the decision of the asylum authorities in a case of an asylum applicant at the border because of the threat to his rights of defence and the principle of equality of arms.
- Committee on the Rights of the Child 24 March 2022, E.B. v. Belgium, CRC/C/89/D/55/2018 and Committee on the Rights of the Child 22 March 2022, K.K. and R.H. v. Belgium, CRC/C/89/D/73/2019: The Committee on the Rights of the Child condemned Belgium for having detained children in the family units of the 127bis repatriation centre. The Committee recalled that the detention of any child because of their parent’s migration status contravenes the principle of the child’s best interests. It further stated, that “detaining children as a measure of last resort must not be applicable in immigration proceedings”, reminding Belgium of its obligation to use alternatives to detention.
Content of international protection
- Beneficiaries of international protection without shelter: In the context of the reception crisis, some applicants received international protection without access to the reception network and thus were homeless. In the absence of an address, obtaining a residence permit (A-card) at the local commune is very difficult when receiving a favourable decision. Without this permit, the status holder can encounter difficulties obtaining financial aid, opening a bank account and renting a place to live.
- Changes to the Code of Belgian Nationality: On 31 December 2022, some changes were made to the Code of Belgian Nationality. Among other things, the formulation of article 10 is altered in the sense that a child born in Belgium who does not have another nationality automatically has the Belgian nationality without first having to be recognised as stateless and a Central Authority for nationality is constituted within the Federal Public Service (FPS) Justice charged with the task of giving non-binding advice to local officers with doubts about the application of the Code.
- Ongoing difficulties with the procedure of family reunification with beneficiaries of international protection: Given the preparations of a new legislative proposal on this topic, the Federal Migration Centre (Myria), published a report establishing obstacles and formulating recommendations on the procedure of family reunification for beneficiaries of international protection. It establishes that the family reunification procedure for refugee families is very complex and challenging due to both the living circumstances of the applicants and the Belgian procedure. It concludes that if neither the delays are prolonged nor the application procedure is facilitated, international protection beneficiaries cannot realise their right to family reunification in practice. A separate report explicitly highlights the issues that Afghan family members encounter in applying for a visa in view of family reunification since the takeover of power by the Taliban.
- Waiting lists for schools for non-Dutch speaking children: The capacity of local schools is not always sufficient to absorb all non-Dutch speaking children entitled to education. During the school year of 2022-2023, hundreds of non-Dutch-speaking children are on a waiting list to get access to the Flemish OKAN-classes. They might have to wait until September 2023 before they can access to education. Based on numbers provided by some cities, approximately 550 students are on a waiting list and do not have access to education. These numbers concern all non-Dutch speaking students and not only children of beneficiaries of international protection.
The information given hereafter constitute a short summary of the Belgium Report on Temporary Protection, for further information, see Annex on Temporary Protection.
Temporary protection procedure
- Scope of temporary protection: Following the Russian invasion, the Belgian senate agreed on 25 February 2022 that the necessary steps should be taken to accommodate Ukrainian war refugees temporarily. A registration centre was set up in Brussels for people with a potential right to temporary protection. Between 10 March 2022 and 28 February 2023, 66,386 persons received a temporary protection certificate in Belgium. This includes 64,865 persons with Ukrainian nationality and 1,521 persons with another nationality. Under the implementation decision, the Belgian Aliens Act provides that temporary protection is applied to the same categories of people who are eligible for temporary protection. While this is the case overall, there are slight differences in interpretation and application. Common reasons for refusal are based on the fact that the person did not have his or her principal place of residence in Ukraine before 24 February or where the person already has a visa or residence permit for another member state (with the exclusion of a residence permit based on temporary protection). Belgium does not offer temporary protection to those who do not have a permanent residence permit in Ukraine. For those who fall outside the scope of Temporary protection, there is the possibility to apply for international protection. However, since the Council Implementation Decision, the applications of Ukrainian nationals are frozen, meaning that their request is not processed, and this will most likely remain so for as long as temporary protection is not suspended on a European level. On the other hand, the requirements for family reunification with a beneficiary have been significantly reduced.
Content of temporary protection
- Residence permit: Temporary protection applicants usually receive a decision on their application the same day or, at the latest, within three days at the registration centre in Brussels. They are supposed to present themselves with the necessary documents proving they fall under the scope of temporary protection (ID card, passport, proof of family ties,…). In the case of a positive decision, they receive a temporary protection certificate necessary to apply for a residence permit (the A-card) at the local municipality. 75% of applicants indicate not having a reception need. Persons who do indicate a reception need are selected based on vulnerabilities. Those with vulnerabilities (elderly persons, pregnant women,…) are housed at an emergency transit reception centre and dispatched to the local level. Persons who do not have such vulnerabilities are told to address themselves to a municipality of choice to express their reception needs.
- Rights of temporary protection holders: Beneficiaries have the right to health insurance and medical care, legal assistance, and access to the labour market and the education system. They receive social benefits if they need financial aid and have the option to follow integration courses. These rights can be opened almost immediately, although registration at the municipality is required to effectively enjoy these rights.
 CGRA, ‘Asylum Statistics February 2023’, 21 March 2023, available at: https://bit.ly/40TbnNG.
 CALL, Decision No 281.547, 7 December 2022, available in French at: https://bit.ly/3MBKtVV, Decision No 281.327, 5 December 2022, available in French at: https://bit.ly/41mCZdH.
 De Standaard, 24 jonge asielzoekers officieel vermist, 10 January 2023, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3CEYlcm.
 Tribunal of first instance of Brussels, 19 January 2022, 2021/164/C, available in French at https://bit.ly/363Nqvk; The Brussels Time, ‘Court condemns Belgium for asylum crisis, situation remains precarious’, 21 January 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3H2kTUo.
 Tribunal of first instance of Brussels, 25 March 2022, 2022/13/C, available in French via https://bit.ly/3FcOKe1.
 Court of Appeal Brussels, 22 October 2022, 2022/KR/14.
 HUDOC, Interim measure of 31 October 2022, Camara v. Belgium, application no. 49255/22, http://bit.ly/42avsA2.
 The Brussels Times, ‘Court urges Belgium to provide immediate shelter for 148 asylum seekers’, 17 November 2022, http://bit.ly/3Jr6gO8.
 Judgment available in Dutch: http://bit.ly/3IfSc8w
 Immigration Office, Annual Rapport 2021, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3JESFn3.
 Move Coalition, One does not detain a child. Point., 21 March 2023, available in French and Dutch at http://bit.ly/3zAt5Jx.
 The Senate, The senate passes a resolution on the Russian invasion in Ukraine, 25 February 2022, available in Dutch and French at: http://bit.ly/3KPummS
 Fedasil, Reception of the Ukrainian nationals, 4 March, 2022, available in English at: http://bit.ly/3KImDXF.
 Statbel, Displaced persons from Ukraine, available in English at: https://bit.ly/3ZmG5O4
 IBZ, Temporary protection monthly statistics, available in Dutch and French at: https://bit.ly/3y1Kvyc. The numbers from 2022 (from 10 March to 31 December) are added together with the numbers from January and February (from 1 January until 27 February), see table 2.8 for 2022 and 2.6 for 2023.
 Article 59/27 Aliens Act.