U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Belgium
|Publisher||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants|
|Publication Date||1 June 2000|
|Cite as||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Belgium , 1 June 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8bf10.html [accessed 23 October 2014]|
|Disclaimer||This 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 1999, Belgium hosted some 42,000 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 33,927 claimants with pending asylum applications, 1,498 refugees granted asylum during the year, some 3,000 refugees from Kosovo under temporary protection who had not applied for asylum, and 3,869 Yugoslavs denied asylum during the year who nevertheless remained in need of protection.
During the year, 35,778 asylum seekers submitted applications, an increase of 63 percent over 1998. Belgium received the fifth most applications among European countries (fourth relative to its population). During 1999, the largest number of asylum seekers came from Yugoslavia (13,067, of whom 12,330 were from Kosovo), Romania (1,703), Armenia (1,472), and Congo-Kinshasa (1,402). These numbers did not include dependents.
Of the 18,296 decisions reached during the year, Belgium granted asylum in 1,498 cases, an eight percent approval rate. Since 1988, 17 percent of all claims lodged have been successful. The nationalities with the highest approval rates in 1999 were Rwanda (77 percent), Burundi (56 percent), and Afghanistan (45 percent). The authorities granted humanitarian status to 974 rejected asylum cases (5 percent of all decisions).
Belgium also extended temporary protection to 5,360 refugees from Kosovo during the year. Another estimated 15,000 asylum seekers from the Yugoslav province did not apply for the status.
Refugees from Yugoslavia
In April and May, Belgium made three groups of ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo eligible for temporary protected status: those evacuated from Macedonia under the auspices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) humanitarian evacuation program, beneficiaries of family reunification procedures, and existing asylum seekers with a pending application. By year's end, 1,200, 1,383, and 2,777 Kosovo refugees from these three groups, respectively, had received temporary status, totaling 5,360. Belgium froze new and pending asylum dossiers from March to June.
Beneficiaries of temporary protection received a renewable six-month residence permit, and were eligible for social assistance and family reunification. Belgium also offered them accommodation and integration programs such as vocational training.
The Belgian government decided in September to stop granting temporary protection to new Kosovo Albanian applicants, and to let temporary protection expire in March 2000 (June 2000 for families with children in school). The Minister of the Interior confirmed to the U.S. Committee for Refugees that the termination did not affect the refugees' right to apply for asylum in Belgium. By year's end, an estimated 2,300 Kosovo Albanians with temporary protection had filed asylum applications. For Kosovo Albanians wishing to repatriate, Belgium granted adults 110,000 Belgian francs each ($2,750) for home reconstruction. Minors received half that amount. As of October, 469 persons had taken advantage of repatriation grants and returned to Kosovo.
Refugees from Bosnia
At the beginning of 1999, Belgium ceased to grant extensions of the "displaced person" status it had issued to Bosnian refugees between 1992 and 1995. Authorities allowed the several hundred Bosnians remaining in the country to apply for political asylum or permanent residence.
When an asylum seeker requests asylum in Belgium, the Aliens Office of the Ministry of the Interior first determines whether another European Union (EU) member state is responsible for the asylum application, in accordance with the Dublin Convention (see chart). In 1999, authorities occasionally permitted asylum seekers to remain in Belgium on humanitarian grounds, for which there is no provision in the Dublin Convention. Although UNHCR noted Belgium's relatively liberal interpretation of the Dublin Convention, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported cases of family separation.
By determining that Belgium is responsible for reviewing the asylum application, the Aliens Office rules on the admissibility of claims within eight working days. Manifestly unfounded claims are rejected at this stage. Starting in February 1999, the Aliens Office began automatically placing applications from Czech, Romanian, Bulgarian, and Slovakian nationals into accelerated procedures. The General Commission for Refugees and Stateless Persons (GCRS) reviews appeals of negative admissibility decisions (within 5 working days at the border, or 30 days in-country). The country's highest administrative court, the Council of State, is the last recourse for the suspension or annulment of orders to leave the territory.
