Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 August 2014, 14:57 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Belgium

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2003
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Belgium , 1 June 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3eddc49516.html [accessed 28 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 2002, Belgium hosted about 30,300 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection, including 23,100 persons awaiting a decision on the merits of their claims, around 5,500 persons awaiting a determination of admissibility, and 1,700 persons granted asylum during the year.

During the year, around 24,400 individuals applied for asylum. Since the Belgian government only counts adults and does not count accompanied children separately, the U.S. Committee for Refugees uses the government's average multiplier of 1.3 to estimate the number of individuals. The top countries of origin were Congo-Kinshasa (2,300), Yugoslavia (1,890), the Russian Federation (1,500), Turkey (1,260), and Angola (1,220).

Asylum Procedure

The asylum system in Belgium consists of an admissibility phase and a substantive phase. When an individual requests asylum, the Aliens Office (OE) in the Ministry of the Interior first determines whether another European Union member state should be responsible for the asylum application, in accordance with the Dublin Convention. (See "Dublin Convention" box, p. 176.) In 2002, Belgium referred 1,046 requests to other states under the terms of the convention, of which 842 were accepted, 95 were refused, with the others either refused or withdrawn. Other states requested transfer of 1,165 asylum seekers to Belgium. Belgium accepted 832 requests, refused 136, and the rest were pending or withdrawn.

If the OE decides that Belgium is responsible for examining an asylum application, authorities have eight working days to rule on the admissibility of the claim. Manifestly unfounded claims are rejected at this stage, as are fraudulent and abusive cases after an examination of the substance of the claim. The OE deemed around 1,700 persons admissible to the asylum process, and some 21,200 persons inadmissible subject to appeal. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated that in 2002, the OE initially rejected 90 percent of cases as inadmissible.

The General Commission for Refugees and Stateless Persons (CGRS) reviews appeals of negative admissibility decisions (within five working days at the border, or 30 days in-country), and issues decisions on the merits of admissible claims. During the year, the CGRS reviewed about 24,700 appeals against admissibility and overturned 6,700 decisions (27 percent), admitting these persons to the merits determination process.

Applicants may contest negative decisions on the merits of the CGRS before the Permanent Commission for Appeals. UNHCR plays a consultative role through this stage of the procedure. Belgium's highest administrative court, the State Council, is the last recourse for the suspension or annulment of orders to leave the territory.

Asylum seekers in Belgium are entitled to a further appeal on procedural grounds to the State Council. Rejected asylum seekers who can afford the legal costs of this procedure most often use it to seek to annul orders to leave Belgian territory, or to try to win release from detention.

Recognized refugees are given unlimited leave to remain, but must renew their residence permit annually. The authorities may also issue residence permits to rejected asylum seekers on humanitarian grounds.

The Belgian government was finalizing legislation in 2002 to formalize temporary protection status, granted when expulsion of an asylum seeker would violate Section 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects against torture. Beneficiaries would receive a renewable residence permit of six months and, after a year, would be entitled to a temporary residence permit.

Detention and Deportation

Belgium came under fire from the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) for dangerous techniques used by the police during deportation, including foam rubber masks, handcuffs strapped to leather belts, and Velcro strips designed to fasten detainees to their seats. In 1998, an asylum seeker suffocated to death during her deportation when police officers held a pillow over her face to silence her. The report stated that Belgian police improved somewhat in that they had stopped using restraint methods that could obstruct airways. In March 2002, a court ordered five police officers to stand trial for the 1998 death.

Readmission Agreements

Belgium has readmission agreements with Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Ukraine, and Albania. In 2002, Belgium concluded readmission agreements with Hungary, the Slovak Republic, and Yugoslavia.

Reception and Integration

Authorities detain undocumented persons arriving at ports of entry in closed centers for up to five months. Asylum seekers who require assistance must live in one of 27 open reception centers throughout Belgium pending an admissibility decision. Although they receive food, medical aid, and education for their children, asylum seekers cannot work. Those granted access to the asylum procedure move to local communities where they receive housing and permission to work.

Since 1999 refugees have not needed permits in order to work legally in Belgium and they may apply for family reunification upon receiving their status. Rejected applicants who receive residence "under exceptional circumstances" may apply for family members to join them after three years, but must demonstrate that they can support them.

Human rights groups in Belgium expressed concern that unaccompanied minors seeking asylum were falling into exploitative situations such as prostitution and forced labor. A study by the group Child Focus suggests that 25 percent may be involved in these activities.

Roma Asylum Seekers

The Belgian government does not record the ethnicity of asylum seekers. However, the government believes that nearly all asylum seekers from the Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic are of Roma origin. During the year, 826 persons from the Slovak Republic and 482 from the Czech Republic applied for asylum. About 820 Romanians also sought asylum in Belgium in 2002, many of which are believed to be Roma.

In 2002, the European Court of Human Rights found Belgium to have violated Section 4.4 of the European Convention on Human Rights (prohibiting collective expulsion of aliens) and Sections 5.1 and 5.4 (rights to liberty and security) during a 1999 deportation of Slovak Roma asylum seekers. The Belgian police had told the Roma to report to the police station regarding their requests for asylum. Once they arrived at the police station, the authorities arrested, detained, and flew them back to the Slovak Republic. The court ruled that the authorities violated the rights of the Roma by tricking them into coming to the police station, and by not providing them with sufficient information and access to lawyers to file appeals. The court ordered the government to pay the costs and damages of $16,500 (19,000 Euro) to the family who brought the case. Belgium forcibly repatriated 70 persons to the Slovak Republic in October 1999, and the Conka case potentially paves the way for their lawsuits.

After the ruling, the government sought to change the law so that an appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court would automatically suspend deportation for an additional five days to give the court time to consider the appeal.

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