Belgium plans to resume child detention in 2018

be_news_cim_15112017This has been announced by the by Theo Francken, Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration, in his General Policy Note of 19 October 2017, according to the national campaign “You don’t lock up a child. Period.” As of January 2018, innocent children will be put behind bars for the sole reason of their or their parents’ migratory status. Despite the fact that Belgium has previously stopped this practise in 2008, resuming detention of children for immigration reasons affects their health, development and well-being and is a retrograde step for children and young people in Belgium.

In September 2017, a construction of the new detention centre for families with children near Brussels Airport has been reported. Despite strong opposition of civil society, including such non-governmental organisations as the Platform Minors in Exile, UNICEF Belgium, Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen, CIRÉ, Caritas International et JRS Belgium, the Government is still going through with its plans. To this day, over 115 NGOs have taken a stand against child detention in Belgium, calling on the authorities to stop this harmful and unacceptable practice.

To this day, over 115 NGOs in Belgium have taken a stand, calling on the authorities to stop this harmful and unacceptable practice of child detention. Detention of children due to immigration reasons goes against the principle of the best interests of the child. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child considers that detention of children violates their fundamental rights. Immigration detention of children must stop as it discriminates and criminalises children on the basis of their migration status. The adverse impact on health, development and well-being of children has been repeatedly shown, even if the detention is of very short duration and occurs under relatively humane conditions. “We do not want children to be detained in our country, solely on the basis of their or their parent’s or guardian’s migration status. We want all children to be treated as children, to be free, to be looked after and protected, and to enjoy the same rights,” say the campaigners.

Earlier in 2017, the Belgian Federal Ombudsman voiced the construction of the new closed centre for families with children in his annual report. He insisted that “the conclusion of the study was clear: locking up children for migratory purposes cannot be justified medically or legally, even when detention happens in appropriate material conditions or for a period as short as possible”. In January 2017, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe Nils Muižnieks urged the Government to reconsider the decision to resume this practice. “I encourage you to take steps towards a complete end of child immigration detention and to uphold Belgium’s leading role in the development of alternatives to detention,” he said in a letter.

The Opening Doors in Belgium has previously reported an increase in the number of new institutions for children due to the influx of unaccompanied migrant and refugee children in the past few years. The majority of children without adequate parental care were placed in institutional care in Belgium. There is no deinstitutionalisation (DI) strategy in Belgium as it is considered as an austerity measure, and stable employment of professionals working within institutions is a priority for the state.

The Opening Doors for Europe’s Children campaign calls to ban the use of institutional care as a means to meeting the basic needs of children in migration. The types and quality of care should be the same for all children regardless of their migration status. Care options provided to migrant, unaccompanied and separated children should meet their individual needs.