IWB for Refugees: Belgium

Summary of the national legislation on refugees


Belgian refugee law is categorical, meaning that it touches different legal domains. In general, a division can be made between the traditional “hard core” refugee law and the other legal domains. The first category entails a set of rules that exclusively apply to people who don’t have the Belgian nationality. The second category comprises of other legal domains that contain individual relevant provisions that add extra rules or preconditions not exclusively applicable to aliens. These provisions might be found in social law, penal law, anti-racism law or international private law.

The Overview of the main ‘hard core’ refugee laws and implementing decrees is stated below as follows:

  • Law of 15th December 1980: regarding the entry, residence, settlement and removal of aliens (Aliens Act).
  • Law of 12th January 2007: regarding the reception of asylum seekers and other categories of aliens (Reception act).
  • Law of 30th April 1999: concerning employment of foreign workers (Law on Foreign Workers).
  • Royal Decree of 8th October 1981: regarding the entry to the territory, residence, settlement and removal of aliens (Aliens Decree).
  • Dublin II
  • Dublin III

Belgium is one of 150 countries that has ratified the Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees of 28th July 1951 (Geneva Convention). The Aliens Act explicitly refers to the convention (art. 48/3, §1 Aliens Act) and uses the exact same wording(s). In Belgium, people can be recognized as refugees if (article 1, A, 2 Geneva Convention):

  1. They are outside the country of their nationality;
  2. owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion;
  3. and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it;

Article 55 of the Aliens Law refers to article 1 D, E and F of the Geneva Convention, which contains a list of exclusion grounds that can make one lose the right to be recognized as a refugee.

In some cases people might have had a legitimate reason to flee their country that doesn’t fit one of the reasons listed above. Luckily, the Belgian migration and asylum law has been strongly Europeanized in the last decade. Belgium has converted the European Directive 2011/95/EU of 13 December 2011 on standards for the qualification of third-country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection, for a uniform status for refugees or for persons eligible for subsidiary protection, and for the content of the protection granted into national law. Article 48/4 of the Aliens Law is a depiction of article 2e of the Directive. In order to be eligible for subsidiary protection, one must be:

  1. a foreign national who is not eligible for refugee status;
  2. who has substantial grounds for believing that a person returning to his or her country of origin would face a real risk of suffering serious harm;
  3. and who cannot, or does not wish to, avail himself of the protection of his home country on account of that risk;
  4. and who is not covered by the grounds for exclusion laid down in Article 55/4;

The second paragraph of this provision states that serious harm consists of:

  • the death penalty or execution; or
  • torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of an applicant in his or her country of origin; or;
  • serious threat to a civilian's life or person by reason of indiscriminate violence in the event of international or internal armed conflict.

This last point entails a smaller burden of proof since it is not linked to the 5th criteria of article 1, A, 2 of the Geneva Convention. However, it won’t be sufficient to just prove that you come from a certain region. In practice this article is used the most to obtain subsidiary protection by people who faced civil war where they lived.

If an asylum seeker has a legitimate fear of being treated in a way that contradicts article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) for medical reasons, he or she has to lodge a different procedure. This procedure is not handled by the asylum authorities, but will be dealt with by the competent minister or secretary of state. Article 9 of the Aliens law states that:

“A foreign national residing in Belgium who proves his identity in accordance with § 2 and who suffers from a disease in such a way that this disease poses a real risk to his life or physical integrity or a real risk of inhuman or degrading treatment if there is no adequate treatment in his country of origin or the country where he resides, may apply to the Minister or his authorized representative for authorization to reside in the Kingdom.”




The legal process


OVERVIEW

TYPES OF PROCEDURES

Before recent amendments of Article 52 of the Aliens Act, this was certainly the case. According to Article 52 of the Aliens Act, the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons (CGRS) can consider an application as fraudulent or manifestly unfounded under the “accelerated procedure”, but in practice this was not applied. Given that new procedures have just entered into force following the 2017 reform, there is no information yet on the practical application of the reforms.

SHORT OVERVIEW OF THE ASYLUM PROCEDURE

Registration

An asylum application may be made either:

(a) on the territory with the Aliens Office, within 8 working days after arrival;[1]

(b) at the border, in case the asylum seeker does not dispose of valid travel documents to enter the territory with the border police; or

(c) from a detention center: in case the person is already being detained for the purpose of removal. The applicant receives a “certificate of notification” (attestation de déclaration). The Aliens Office registers the application within 3 working days of the notification, which can be prolonged up to 10 working days in case of large numbers of asylum seekers.

The applicant then has to lodge the application. This can take place either immediately when the person makes the application, or following the notification but no later than 30 days after the application has been made. Exceptional prolongations may be defined by Royal Decree. Following that stage, the applicant receives a “proof of asylum application” stating that he or she is a first-time applicant (“Annex 26”) or a subsequent applicant (“Annex 26-quinquies”).

The Aliens Office is the mandated administration of the Minister responsible for the entry to the territory, residence, settlement and removal of foreign nationals in Belgium. It also has the competence to register asylum applications and decides on the application of the Dublin Regulation. The Aliens Office only registers subsequent applications and transfers them to the Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons (CGRS).[2]

First instance procedure

CGRS is the central administrative authority exclusively responsible for the first instance procedure in terms of examining and granting, refusing and withdrawing of refugee and/or subsidiary protection status. The CGRS is independent in taking individual decisions on asylum applications and does not take any instruction from the competent Minister – or State Secretary – for Asylum and Migration.

In addition to the regular procedure, the law now foresees a number of other procedures, viz:

Prioritized procedure: The CGRS prioritizes cases where:

(a) the applicant is in detention;

(b) the applicant is in a penitentiary facility;

(c) a prioritization request has been issued by the Aliens Office or the Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration; or

(d) the application is manifestly well-founded.

There is no time limit for taking a decision in these cases.[3]

Accelerated procedure

The CGRS takes a decision within 15 working days, although there are no consequences if the time limit is not respected, where the applicant inter alia: raises issues unrelated to international protection; comes from a safe country of origin; makes an application for the sole purpose of delaying or frustrating return; makes an admissible subsequent application; or poses a threat to national security or public order.

