Conditions in reception facilities

Belgium

Country Report: Conditions in reception facilities Last updated: 30/11/20

Author

Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen Visit Website

Average duration of stay

 

The law provides for accommodation to be adapted to the individual situation of the asylum seeker,[1] but in practice places are mostly assigned according to availability and preferences under the reception model introduced in 2015. It was then decided that reception should mainly be provided in collective centres, while only certain cases would benefit from individual accommodation. See section on Forms and Levels of Material Reception Conditions

In practice, a transfer to an individual place is mostly reserved to specific cases enlisted in two instructions of Fedasil, namely to beneficiaries of international protection or persons who obtain another legal stay for more than three months and nationalities with a high recognition rate (See section on Forms and Levels of Material Reception Conditions). This means that all other applicants stay in collective centres for the entire procedure, which lasted more than 6 months for many people. NGOs have requested for an evaluation of the current reception model but this is currently not planned according to Fedasil.[2]

The Court of Auditors (Rekenhof / Cour des comptes) conducted a financial and qualitative audit of the functioning of Fedasil in 2017. It found that the average duration of stay in collective reception centres was too long and that refusals to transfer asylum seekers after 6 months not only has negative consequences for their well-being and psychological health of the individuals concerned but also for the management and personnel of centres, as it causes tensions and conflicts.[3]

The Court of Auditors also found that reception in collective centres is more expensive than individual accommodation, although a lot more individual accommodation places were empty at the time of the report. It recommended the government to take into account criteria such as cost-effectiveness and quality in prospective closures of reception places. To this end, and according to the Court of Auditors, Fedasil should continue its efforts in developing common quality norms and audit mechanisms, collect more data on duration of stay in the centres, duration of procedures, numbers of transfers, numbers of vulnerable persons and so forth.[4]

 

Overall conditions

 

The minimum material reception rights for asylum seekers are described in the Reception Act, mostly in a very general way.[5] Fedasil puts them into 4 categories of aid:[6]

  1. “Bed, bath, bread”: the basic needs i.e. a place to sleep, meals, sanitary facilities and clothing;
  2. Guidance, including social, legal, linguistic, medical and psychological assistance;
  3. Daily life, including leisure, activities, education, training, work and community services; and
  4. Neighbourhood associations.

Many of those aspects such as the social guidance during transition to financial aid after a person has obtained a legal stay, or the legal guidance during the asylum procedure and the quality norms for reception facilities have not yet been regulated by implementing decrees as the law has stipulated. Until then, those are left to be determined by the individual reception facilities themselves or in a more coordinated way by Fedasil instructions.[7]

Due to this, the quality norms for reception facilities are still not a public document, although they exist and were updated and agreed upon by all the partners of Fedasil in 2018. They contain minimum standards regarding social and legal guidance, material assistance, infrastructure, contents and safety.  

In 2015 Fedasil started setting up a framework to conduct quality audits on the basis of these uniform standards. Throughout 2017, Fedasil did some test audits: 4 in the federal centres, 10 in partners’ centres and LRI and 17 in centres which are already closed down. Developing minimum standards and an audit mechanism was a difficult process as different partners, such as the Red Cross, have developed their own norms and standards over the years. Moreover, some partners criticised the possibility to have audits being performed by Fedasil instead of an independent authority.[8]

As of today, these audits are performed by Fedasil and there is still no independent and external monitoring system put in place. Fedasil conducted 10 audits in 2018, but their outcome are unknown.  In 2019, 40 audits were conducted at all levels of the reception system (both by Fedasil and partners, and both in collective and individual shelters). The findings are not public and only communicated to the reception facility concerned. In 2020, 30 audits are plenned by Fedasil.[9]

In October 2018, a Royal Decree was adopted to regulate the system and operating rules in reception centres as well as on the modalities for checking the rooms.[10] This contains several general rights for the asylum seeker, such as:

  • The right to a private and family life: family members should be accommodated close to each other;
  • The right to be treated in an equal, non-discriminatory and respectful manner;
  • Three meals per day provided either directly by the infrastructure or through other means;
  • The right to be visited by lawyers and representatives of UNHCR. These visits should take place in a separate room which allows for private conversations.

The extensive closure and re-opening of reception places in the past years caused many problems throughout 2019. This includes poor reception conditions as it mainly involves tents and containers as well as poor quality of services provided during the asylum procedure and at reception centres as unexperienced social workers have been recruited, after the experienced social workers had to leave due to closure (see: Types of accommodation).[11] Due to a lack of staff at the Immigration Office and the CGRS, the asylum procedure takes longer and subsequently asylum seekers stay longer in reception centres.

The unavoidable consequence of the governmental crisis management that focuses on providing material aid – “bed, bath, bread” – and stimulating (voluntary and forced) return, is that immaterial assistance (for example legal, psychological, social aid) risks being seriously underfunded, especially when it comes to non-governmental services. Organisations such as Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen and the Belgian Refugee Council (CBAR-BCHV) have lost substantial parts of their public funding, or, in case of the latter, the organisation has disappeared altogether. In 2017, the government has also decided to cut the budget of the Integration Agency (Agentschap Inburgering en Integratie) which provides inter alia legal advice and integration courses.[12]

 


[1] Articles 11, 22, 28 and 36 Reception Act.

[2] Information provided by Fedasil, January 2020.

[3] Ibid, 22-23 and 61.

[4] Ibid, 61-62.

[5] Articles 14-35 Reception Act.

[6] Fedasil, About the Reception Centres, available at: http://bit.ly/1IuvC6u.

[7] Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen, Annual Report 2013, available at: http://bit.ly/1dvBxgS, 7-8.

[8] Court of Auditors, Opvang van asielzoekers, October 2017, 47-48.

[9] Information provided by Fedasil, January 2020.

[10] Royal Decree on the system and operating rules in reception centers and the modalities for checking rooms, 2 September 2018.

[11] Vlaamse Vereniging voor Steden en Gemeenten, ‘Lokale besturen zijn jojo-effect federaal opvangbeleid beu’, 13 November 2019, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3ab3Y1i.

[12] De Standaard, ‘Mogelijk 170 banen op de tocht bij Agentschap Integratie en Inburgering’, 2 October 2017, available in Dutch at: http://bit.ly/2siiZNH; ‘Onzichtbare wachtrij voor cursus inburgering’, 7 February 2018, available in Dutch at: http://bit.ly/2G1bTyZ.

 

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