Detainment Center Visits

Caritas International Belgium Detainment Center Visits

Isabel Corthier

Isabel Corthier


Target audience:

All those living in detainment centers. This includes undocumented persons awaiting repatriation, asylum seekers who applied for asylum at the airport, and persons being sent back to the country through which they first entered in Europe, in agreement with the Dublin Regulation.


Deportation Center 127bis in Steenokkerzeel and closed center for women in Holsbeek

Context: 6 detainment centers in Belgium

Each year, thousands of men and women are imprisoned in detainment centers which have little transparency and limited access. Moreover, these locations are questionable in terms of their respect for human rights and procedures, as well as for human dignity. The prison-like quality of these centers has been pointed out several times. Most foreigners detained have not committed any crime; however, they do not have documents to remain in Belgium legally, and are therefore locked up for days, weeks, or even months. During their detainment, their deportation is planned, and their asylum application is evaluated.

There are currently 6 detention centers in Belgium for approximately 660 people. The Belgian government expects to grow this number to over 1,000 in the coming years and also chose to detain children again. Caritas International is opposed to detention for reasons of migration. Unfortunately, as this practice is in use in Belgium, it is essential that our organization is able to visit these detention centers.

Objective: Be there to listen

Our objective is three-fold:

  • To inform migrants about their situation and of their rights
  • To reduce isolation through social support
  • To provide legal and psychosocial support in serving as an intermediary between lawyers and migrants

Activities: Weekly visits

Besides a few official bodies and members of parliament, only a few accredited organizations, including Caritas, may enter detention centers to observe their operations and meet with detainees. Caritas visits the 127bis repatriation center at Steenokkerzeel and the closed center for women in Steenokkerzeel. Anyone who wishes to speak is welcomed by our social workers. In this video, listen to one of them explain the different types of detainees as well as her experience on site.

We also use our experience to raise awareness among the Belgian population and influence policy. For example, in December 2016, we published a situational analysis of detainment centers in Belgium and we are currently campaigning against the detention of children.

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