Admissibility procedure

The CGRS decides on the admissibility of the application within 15 working days, 10 working days (subsequent applications) or two working days (subsequent application from detention). It may reject it as inadmissible where the applicant:

(a) comes from a first country of asylum;

(b) comes from a safe third country;

(c) enjoys protection in another EU Member State;

(d) is a national of an EU Member State;

(e) makes a subsequent application with no new elements; or

(f) is a minor dependant who, after a final decision has been taken on the application in his or her name, lodges a separate application without justification.[4]

Border procedure

Where the applicant is detained in a closed center located at the border, the CGRS has within four weeks to decide on the asylum application. The applicant is admitted into the territory if no decision has been taken within that time limit. An appeal against a negative decision can be lodged before the Council of Alien Law Litigation, which is an administrative court competent for handling appeals against all kinds of administrative decisions in the field of migration. These appeals are dealt with by chambers specialized in the field of asylum.

Appeals before the Council of Alien Law Litigation (CALL) against the decisions of the CGRS in the regular procedure have automatic suspensive effect and must be lodged within 30 days. The deadline is reduced to 10 days in inadmissible applications and negative decisions in the accelerated procedure, and 5 days concerning subsequent applications in detention. Appeals generally have automatic suspensive effect, with the exception of some cases concerning subsequent applications.

The CALL has no investigative competence and has to take a decision based on all elements in the file presented by the applicant and the CGRS. In accordance with its “full judicial review” (enpleine jurisdiction) competence, it may:

(a) overturn the CGRS decision by granting a protection status;

(b) confirm the negative decision of the CGRS; or

(c) annul the decision if it considers essential information is lacking in order to decide on the appeal and further investigation by the CGRS is needed.

However, Dublin decisions of the Aliens Office can only be challenged before the CALL by an annulment appeal.

An onward annulment appeal before the Council of State is possible but only points of law can be litigated at this stage. The appeal before the Council of State has no suspensive effect on decisions to expel or refuse entry, which are issued with, or even before, a negative decision of the CGRS.

[1] Article 50(1) Aliens Act, as amended by the Law of 21 November 2017. Persons that already have a legal stay of more than three months in Belgium must apply for international protection within 8 working days after the termination of stay. Those in Belgium with a legal stay of less than three months must apply for international protection within this legal stay

[2] Articles 57/6/2 and 51/8 Aliens Act, as amended by the Law of 21 November 2017.

[3] Article 57/6(2) Aliens Act, as amended by the Law of 21 November 2017.

[4] Article 57/6(3) Aliens Act, as amended by the Law of 21 November 2017.




Refugee life in Belgium


HISTORY

Between 1952 and 1980, Belgium had a lot of economic migrants because of bilateral agreements with Morocco, Turkey, Tunisia and Algeria. In the sixties, there were lots of job vacancies of which there were no Belgian to fill in, hence the need for foreign workers. These economic migrants were considered to be “guest workers”. Because of this idea of temporality, there was no integration whatsoever of these migrants. In 1980, the Aliens law was published after 10 years of draft by a special commission for that purpose. Given the period, it was considered to be a very progressive law. The law contained 4 grounds for a residence longer than 3 months in Belgium, viz:

  1. Asylum

  2. Family Reunification

  3. Studies

  4. Economic reasons

In terms of integration, there was the anti-racism law (racism is regarded a criminal offense) and the “reward” of Belgian nationality at the end of the integration process. In the nineties, the amount of migrants grew spectacularly due to globalism and due to “follow migration”. This phenomenon was by reason of families being reunited in Belgium; but also by the ‘pool factor’ of migration in local communes. Migrants were no longer only workers, but also entailed other social groupings such as women, children and the elderly. From 2000 onwards and after the Europeanization of the migration policy, there was a drop in refugee influx albeit, a growing number of family reunification and illegal residence. The integration of migrants and refugees has been advanced by the addition of the anti-discrimination law to the anti-racism law and the Royal Decree on Integration in 2003.

RECENT STATISTICS

The Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons (CGRS), the tribunal of first instance in refugee matters, publishes statistics on their website every year. Here is an overview for the last couple of years:

These graphs reflect the refugee crisis that started in 2015 due to the war in Syria. People coming from Syria have a recognition chance of more than 75%. Therefore, the general protection rate is rising to more than 50% at present. This is also reflected in the statistics of the nationalities of the recognized refugees in Belgium:

HOW MUCH STATE ALLOWANCE DOES A REFUGEE RECEIVE A MONTH?

[1]

Since the adoption of the 2007 Reception Act, the system of reception conditions for asylum seekers has shifted completely from financial to purely material aid. This comprises of accommodation, food, clothing, medical, social and psychological help, access to interpretation services and to legal representation, access to training, access to a voluntary return program, and a small daily allowance (so-called pocket money). Nevertheless, the help can be partially delivered in cash, as is the case in the Local Reception Initiatives (LRI), as discussed below. The whole reception structure is coordinated by the Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers, Fedasil. Fedasil regularly issues internal instructions on how to implement specific rights provided for in the Reception Act, as referred to throughout this report. Only in exceptional cases, the social welfare services provided by the PCSW (Public Centre of Social Welfare) deliver financial aid to asylum seekers.[2] This could be the case for example when the asylum seeker wants to live together with his or her partner who already has a legal stay in Belgium. However, this is exceptional and can only be the case after explicit permission of Fedasil. To obtain this permission, the asylum seeker should ask for an abrogation of the designated reception place (“Code 207”).[3]

Pocket money

All asylum seekers receive a fixed daily amount of pocket money in cash, so also those who reside in collective reception centers as well. In 2017, adults and all children from 12 years on who attend school receive €7.70 a week, younger children and children 12 years of age or older who do not attend school receive €4.70 a week, and unaccompanied children during the first phase of shelter (in “the observation and orientation centers”) receive €5.90 a week.

