Special reception needs of vulnerable groups


Country Report: Special reception needs of vulnerable groups Last updated: 10/07/24


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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 no other definition of vulnerability is available.


Detection of vulnerabilities 

On the moment of registration of the asylum application, the Immigration Office registers the elements that indicate a specific vulnerability that has become apparent on the moment of the registration of the asylum application (e.g. indication of (unaccompanied) minor, + 65 years old, pregnant, single woman, LGBTI, victim of trafficking, victim of violence (physical, sexual, psychological), has children, or has medical or affected by psychological issues (for more information see Guarantees for vulnerable groups) in the administrative file of the applicant. 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 assignment to a reception centre, since some are more adapted to specific needs than others.

After the Dispatching Desk receives this information, they categorise the asylum seekers to assign the right reception place and in accordance with reception needs. To that end, they 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 do not match completely, which is why most asylum seekers are assigned to a collective centre. Only in a few cases, mostly related to serious health problems, will they 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 showed signs of vulnerability 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. Regarding 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 their personal needs. Particular attention must 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 however, a transfer is often impossible due to insufficient specialised places or political preferences for a collective rather than individual accommodation model. The evaluation mechanism is often insufficiently implemented, if at all, and rarely 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 recent ruling, the Labour court of Liège ordered Fedasil to transfer an applicant with serious health issues to an adapted reception place in a centre with a personal room and access to private sanitary facilities, in Brussels or a city from which Brussels is easily accessible.[6]

In a report from February 2017, Fedasil has highlighted several barriers to identification of vulnerable persons with specific reception needs.[7] These include a lack of time, language and communication barriers, a lack of information handover, and 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 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 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.[8]

Fedasil cooperates 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.[9]


Specific and adapted places

There are a number of specialised centres or specific individual accommodation facilities 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 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 7 reception places specifically aimed at the reception of LGBTQI+ applicants.[10] Other LGBTQI+ applicants are housed in the general reception network, either in collective centres (in a separate room) or in individual places, according to the needs and places available. Apart from these adapted places, Fedasil is funding several projects aiming to provide training and sensibilisation about this topic to residents and personnel of reception centres.[11]


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 specific child’s needs.[12] At the end of 2023, there were 541 places in OOCs.[13]
  2. 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 2,512 places in collective reception centres[14]
  3. 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. They will then have 6 months to prepare for living independently and to look for their own place. This stay can be prolonged until the child reaches the age of 18. There are currently 367 places in individual reception facilities.[15]

There are specific places in Rixensart, which currently has 45 places for underage pregnant girls or young girls with children.

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 41 of these places available at the end of 2023.[16]

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, and has been on hold ever since.[17] Unaccompanied children whose asylum procedure end with a negative decision could 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 helped them to take decisions for their future, e.g., regarding voluntary return and the situation in which they would be if they stay illegally. At the beginning of 2024, the project in Bovigny ended due to a lack of expertise in this specific matter after staff turnover. The project in Arendonk will continue and will be revised in the course of 2024.[18]


Reception of families

 In 2022, there were 78 places for vulnerable and pregnant women in Louvranges and some other places at the centre of Croix Rouge in Yvoir and Jette.[19]

Families with children are as much as possible housed in a family room in the reception centre, guaranteeing more privacy.

In 2023, the reception crisis reached a point where there were not enough places for families in the reception network. To avoid families ending up on the street, some families were housed in 7 youth centres (310 places) as of 12 September 2023.[20] The agreement with these youth centres ended in February 2024 because the youth organisations will need the locations outside the winter period.

Fedasil also must ensure the reception of families with children without legal stay when the parents cannot guarantee their basic needs.[21] These families are sheltered in “return houses” organised by the Immigration Office. These houses are also used as an alternative for detention for families with children. The government agreed in March of 2023 that it would prohibit the detention of children, by inscribing it into the Belgian Aliens Law.[22] The prohibition of child detention was included in a law proposal on return policy. This law proposal was scheduled to be voted on in parliament in February 2024. However, sufficient votes were obtained to once again send the proposal to the Council of state. It is expected that the law, including the prohibition of detention of children, will not be voted during this legislature.


Reception of victims of trafficking and persons affected by traumatic experiences

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 and 25 places in the Rode Kruis Ciba centre). There are currently no waiting lists for the Carda and Ciba centre.[23] 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

Specialised medical reception places or specific medical individual accommodation initiatives can be assigned to:

  • 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 whom it is necessary to have adapted conditions of reception due to medical reasons, such as special diet, a private toilet, and a private room.

Currently, 263 medical places are available in collective reception centres, and 121 in individual reception places. In collective centres, these places are mostly situated in centres managed by Fedasil and some specific places in centres managed by Caritas. Other reception providers have no specific medical places but host persons with quite serious medical conditions; however, this is not done in specifically dedicated places. At the end of 2023, a new reception centre opened in Grimbergen specifically aimed at the reception of persons with medical conditions. Due to the reception crisis, the centre is also housing other persons, so not all medical places there are optimally used. Other medical places are situated in individual reception facilities (e.g. by Ciré). Organisations managing these places receive a special budget which allows them to offer additional support.

The number of medical places is insufficient to assign every person with special medical needs to an adapted reception place. Given that one room sometimes covers several medical places used by family members of the person with medical issues or that one person occupies a room with several medical places, not all specialised medical places are available for people with medical needs. Currently, Fedasil indicates that there is an increase of persons with serious mental health issues who need to be housed in a room with maximum 2-3 other residents, rather than 4-6. This can result in a loss of medical places.[24]




[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] Labour Court Liège, n° 23/1656/A, 24 October 2023, available in French at: https://bit.ly/49dEHkY.

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

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

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

[10] Information provided by Fedasil, March 2024.

[11] Fedasil, World day against homophobia, 17 May 2021, available in Dutch and French at: https://bit.ly/43ErhO6;  Rainbow House, Inqlusion project, available in English at: https://bit.ly/3xfCQiA.

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

[13] Information provided by Fedasil, March 2024.

[14] Information provided by Fedasil, March 2024.

[15] Information provided by Fedasil, March 2024.

[16] Information provided by Fedasil, March 2024.

[17] Information provided by Fedasil, January 2020, confirmed in March 2024.

[18] Information provided by Fedasil, March 2024.

[19] Information provided by Fedasil, March 2023.

[20] Fedasil, Families received in emergency accommodation, 18 September 2023, available in English at: https://bit.ly/4act2nU.

[21] 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.

[22] Nicole de Moor, CRIV 55 COM 1044, Chamber of Representatives, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3Uckhmz, 10.

[23] Information provided by Fedasil, March 2024.

[24] Information provided by Fedasil, March 2024.

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