Special reception needs of vulnerable groups

Belgium

Country Report: Special reception needs of vulnerable groups Last updated: 01/04/21

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The law enumerates as vulnerable persons: minors, unaccompanied minors, disabled people, elderly people, pregnant women, single parents with minor children, victims of human trafficking, persons with serious illnesses, persons with mental disorders and persons who have been subjected to torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence, such as victims of female genital mutilation.[1] This is a non-exhaustive list, but there is no other definition of vulnerability available.

Detection of vulnerabilities

 

At the Dispatching Desk of Fedasil, the specific situation of the asylum seeker (family situation, age, health, medical condition) should be taken into consideration before assigning him or her to a reception centre, since some are more adapted to specific needs than others. The Dispatching has access to the “Evibel” database in which the Immigration Office can register the elements that indicate a specific vulnerability that has become apparent at the moment of the registration of the asylum application. Since August 2016 the Immigration Office uses a registration form in which they should indicate if a person is a (non-accompanied) minor, + 65 years old, pregnant, a single woman, LGBTI, a victim of trafficking, victim of violence (physical, sexual, psychological), has children, or has medical or psychological problems (for more information see Guarantees for vulnerable groups).

After the Dispatching Desk receives this information, they categorise the asylum seekers in order to assign the right reception place and in accordance with reception needs. To that end, they only differentiate two categories of special reception needs: medical problems – which are of importance to determine the right reception place (e.g. handicap, psychological problems, pregnancy) – and vulnerable women, for whom a collective centre is not a well-adapted place. Asylum seekers who do not fit these two categories are in general assumed to be able to be accommodated in collective centres. In practice, the categories of the Immigration Office and the Dispatching desk don’t match completely, which is why most asylum seekers are assigned to a collective centre. Only in a very few cases, mostly related to serious health problems, they will be directly assigned to individual housing provided by NGOs or LRI (see Forms and levels of material reception conditions).

In fact, the evaluation of dispatching mostly focuses on medical grounds. A medical worker of the Dispatching desk meets personally with the asylum seeker if the Immigration Office has mentioned that the person was vulnerable during the registration, if the workers of the dispatching desk notice a medical problem themselves, or if an external organisation draws attention to the specific reception needs of an asylum seeker.

In addition, Fedasil’s medical staff conducts a medical screening of every newly arrived asylum seeker in order to find an adapted reception centre.[2] The obtained medical information is then forwarded to the assigned reception centre. As regards other vulnerabilities, they are mostly identified by social workers in the reception centres.

A legal mechanism is put in place to assess specific needs of vulnerable persons once they are allocated in the reception facilities. Within 30 calendar days after having been assigned a reception place, the individual situation of the asylum seeker should be examined to determine if the accommodation is adapted to his or her personal needs. Particular attention has to be paid to signs of vulnerability that are not immediately detectable.[3] A Royal Decree has formalised this evaluation procedure, requiring an interview with a social assistant, followed by a written evaluation report within 30 days, which has to be continuously and permanently updated, and should lead to a conclusion within a maximum of 6 months. The evaluation should contain a conclusion on the adequacy of the accommodation to the individual medical, social and psychological needs, with a recommendation as to appropriate measures to be taken, if any.[4] A finding of vulnerability may lead to a transfer to more adequate accommodation, if necessary.

In practice, a transfer is often not possible due to insufficient specialised places or to political preferences for a collective rather than individual accommodation model. The evaluation mechanism is often insufficiently implemented, if at all, and almost never leads to a transfer to a more adapted place.[5] Since May 2018, Fedasil issued two instructions about transfers (see Forms and levels of material reception conditions), but due to the current shortage of places, the application of these instructions remains strict.

In a report from February 2017, Fedasil has highlighted several barriers to identification of vulnerable persons with specific reception needs.[6] These include a lack of time, language and communication barriers, a lack of information handover and a lack of training and experience related to vulnerable persons. The report also found that the identification tools are not applied in a coordinated manner and strongly influenced by the reception context. In terms of communication, adapted means of communication with deaf and blind persons are lacking, as well as specialised interpreters. The study concluded that the way in which reception is organised can have an impact on vulnerable persons due to location (remote small villages), size (less privacy in big centres) and facilities (lack of adapted sanitary facilities).