Allowances in individual reception facilities (NGO or LRI)

Asylum seekers in NGOs or LRI all receive a weekly amount in cash or in meal vouchers, to provide for material needs autonomously; this also includes the pocket money. For 2017, the amounts vary according to the family composition and the internal organization of accommodation. These amounts are as follows on a monthly (4-week) basis:[4]

Besides this, the organizing authority of the accommodation remains in charge of certain material needs such as transport, clothing, school costs, interpreters, etc. Since these LRI have a lot of autonomy as regards the way they are organized, they can choose if and how they distribute material aid themselves. This means that asylum seekers might exceptionally receive a financial allowance that equals the social welfare benefit (called “social integration”) for nationals, diminished with the rent for the flat or house they are accommodated in and expenses.

Allowances in case of no material reception

If all reception structures are completely saturated and Fedasil decides to not assign a reception place, the asylum seeker has the right to financial aid provided by the PCSW.[5] The applicant would then obtain the full amount of the financial social welfare allowance equally and in the same way as every national or other legal resident of the country. This is also the case when the obligatory designated reception place (Code 207) is abrogated officially by Fedasil because of exceptional circumstances for example, when Fedasil allows the asylum seeker to live with a partner who already has a legal stay in Belgium. Since 1st June 2016, these amounts are as follows per person per month:[6]

In practice, most asylum seekers who presented themselves to the PCSW after having been turned down at the Fedasil dispatch centre during the reception crisis of 2009-2012 were refused this financial allowance and had to take their request to the Labour Courts. In its February 2014 judgment in Saciri,[7] the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that in case the accommodation facilities are overloaded, asylum seekers may be referred to the PCSW, provided that that system ensures that the minimum standards laid down in the Reception Conditions Directive are met. In particular, the total amount of the financial allowances shall be sufficient to ensure a dignified standard of living, adequate for ensuring the health of the asylum seekers and capable of ensuring their subsistence. That general assistance should also enable them to find housing, if necessary, meeting the interests of persons having specific needs, pursuant to Article 17 of that Directive.

WHAT ARE THE LIVING CONDITIONS OF REFUGEES (FOR EXAMPLE HOUSING)?

Types of accommodation

[8]

Accommodation may be collective, i.e. a centre, or individual reception facilities, i.e. a house, studio or flat,[9]depending on the profile of the asylum seeker and the phase of the asylum procedure the asylum seeker is in (see section on Forms and Levels of Material Reception Conditions).

Fedasil was established in 2001 to manage the network of reception centers in an efficient and coordinated way and has fallen under the competence of the Secretary of State for Migration and Integration since the end of 2011. Fedasil is in charge of the management and coordination of the network; which includes collective and individual reception places, in addition to other responsibilities such as coordinating the voluntary return programs, the observation and orientation of unaccompanied children and the integration of reception facilities in the municipalities.[10] To implement its coordinating and executing competencies, Fedasil regularly issues instructions on different aspects of material reception conditions in practice.

The practical organization is done in partnership between government bodies, NGOs and private partners.[11] The partners include the Flemish and the Francophone Red Cross, Ciré, Caritas International and the communal PCSW. Private companies such as Senior Assist, Bridgestock and G4S also became temporary reception partners in 2015. However, with the closure of 10,000 reception centres in 2016 and 2017, the privately run reception structures are currently all closed. A further closure of reception centres was announced in 2018, though it is not clear which places are concerned and what buffer capacity will be foreseen.[12]

The 54 main collective reception centers as of 25 January 2018 are mainly managed and organized by:

Source: Fedasil, February 2018. In addition, there are 30 often small-scale collective centers of other partners such as Caritas, Samu Social, MutualitéSocialiste, and Synergie 14.

The individual reception initiatives are mainly run by the PCSW and by NGO partners. As of 25 January 2018, the PCSW have 8,760 places in LRI, while NGO partners currently have 554.

The entire reception system had a total 22,840 places, of which 17,334 (76%) were occupied on 25 January 2018. There are also specialized centers for specific categories of applicants.

The minimum material reception rights for asylum seekers are described in the Reception Act, most only in a very general way. The Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (Fedasil) puts them into 4 categories of aid:

  1. “Bed, bath, bread”: the basic needs i.e. a place to sleep, meals, sanitary facilities and clothing;

  2. Guidance, including social, legal, linguistic, medical and psychological assistance;

  3. Daily life, including leisure, activities, education, training, work and community services; and

  4. Neighborhood associations

Many of those aspects such as the social guidance during transition to financial aid after a person has obtained a legal stay, the general house rules and the quality norms for reception facilities have not yet been regulated by implementing decrees as the law has stipulated. Until then, those are left to be determined by the individual reception facilities themselves or in a more coordinated way by Fedasil instructions.[13]Due to this, the quality norms for reception facilities for example are also still not listed in a public document to this day. As of the end of 2017, there is still no independent, external and structural monitoring system put in place, although a Royal Decree on quality norms is expected.

ARE REFUGEES OFFERED LANGUAGE LESSONS?

Asylum seekers are allowed to register for a Dutch course (NT2) at a “Huis van het Nederlands” immediately after their asylum application. If an asylum seeker can submit a 'Certificate for the enrolment of asylum seekers in adult education' at the time of enrolment, he will not pay any enrolment fee. The certificate is issued by the authority organizing the reception (e.g. Fedasil or the Red Cross) and is valid for two weeks.

Often the reception centers themselves offer the possibility to follow a language course. Since the asylum seekers will not have access to the labor market for the first four months after submitting their application, they will be able to follow training courses in the meantime. These are organized both within and outside the reception structure. The trainers may be staff members, but also people from outside the reception center and even other asylum seekers. Common training courses are language courses, sewing lessons, cooking lessons and computer lessons. The training courses are aimed at both a stay in Belgium and a possible return[14].

ARE PEOPLE WITH AN OFFICIAL REFUGEE STATUS ALLOWED TO WORK? IF YES, IS THERE ASSISTANCE FOR FINDING EMPLOYMENT? DO LEGAL REFUGEES HAVE THE RIGHT TO WORK IMMEDIATELY OR ONLY AFTER A CERTAIN PERIOD OF TIME?