GCRS issues decisions on the merits of admissible claims. Negative decisions may in turn be contested to the Permanent Commission for Appeals. This review is the last recourse on the merits of the case. UNHCR plays a consultative role through this stage of the procedure.
Recognized refugees receive one-year renewable residence permits. Authorities can also issue residence permits to rejected asylum seekers on humanitarian grounds.
Asylum seekers in Belgium are entitled to a further, nonsuspensive appeal on procedural grounds to the Council of State. Those rejected asylum seekers who can afford the legal cost of this procedure most often use it to seek to annul orders to leave Belgian territory, or to try to win release from detention.
Some NGOs reported that refugee status was more difficult to obtain in Dutch speaking regions of Belgium than in French-speaking ones.
At year's end, the Belgian parliament was considering draft legislation was pending intended to reduce the length of the asylum procedure to one year, from an average of three in 1999, and reduce the length of the accelerated procedure to a single month. The Aliens Office also expanded its asylum-processing capacity during the year.
In October, leaders of the Benelux countries called on the EU to establish a common asylum policy within one year.
Since 1988, Belgium has declared only 27 percent of all asylum claims to be admissible. Undocumented persons arriving at ports of entry (approximately 100 per month) and asylum seekers whose appeal of negative admissibility decisions are deemed likely to be rejected (40 to 50 per month) are detained in closed centers for up to five months. Children detained in such centers cannot attend school.
In recent years, human rights organizations have widely condemned detention conditions in closed centers. Belgium promised to address the criticism leveled in October 1998 by the Council of Europe's Committee for Protection against Torture. In at least one reported case, loopholes in the appeals procedure allowed for such detention to exceed the legal maximum of five months allowed under Belgian law.
Authorities expanded the role of the Center for Equal Opportunities and for Combating Racism, an independent organization, in monitoring detention facilities. In April, Belgium also issued a royal decree to regulate more tightly its treatment of detainees. Nonetheless, observers had reported little improvement in detention conditions by year's end.
Following the September 1998 smothering death of a rejected Nigerian asylum seeker, the Ligue des Droits de l'Homme, a human rights organization, filed a lawsuit against two former ministers of the interior. At issue was the notorious "pillow" technique routinely used to subdue deportees until the fatality in 1998.
In November, an Aliens Office official publicly denounced abuses by Belgium's immigration police. Practices reportedly included exhibiting bound expellees to other detainees in order to encourage voluntary departures.
Belgium and the Netherlands announced in January that they would carry out joint deportation flights to minimize operational costs. An estimated 2,500 persons, many of whom were rejected asylum seekers, awaited deportation at year's end.
In September, Belgium released a ten-point plan to increase forcible expulsions and other border control measures. This included deportations via military and chartered aircraft, a practice condemned by human rights groups, and posting immigration officials at "sensitive" foreign airports to prevent asylum seekers from entering the country.
The collective expulsion in October of 74 rejected Slovak asylum seekers was particularly controversial. The applicants, all Roma, had been misled by authorities in the city of Ghent to believe that their case was still under consideration. Earlier in the year, a parliamentary delegation to Slovakia had found evidence of serious discrimination against the Roma minority in that country. In 1999, all 962 asylum applications by Slovak nationals (virtually all Roma) were denied.
Reception and Integration
Asylum seekers requiring assistance must live in one of the more than 25 reception centers throughout Belgium pending an admissibility decision. Once past this screening, they are usually free to choose their own place to live.
In October, the chairmen of 27 social welfare offices criticized as unrealistic the government's plan to replace cash payments to asylum seekers with aid in kind.
The European Council on Refugees and Exiles singled out the integration policies of Belgium and Luxembourg as the best in the EU. Since 1999, Belgium no longer requires a work permit for refugees. Recognized refugees may apply for family reunification upon receiving their status. Rejected applicants who are granted residence "under exceptional circumstances" may apply for family reunification after three years, and must demonstrate that they can support their relatives.