Fedasil’s end report of December 2018 concludes that there is a significant difference between the identification conducted at the very beginning of the procedure by the Immigration Office and the Dispatching desk, and the one conducted once the asylum seeker is placed in an assigned reception centre. In fact, whereas the first identification is purely “categorical” (as it focuses on needs that can be detected quickly in order to assign an adapted reception place), the identification undertaken by social workers in the reception facilities is much more complex and multi-dimensional. Consequently, the second identification process diverges substantially amongst the different reception facilities, including regarding the different categories that are defined as vulnerable by the Immigration Office and the Dispatching desk. [7]

Since 2016 Fedasil has set up cooperation with two organisations specialised in prevention against and support in case of female genital mutilation (FGM): Intact and GAMS. In the framework of the project FGM Global Approach, funded by the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, they set up a process in the reception centres for early detection of FGM and social, psychological and medical support, and for the protection of girls who are at risk of FGM. In each collective Fedasil centre there is a reference person trained by these organisations. Each social assistant and the medical service of the centre need to conduct the identification within the first 30 days after the person’s arrival in the centre. A checklist was created to guide the personnel of the centre through each step of the process. Each victim of FGM should be informed of this but can choose to take part in it or not. These guidelines were created both for collective reception centres and for individual shelters.[8]

Specific and adapted places

There are a number of specialised centres or specific individual accommodation initiatives for:

  • Unaccompanied minors;
  • Pregnant minors;
  • Vulnerable single women with or without young children;
  • Young single women with children;
  • Minors with behavioural problems (time-out);
  • Persons with psychological problems;
  • Victims of trafficking (although these places are not managed by Fedasil);
  • Refugees who were resettled;
  • Vulnerable persons who received the refugee status or subsidiary protection and who are experiencing problems (linked to their vulnerability) with finding their own house and leaving the shelter.

There are also 385 specialised medical reception places or specific medical individual accommodation initiatives for:

  • Persons with limited mobility, for example when they are in wheelchairs;
  • Persons who are unable to take care of themselves (prepare food, hygiene, eat, take medication) without help;
  • Persons with a mental or physical disability;
  • Persons who receive medical help in a specific place for example dialysis, chemotherapy;
  • Persons with a serious psychological dysfunction;
  • Persons for who it is necessary to have adapted conditions of reception due to medical reasons, for example special diet, a private toilet, a private room.

Given the fact that one room sometimes covers several medical places which are used by family members of the person with medical issues, these 385 places are not all available for people with medical needs. Currently, the number of medical places is insufficient to assign every person with special medical needs to an adapted reception place.[9]

Reception of unaccompanied children

The reception of unaccompanied children follows three phases:

  1. Orientation and Observation Centres: Unaccompanied children should in principle first be accommodated in specialised reception facilities: Orientation and Observation Centres (OOC). While in these centres, a decision should be made on which reception facility is most adapted to the needs of the specific child.[10] Currently, there are 278 places in OOC, 254 of which concern regular places and 24 of which have been created as crisis capacity. On 31 December 2020, the OOC places were occupied at 93,2%.[11]

  1. Specific places in reception centres: There are some specialised centres and specific places in regular reception facilities such as collective centres, NGO centres and LRI. There are 1,406 places in collective reception centres, occupied at 95,5%. Due to a lack of places for adults in the second half of 2018, Fedasil started sheltering adults in the wing of the collective centres that is normally reserved to minors. Fedasil selected these adults and they usually are young adults who still go to school, or families who agreed to be sheltered in that part of the centre. This practice ended in August 2019, however.[12] In 2020, this practice was not applied.[13]

  1. Individual accommodation: Once a child – that is at least 16 years old and who is sufficiently mature – receives a positive decision, a transfer can be made to a specialised individual place. He or she will then have 6 months to prepare for living independently and to look for his or her own place. This stay can be prolonged until the child reaches the age of 18. There are currently 283 places in individual reception facilities, occupied at 76,7%.[14]

At the moment, there is enough capacity in the OOC to correctly follow up with children according to their needs and vulnerabilities. In the second phase, when the child is transferred to another shelter, Fedasil can take into account the age of the child for instance: when he or she is under 15 and is in need of a more structured and small-scale shelter, Fedasil can refer to youth welfare services, Administration Générale de l’aide à la Jeunesse (AGAJ) for the French-speaking side and Agentschap Jongerenwelzijn (AJW) for the Dutch-speaking side. Through Mentor-Escale and Minor Ndako, some unaccompanied minors can also be sheltered in a foster home.

For minor pregnant girls or young girls with children there are specific places in Rixensart, which currently has 30 places.

Children with behavioural problems or minors who need some time away from their reception place can be temporarily transferred to “time-out” places: in the reception centres of Sint-Truiden, Synergie 14, Pamex-SAM asbl Liège,and Oranje Huis. There were 34 of these places available by the end of 2020 which were occupied at 19,4%.