The framework legislation on employment conditions in Belgium falls under the competence of the federal government. The implementation of this law is to a large extent is part of the competence of the regional authorities, which includes among others the granting of work permits to third-country nationals. Conditions to be allowed to work are determined by the federal legislator in the Law of 30th April 1999 on the Employment of Foreign Workers and its implementing Royal Decrees. Depending on the type of work permit that is applied for, the place of residence of the employer or of the employee will be decisive to determining which regional authority (Flanders, Wallonia, Brussels-Capital or the German-speaking community) is competent for granting the permit.

In January 2014, the Federal Parliament adopted the so-called Sixth State Reform Special Law, transferring a range of competences from the level of the federal legislator to the communities and the regions, among which also the competence to legislate (and not only implement legislation) on work permits for foreigners was transferred to the regions, with the exception of the temporary work permit C for foreigners with a right to stay on another legal basis.[15]Only once new regional parliaments execute this competence,the old federal law will cease to be applicable.

Asylum seekers who have not yet received a first instance decision on their asylum case within 4 months following the registration of their asylum application are allowed to work with a permit card C. By Royal Decree of 29 October 2015, the federal government brought this period to from 6 to 4 months.[16]These asylum seekers can work until a decision is taken by the CGRS, or in case of an appeal, until a negative decision has been notified by the Council of Alien Law Litigation (CALL). Such a permit cannot be applied for anymore during the appeal procedure before the CALL if the procedure at the CGRS did not last for longer than 4 months, however.[17]

The work permit C allows the asylum seeker to do whichever job in paid employment for whatever employer, and is valid for 12 months and renewable.[18]The asylum seeker has to apply for the permit with the competent regional authority. The permit automatically ceases to be valid once the asylum procedure has ended with a final negative decision by the CGRS or the CALL. In principle, the employer is supposed to check on the residence status of his or her employees, but in practice, employment is tolerated by the social inspection authorities until the date of validity mentioned on the working permit has expired.

Adult asylum seekers who have access to the labor market can register as job-seekers at the regional Offices for Employment and are then entitled to a free assistance program and vocational training. In practice however, finding a job is very difficult while the asylum procedure is on-going because of the provisional and precarious residence status, the mostly very limited knowledge of the national languages, the fact that many foreign diplomas are not considered equivalent to national diplomas, and high discrimination in the labor market.

If an asylum seeker resides in a reception facility (LRI or collective) and is employed, he or she has an obligation to contribute a percentage of his or her income to the reception facility and is excluded from any material reception condition if his or her income is higher than the social welfare benefit amounts mentioned above, and the working contract is sufficiently stable.[19]

Self-employment

Asylum seekers are also eligible for self-employed labor under the condition that they apply for a professional card. Only small-scale and risk-free projects will be admitted in practice.

Volunteering

Since the adoption of the Law of 22nd May 2014, that amends the Law of 3rd July 2005, asylum seekers are allowed to do voluntary work during their asylum procedure and for as long as they have a right to reception.

Community services

Asylum seekers are also entitled to perform certain community services (maintenance, cleaning) within their reception center as a way of increasing their pocket money.[20]

DO REFUGEES OR THEIR CHILDREN HAVE THE RIGHT TO ATTEND SCHOOLS, UNIVERSITIES, ETC.?

Schooling is mandatory for all children between 6 and 18 in Belgium irrespective of their residence status. Classes with adapted course packages and teaching methods, the so-called “bridging classes” (in the French speaking Community schools) and “reception classes” (in the Flemish Community schools), are organized for children of newly arrived migrants and asylum seekers. Those children are later integrated in regular classes once they are considered ready for it. Some of the bigger collective reception centers organize education within the center itself, but most asylum-seeking children are integrated in local schools.

In practice, the capacity of some local schools is not always sufficient to absorb all asylum-seeking children entitled to education. Also, transfers of families to another reception center or to a so-called “open return place” after having received a negative decision might entail a move to another (sometimes even linguistically different) part of the country, which can have a negative impact on the continuity in education for the children. In that respect, it is noteworthy to recall that courts have endeavored to guarantee asylum seeking children the right to education. In a ruling of 6th May 2014, for example, the Labor Court of Charleroi found that the transfer of a family to the family center of the Holsbeek open return place (in Dutch speaking Flanders) would result in a violation of the right to education since it would force the children to change from a French speaking school to a Dutch speaking one.[21]

In reception centers for asylum seekers, all residents can take part in activities that encourage integration and knowledge of the host country. Also, they have the right to attend professional training and education courses.[22] The regional Offices for Employment organize professional training for asylum seekers who are allowed to work with the purpose of assisting them in finding a job. Also, they can enroll in adults’ education courses for which a certain level of knowledge of one of the national languages is required; but not all regions equally take charge of the subscription fees and transport costs.

The costs of transportation to school and trainings should be paid by the reception centers (this is part of the funding Fedasil gives) but due to the fact that the quality norms are not a public document (see section Conditions in Reception Facilities) this varies in practice among the different reception facilities.

IS THE STATE OBLIGED TO PROVIDE ASYLUM SEEKERS WITH HEALTH CARE?

The material aid an asylum seeker is entitled to include the right to medical care necessary to live a life in human dignity.[23]This entails all the types of health care enumerated in a list of medical interventions that are taken charge of financially by the National Institute for Health and Disability Insurance (RIZIV/INAMI). For asylum seekers, some exceptions have explicitly been made for interventions not considered to be necessary for a life in human dignity, but also they are entitled to certain interventions that are considered to be necessary for such a life albeit not enlisted in the nomenclature.[24] In addition to the limitations foreseen in the law, Fedasil often makes other exceptions on the ground that costs are too high. For example, the latest treatment for Hepatitis C has an average cost of €90,000. Fedasil refuses to pay back these expenses even though they are on the RIZIV/INAMI list; they only pay back expenses for older, cheaper treatment.[25]

Asylum seekers, unlike nationals, are not required to pay a so-called “franchise patient fee” (“Remgeld / ticket moderateur”), the amount of medical costs a patient needs to pay without being reimbursed by health insurance, unless they have a professional income or receive a financial allowance.

Collective centers and individual shelters other than LRI often work together with specific doctors or medical centers in the area of the center or reception place. Asylum seekers staying in these places are not allowed to visit a doctor other than the one they are referred to by the social assistant, unless they ask for an exception. Only in 8 centers of Fedasil, are there assigned doctors present in the centers. These doctors may refer asylum seekers to a specialist where necessary.

Most LRI also have agreements with local doctors and medical centers, but the costs are not refunded by Fedasil but by the federal Public Planning Service Social Integration (Programmatorische Federale Overheidsdienst Maatschappelijke Integratie). This service bases its decisions only on the RIZIV/INAMI list, so for the costs mentioned in the Royal Decree of 2009 but not in the RIZIV/INAMI list the PCSW to which the LRI is connected has to make exceptions. Not all PCSW are familiar with the Royal Decree of 2009; thereby causing disparities in costs refunded for asylum seekers in LRI and those refunded in other reception places.[26]

When the asylum seeker is not staying in the reception place given to him or her or when the material reception conditions are reduced or withdrawn as a sanction measure, the right to medical aid will not be affected.[27] although accessing medical care can be difficult in practice. Asylum seekers who are not staying in a reception structure (by choice or following a sanction) have to ask for a promise of repayment (requisitorium) before going to a doctor. This can be a very time-consuming process. It can take up to a few weeks before the medical service of Fedasil answers. However, the backlog had been cleared by the end of October 2017.[28]

Once the asylum application has been refused and the reception rights comes to an end, the person concerned will only still be entitled to emergency medical assistance, for which he or she must refer to the local PCSW.[29]

Fedasil refunds the costs of all necessary psychological assistance for asylum seekers who fall under their responsibility, although these costs are not on the RIZIV/INAMI list. There are services specialized in the mental health of migrants but they are not able to cope with the demand. Public centers for mental health care are open to asylum seekers and have adapted rates but mostly lack specific expertise. Additionally, there is a lack of qualified interpreters.

Those centers that have this kind of asylum-related expertise have to work with waiting lists. In Wallonia, there is a specialized Red Cross reception center (Centre d'accueil rapproché pour demandeurs d'asile ensouffrance mentale, Carda) for traumatized asylum seekers, but this center also has a waiting list. As stated above, medical care in LRI is reimbursed by another fund other than the reception facilities. This generates disparities with regard to access to private psychologists. The Reception Act allows Fedasil or reception partners to make agreements with specialized services. The Secretary of State accords funding for certain projects or activities by royal decree, but these are always short-term projects or activities so the sector mainly lacks long-term solutions.[30]

[1]Note that these cash amounts are given in the individual reception structures of the LRI. Collective centersprovide most assistance in kind.

[2] Article 3 Reception Act

[3]Article 13 Reception Act

[4] Extrapolated from the weekly amount, times 4: Information provided by the VVSG

[5] Article 11(4) Reception Act.

[6] Article 14 Law on Social Integration, available at: https://www.mi-is.be/nl/equivalent-leefloon.

[7] CJEU, Case C-79/13 Federaalagentschapvoor de opvang van asielzoekers (Fedasil) v SelverSaciri andOCMW Diest, Judgment of 27 February 2014

[8] Both permanent and for first arrivals. This are only the collective reception centers and do not include the hundreds of individual LRIs. A map may be found at: https://www.fedasil.be/nl/opvangcentra

[9] Article 16, 62 and 64 Reception Act

[10] Article 56 Reception Act.

[11]Article 62 Reception Act

[12] Information provided by Fedasil, February 2018.

[13]VluchtelingenwerkVlaanderen, Annual Report 2013, available at: http://www.vluchtelingenwerk.be/publicaties/jaarverslag-2013 , 7-8

[14]https://www.fedasil.be/nl/opvangcentra/verblijf-het-opvangcentrum

[15]Article 22 Special Law of 6 January 2014 relating to the Sixth Reform of the State

[16]Royal Decree of 29 October 2015 modifying Article 17 of the Royal Decree on Foreign Workers (published in the Belgian State Monitor of 9 November 2015), available at:http://www.ejustice.just.fgov.be/cgi_loi/change_lg.pl?language=nl&la=N&cn=2015102907&table_name=wet.

[17]309 Article 17 Royal Decree on Foreign Workers

[18] Article 3 Royal Decree on Foreign Workers.

[19]Articles 35/1 Reception Act and Royal Decree, 12 January 2011, on Material Assistance to Asylum Seekers residing in reception facilities and who are employed (original amounts without indexation).

[20]Article 34 Reception Act.

[21]Labour Court of Charleroi, Judgment of 6 May 2014, available at: http://www.agii.be/sites/default/files/arbrb_charleroi_20140506.pdf.

[22] Article 35 Reception Act

[23]Article 23 Reception Act.

[24]Article 24 Reception Act and Royal Decree of 9 April 2007on Medical Assistance

[25]Court of Auditors, Opvang van asielzoekers, October 2017, 57.

[26]Court of Auditors, Opvang van asielzoekers, October 2017, 57-58; Information provided by VVSG, February 2018

[27] Article 45 Reception Act

[28]Court of Auditors, Opvang van asielzoekers, October 2017, 58.

[29]Articles 57 and 57ter/1 of the Organic Law of 8 July 1976 on the PCSW

[30]Court of Auditors, Opvang van asielzoekers, October 2017, 55-56.




Interviews





Description of what happens if they do not receive the refugee status


The Aliens Office is also competent for registering subsequent applications; i.e. the asylum seeker’s declaration on new elements and the reasons why he or she could not invoke them earlier, and transmit the claim “without delay” to the CGRS.[1]

After the application is transmitted, the CGRS first decides on the Admissibility of the claim by determining whether there are new elements which significantly adds to the likelihood of the applicant qualifying as a beneficiary for international protection.[2] The claim is deemed admissible where the previous application has been terminated on the basis of implicit withdrawal.[3]

The CGRS should take this decision within 10 working days after receiving the application from the Aliens Office. If the person is in detention, this decision should be taken within 2 working days.[4] If the CGRS declares the application admissible, it continues with an examination of the merits under the Accelerated Procedure. The final decision should be made within 15 working days.[5]

Where the subsequent application is dismissed as inadmissible, the CGRS should determine whether the removal of the applicant would lead to direct or indirect refoulement.[6]

An appeal to the CALL against an inadmissibility decision should be made within 10 days, or 5 days when the applicant is in detention.[7] The appeal has automatic suspensive effect, except where:[8]

  1. The CGRS deems that there is no risk of direct or indirect refoulement; and
  2. The application is either (i) a second application within one year from the final decision on the previous application and made from detention, or (ii) a third or further application.