For unaccompanied children who have not applied for asylum there was a special reception facility in Sugny that met the requirements needed for their particular vulnerabilities; but the project has been put on hold in summer 2019.[15] Unaccompanied children whose asylum procedure end with a negative decision can apply for specific assistance in the collective centres in Bovigny (which is a residential support) and Arendonk (which is a project called “4myfuture” and enables unaccompanied minors to focus on their future perspectives during a one-week residency in Arendonk). These centres help them to take decisions for their future, e.g. regarding voluntary return and the situation in which they would be if they stay illegally. Currently, these places are still available but Fedasil signals increasing difficulties in orienting minors to these centres after their asylum procedure, partly due to the increasing length of the procedure during which the minors often establish a strong social network in their region. Fedasil now aims to distribute the expertise built up in Bovigny and Arendonk to the other, regular collective reception centres.[16]

Reception of families

 

There are currently 276 places for vulnerable and pregnant women: 86 in Louvranges and 190 in different centres run by Fedasil, Rode Kruis and Croix Rouge.[17]

Otherwise, families with children are allocated in a family room in the reception centre, guaranteeing more privacy.

Fedasil also has to ensure the reception of families with children without legal stay when the parents cannot guarantee their basic needs.[18] The open return centre in Holsbeek operated to this effect. This open return centre for families has been harshly criticised by the Federal Ombudsman, together with the Commissioners for children’s rights, in his annual report of 2013. Major criticisms relate to violations of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Belgian Constitution, because the right to education is not guaranteed and social assistance focusses mainly on return assistance. Additionally, it is the Immigration Office, and not Fedasil, which delivers material assistance, thus making this assistance conditional on the collaboration of the children’s parents with the return.

In a Judgment of 24 April 2015, the Council of State declared the agreement of 2013 between Fedasil and the Immigration Office concerning the reception conditions of families with minor children in the Holsbeek open return centre in violation of the 2004 Royal Decree. The argument was that it only provides in accommodation for 30 days instead of accommodation according to the needs, health and development of the child. Nevertheless, the judgment allowed Fedasil to subcontract their obligation to the Immigration Office.[19] The families are now sheltered in “open return houses” organised by the Immigration Office. These houses are used as an alternative for detention for families with children as well. Holsbeek is currently being used as a detention centre for single women (see Detention: General).

 

Reception of victims of trafficking and traumatised persons

There are specialised centres such as Payoke, Pagasa, Surya, which are external to the Fedasil-run reception network, for victims of trafficking, and for persons with mental issues (currently 40 places in the Croix Rouge Carda centre, out of which 5 are places for children and another 40 places in the Rode Kruis Ciba centre, out of which 5 are places for minors above 16).[20] Finally, it is also possible to refer people to more specialised institutions such as retirement homes or psychiatric institutions outside the reception network.

Reception of persons with medical conditions

There are about 385 “medical places” in the reception network adapted for people with specific medical needs and their family members. Given the fact that one room sometimes covers several medical places, which are used by family members of the person with medical issues, these 385 places are not all available for people with medical needs. Currently, the number of medical places is insufficient to assign every person with special medical needs to an adapted reception place.[21]

 

 

[1]        Article 36(1) Reception Act.

[2]        Information provided by Fedasil, February 2018.

[3]        Article 22 Reception Act.

[4]        Royal Decree of 25 April 2007 on the modalities of the assessment of the individual situation of the reception beneficiary.

[5]        Court of Auditors, Opvang van asielzoekers, October 2017, 63.

[6]        Fedasil, Study into vulnerable persons with specific reception needs, February 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2jA2Yhj.

[7]       Fedasil, Kwetsbare personen met specifieke opvangnoden: definitie, identificatie en zorg, 6 December 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2S7NtO5, 25.

[8]        Fedasil, Note on the FGM trajectory in the framework of the Gamsproject, steps and tasks for implementation within federal centre, 20 September 2017; GAMS, Traject VGV, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/2VGZTe7.

[9]        Information provided by Fedasil, January 2021.

[10]       Article 41 Reception Act; Royal Decree of 9 April 2007 on the centres for the orientation and observation of unaccompanied minors.

[11]       Information provided by Fedasil, January 2021.

[12]      Information provided by Fedasil, January 2020.

[13]       Information provided by Fedasil, January 2021.

[14]       Information provided by Fedasil, January 2021.

[15]      Information provided by Fedasil, January 2020, confirmed in January 2021.

[16]       Information provided by Fedasil, January 2021.

[17]       Information provided by Fedasil, January 2021.

[18]       Article 60 Reception Act and Royal Decree of 24 June 2014, about the conditions and modalities for reception of minors who reside in Belgium illegally with their families.

[19]       Council of State, Judgment No 230.947 of 23 April 2015, available in French at: http://bit.ly/1RZgJg8.

[20]       Information provided by Fedasil, January 2021.

[21]       Information provided by Fedasil, January 2021.

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