Legal assistance is arranged in exactly the same way as with regard to first asylum applications. However, in practice, some asylum seekers or lawyers themselves have experienced difficulties in obtaining “proDeo” assignments because the bureau for legal assistance required them to provide proof of the existence of new elements in advance.

Since the 2017 reforms of the Aliens Act, an applicant does not have a right to remain on the territory even before the CGRS pronounces itself on admissibility in cases where:[9]

  1. The application is a third application; and
  2. The applicant remains without interruption in detention since his or her second application; and
  3. The CGRS has decided in the previous procedure concerning the second application that removal would not amount to direct or indirect refoulement.

[1] Article 51/8 Aliens Act, as amended by the Law of 21 November 2017

[2] Article 51/8 Aliens Act, as amended by the Law of 21 November 2017

[3] Ibid, citing Article 57/6/5(1)-(5) Aliens Act

[4] Article 57/6(3) Aliens Act, as amended by the Law of 21 November 2017

[5] Article 57/6/1(1) Aliens Act, as amended by the Law of 21 November 2017

[6] Article 57/6/2(2) Aliens Act, as amended by the Law of 21 November 2017.

[7] Article 39/57 Aliens Act, as amended by the Law of 17 December 2017

[8] Article 39/70 Aliens Act, as amended by the Law of 17 December 2017.

[9] Article 57/6/2(3) Aliens Act, as amended by the Law of 21 November 2017




Analysis of how the media depicts the refugees in Belgium


This research on how refugees are portrayed in the Belgian media is largely based on an analysis of articles published on the websites of Belgium’s most important news papers (De Standaard, De Morgen, Het LaatsteNieuws, Le Soir, La LibreBelgique), as well as the news website of the Flemish broadcasting company (VRT). It is important to note at that Belgium as a country is divided into three Communities on the basis of language: the Flemish, the French and the German speaking Communities. As the German Community constitutes a small minority (less than 1 percent of the population), the media from this part of the country will not be taken into account. In the Flanders, De Standaard and DeMorgen are considered as the two most important quality newspapers, while Het LaatsteNieuws is the most popular and best sold Flemish newspaper. Quality newspapers in Brussels and the French Community are Le Soir and La LibreBelgique.[1]

It appears that all newspapers use a variety of terms – refugee, migrant, immigrant, asylum seeker – interchangeably, meaning that the legal differences between these categories are not made clear in their articles. Quality newspapers like De Morgen and Le Soir use the more precise terms of ‘refugee’ and ‘asylum seeker’, but also the vague notion of ‘migrant’ is often used.[2]Het LaatsteNieuwsalso deploys the terminology of ‘illegal migrant’ or even describes certain migrants as ‘illegals’, which shows a negative attitude towards these people.[3]

Newspapers and other media try to keep a neutral and objective tone in their reporting.[4] Their sources of information are often objective observers, like international organisations such as the UN[5]. Although the media tries to be objective most of the time, they also report on issues concerning refugees and migrants from either an ‘intruder-frame’ or ‘victim-frame’. The former means that migrants and refugees are represented by the stereotypical perspective that ‘all strangers are intruders’ and a threat to the culture and economical situation; the latter means that they are pictured as innocent victims who are in a difficult situation due to reasons that lie beyond their own responsibility.[6] This division will be illustrated with examples below.

The Belgian media reports on the asylum and refugee issues from a strong Eurocentric perspective.[7] Border issues related to Schengen and responses from European leaders to these are extensively discussed in all newspapers and by the Flemish radio and television broadcast (VRT).[8] Migration streams from the Mediterranean route get the most attention in general; so the policy and refugee-receiving capacity from certain countries like Italy, Spain and Greece is widely commented on.[9] Newspapers do not only objectively report on the European response to these mass migration streams, but also indirectly criticise states’ policies, by pointing out human rights issues related to push-back operations and deals with non-EU countries such as Turkey and Libya.[10] Newspapers and news websites often cite international human rights organisations (such as Doctors Without Borders[11] or Amnesty International) in this context, whereby they lean towards a victim-frame. For example, De Morgen recently published an article quoting Amnesty International, saying that the rapid increasing death toll among people trying to cross the Mediterranean is undoubtedly the consequence of European measures to close this migration route.[12] Another example is an article published on the VRT news website, saying that the deplorable situation in refugee camps in Lesbos, Greece, is inhuman and traumatising to the degree that many refugees become mentally ill.[13] Such articles depicts asylum-seekers and refugees clearly from a victim-frame.[14]

Belgian media also highlight refugee issues from the perspective of national or regional politics.[15] Herewith, most attention goes to the position of the conservative-liberal party NVA (Nieuw-VlaamseAlliantie),[16] which strives for a stricter asylum and migration policy.[17] The migration policy and persona of Theo Francken, a prominent NVA figure and Belgian Secretary of State for asylum & migration, are controversial and much debated in different media.[18] Recently, Het LaatsteNieuws published an article about the NVA that started an inquiry into the issue of how much a migrant exactly costs for Belgium.[19] Such articles indicate a negative or ‘intruder’ attitude towards migrants and refugees, which comes from the opinion of politicians, rather than those of the newspaper journalist.[20]

Local stories of migrants or small-scale incidents involving refugees are reported on mostly by the more popular newspapers. These include both positive stories – e.g. there was much to do about a Malian migrant who saved a toddler from a balcony[21] - and negative stories – like the town of Zeebrugge that struggled this summer with a large amount of transit migrants who were accused of robbing the local population.[22]

Criminal offences committed by refugees and migrants are another topic that is extensively covered by the media. Sexual abuse by migrants and refugees is one of the issues that received the most attention by all newspapers in recent years. A clear example was the large-scale incident of sexual intimidation during New Year’s Eve of 2015 in Cologne, Germany, by men of North-African and Arabic descent, many of whom were believed to be asylum-seekers or people who were staying illegally in the country.[23] Similar incidents throughout Europe were also reported on,[24] as well as other incidents of criminal or aggressive behaviour by asylum-seekers.[25] As said, newspapers try to be neutral in their reporting, but in articles covering the criminal behaviour of asylum-seekers, they sometimes lean towards the ‘intruder-frame’. Le Soir, for instance, recently published an article that states that the current rise in crime rate is due to the massive influx of refugees in recent years.[26]

In conclusion, it appears that the media from both the Dutch-speaking and the French-speaking part of Belgium cover mainly the same subjects. Newspapers and news websites keep a neutral and objective tone most of the time, although – depending on the issue they report upon and the sources they quote – the articles may lean more towards either an intruder-frame or a victim-frame. Belgian media report on migration issues from a strong Eurocentric perspective. Also, local or regional political viewpoints are covered. What appears to be almost ‘forgotten’ are the stories told from a migrant or refugee’s perspective.[27] Although objective reporting on the issue of migration is an essential task of the media, it might be good if they would cover more stories from their refugees’ own perspective – instead of only that from politicians. The media plays a crucial role in forming the opinion of the public and by helping refugees’ voices get heard, they could contribute towards a more general understanding and tolerance towards these people.

[1] B. Van Gorp, ‘Where is the Frame?: Victims and Intruders in the Belgian Coverage of the Asylum Issue’ (2005) European Journal of Communication 484, 490-492 and 504.

[2]The Finnish Institute in London, ‘VluchtelingenenAsielzoekers in Dagbladen’ (2016), http://www.finncult.be/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Vluchtelingen_en_asielzoekers_in_dagbladen.pdf, 9 and 11.

[3] See e.g. https://www.hln.be/nieuws/buitenland/vluchtelingencrisis/sterke-stijging-van-het-aantal-opgepakte-illegale-migranten-in-belgische-zeehavens~acce4d59/

[4]The Finnish Institute in London, ‘VluchtelingenenAsielzoekers in Dagbladen’ (2016), http://www.finncult.be/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Vluchtelingen_en_asielzoekers_in_dagbladen.pdf, 11.

[5] See e.g. https://www.vrt.be/vrtnws/nl/2018/08/03/ruim-1-500-migranten-op-zeven-maanden-tijd-omgekomen-in-middella/

[6] B. Van Gorp, ‘Where is the Frame?: Victims and Intruders in the Belgian Coverage of the Asylum Issue’ (2005) European Journal of Communication 484, 489

[7]The Finnish Institute in London, ‘VluchtelingenenAsielzoekers in Dagbladen’ (2016), http://www.finncult.be/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Vluchtelingen_en_asielzoekers_in_dagbladen.pdf, 11.

[8] See e.g. https://www.demorgen.be/buitenland/als-de-eu-niets-doet-aan-polen-of-hongarije-waarom-zouden-andere-lidstaten-dan-niet-volgen-b88320eb/, https://www.demorgen.be/buitenland/europese-commissie-biedt-miljoenengreep-uit-kas-voor-lidstaten-die-migranten-opvangen-b274028d/, https://www.demorgen.be/buitenland/merkel-ondertekent-bilaterale-migratieakkoorden-met-14-landen-waaronder-belgie-bf9364ed/, https://www.hln.be/nieuws/buitenland/duitse-minister-seehofer-wil-snel-migrantenakkoord-met-italie~a0386ae7/, http://www.standaard.be/cnt/dmf20180808_03653945,

[9] See e.g.https://www.demorgen.be/buitenland/spanje-worstelt-door-grote-toestroom-met-liberaal-migratiebeleid-b89ba22a/, https://www.hln.be/nieuws/buitenland/mauritaanse-marine-onderschept-125-senegalese-migranten-richting-canarische-eilanden~af5b9191/, https://www.hln.be/nieuws/buitenland/reddingsschip-meert-met-overlevende-en-twee-lijken-aan-in-palma-de-mallorca~a2c4c0d1/, https://www.vrt.be/vrtnws/nl/2018/08/15/spanje-redt-524-vluchtelingen-uit-middellandse-zee/, http://www.standaard.be/cnt/dmf20180814_03663583, http://www.lesoir.be/archive/d-20180824-3N6A9U?referer=%2Farchives%2Frecherche%3Fdatefilter%3Dlastyear%26sort%3Ddate%2520desc%26word%3Dmigration

[10] See e.g. https://www.demorgen.be/buitenland/italiaans-schip-brengt-geredde-migranten-terug-naar-libie-mogelijk-schending-van-het-internationaal-recht-b74dd495/, http://www.standaard.be/cnt/dmf20180819_03672163, https://www.demorgen.be/buitenland/opnieuw-moet-ngo-schip-op-zoek-naar-haven-bbc77330/

[11] See e.g. http://www.standaard.be/cnt/dmf20180812_03659759

[12]https://www.demorgen.be/buitenland/ai-hogere-dodentol-op-middellandse-zee-is-direct-gevolg-van-europees-beleid-b9dc170b/

[13]https://www.vrt.be/vrtnws/nl/2018/07/19/artsen-zonder-grenzen-geweld-europees-kamp-in-lesbos-traumatis/

[14] For other examples, see e.g. https://www.demorgen.be/buitenland/save-the-children-duizenden-migrantenkinderen-werden-mogelijk-verhandeld-b2ce0eb8/ on human trafficking of child refugees as a consequence of the stopping of the EU relocation program in 2017

[15]See e.g. https://www.hln.be/nieuws/binnenland/n-va-wil-weten-hoeveel-migrant-precies-kost~a18dd644/, https://www.hln.be/nieuws/binnenland/regering-hervat-repatrieringen-naar-soedan-na-rapport-eerste-soedanees-vanochtend-uitgewezen~ac0e83e2/, https://www.demorgen.be/binnenland/nieuwe-piek-transmigranten-zet-zeebrugge-en-zijn-pastoor-onder-druk-het-loopt-uit-de-hand-bc781d78/, http://www.standaard.be/cnt/dmf20180809_03656105, http://www.standaard.be/cnt/dmf20180810_03657340,

[16]The Finnish Institute in London, ‘VluchtelingenenAsielzoekers in Dagbladen’ (2016), http://www.finncult.be/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Vluchtelingen_en_asielzoekers_in_dagbladen.pdf, 9.

[17]https://www.n-va.be/standpunten/asiel

[18] See e.g. https://www.hln.be/de-krant/francken-triomfeert-na-soedan-rapport~a9150c4c/, https://www.hln.be/de-krant/theo-francken-n-va-over-de-klap-na-de-soedan-crisis-een-tweede-termijn-we-zullen-zien~acdef00e/, http://plus.lesoir.be/174807/article/2018-08-24/la-belgique-naccueillera-plus-de-migrants-partis-dafrique-du-nord

[19]https://www.hln.be/nieuws/binnenland/n-va-wil-weten-hoeveel-migrant-precies-kost~a18dd644/

[20]The Finnish Institute in London, ‘VluchtelingenenAsielzoekers in Dagbladen’ (2016), http://www.finncult.be/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Vluchtelingen_en_asielzoekers_in_dagbladen.pdf, 11.

[21] See e.g. https://www.hln.be/nieuws/buitenland/kleuter-4-die-door-malinese-spider-man-gered-werd-was-al-gevallen-van-nog-hoger-balkon-terwijl-vader-pokemon-go-gaan-spelen-was~a543b376/

[22]https://www.demorgen.be/binnenland/zeebrugge-worstelt-met-transmigranten-iedereen-kent-wel-iemand-die-bestolen-is-b6e412af/

[23] See e.g. https://www.demorgen.be/buitenland/eerste-dader-keulen-veroordeeld-6-maanden-voorwaardelijk-b4e3a13d/, https://www.demorgen.be/buitenland/hoofdverdachte-seksueel-geweld-keulen-opgepakt-na-winkeldiefstal-bacb1afa/, https://www.hln.be/nieuws/buitenland/vluchtelingencrisis/uitgelekt-rapport-meer-dan-1-200-vrouwen-aangerand-door-2-000-mannen-tijdens-oudejaarsavond~a290ef89/,

[24] See e.g. https://www.hln.be/nieuws/buitenland/vrouwen-aangerand-met-oud-en-nieuw-in-keulen-en-berlijn~a426e410/, https://www.hln.be/nieuws/buitenland/zes-afghanen-opgepakt-in-oostenrijk-voor-aanranding-op-oudejaar~a4051e50/,

[25]E.g. http://www.standaard.be/cnt/dmf20180819_03671936,

[26]http://www.lesoir.be/archive/d-20180104-3JW4KC?referer=%2Farchives%2Frecherche%3Fdatefilter%3Dlastyear%26sort%3Ddate%2520desc%26word%3Drefugie%2520criminalite

[27]The Finnish Institute in London, ‘VluchtelingenenAsielzoekers in Dagbladen’ (2016), http://www.finncult.be/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Vluchtelingen_en_asielzoekers_in_dagbladen.pdf, 11.




Follow-up on the refugee crisis





The subjective perspective


By Stefan van Laer

I think, in general, the asylum law, policy and conditions are more than decent. Some would consider Belgium even to be one of the better students in the European class. When I was working with UNHCR in the Belgium and Luxemburg office, I visited Belgian receptions centers regularly. The monitoring reports on these reception centers were generally quite positive.

This doesn’t mean we don’t have any problems in Belgium. Some recent developments are quite worrying. Since august 2018 the Belgian government is detaining children again in closed centers. Until October 2008, minors were regularly detained together with their parents in detention centers, leading, among other things, to three convictions by the European Court of Human Rights. Since October 2008, families are no longer detained in closed centers, but in 'return homes'. Now the government thus made the political choice to go back in time. It remains to be seen whether Belgium risks being convicted again as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, signed and ratified by Belgium, prohibits all forms of detention of children.

The biggest problem Belgium has is actually its Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration Theo Francken. He is member of the NVA party, a right wing Flemish party. In a “Trump” kind of manner he communicates and tweets on refugee issues. With his populist and divisive communication, he has made asylum seekers feel very unwelcome in Belgium. He installed a quota of maximum 50 asylum requests per day, which was later judged to be 'illegal' by the Council of State.

In December 2018 the NVA decided to quit the government because of issues with the UN Global Compact on Migration. The Belgian federal government fell and the post of Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration has been occupied by his predecessor Maggie De Block since. After the general election in Belgium in May 2019, Theo Francken declared to be up for a second term as Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration. To be continued….





Belgium

Capital: Brussels
Location: Western Europe
Founder of the European Union
Currency: Euro
Population: 11,161,600
GDP:
Min. wage:
Poverty line:
Population under poverty line:

IWB researchers

Stefan van Laer

Stefan van Laer.jpg

“As is for many, the global refugee crisis was always a “faraway problem” to me. This changed when I did my internship at the Permanent Mission of Belgium to the United Nations in New York. I attended several refugee related meetings with shocking and horrifying testimonies from victims and people who work in the field.  Instead of continuing to turn my head the other way, I now want roll up my sleeves and try to turn the tide. The IWB for refugees project is the way to do this.”

Stéphanie_Leysen.jpg

“Writing my master’s thesis on the compliance of the EU border policy with the international right to asylum has really opened my eyes on the enormous challenges the EU faces with regard to migrants and refugees seeking better livelihood in Europe. The deficiencies of the current EU border and asylum policy have clearly shown throughout the past few years. Enhancing this EU policy is a crucial step towards improving the situation of refugees, as the EU strongly influences how national governments will deal with migrants and asylum seekers in the coming years. I believe that the IWB for Refugees project is an important part of the effort towards such an improvement.”

 

 

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