First family in new closed asylum centre, Amnesty protests

The new closed repatriation centre in Steenokkerzeel (127bis) has accommodated a first family of refugees which is to be sent back to its country of origin, after all legal procedures failed.  Belgium had been convicted by a European Court for locking up minors, Amnesty is angry and staged a protest at the PM's headquarters. 

The family, with four children, has a Serbian background. They tried all legal procedures to stay in Belgium, but failed to obtain a legal permit and have been staying illegally in Belgium since 2013. They were accommodated in an open centre twice, but escaped on each occasion. It is not clear when the family will be sent back to Serbia. 

For the children, this is like a prison, despite their parents not having committed a crime

Belgium had abandoned the practice of locking up undocumented families in closed centres ten years ago, after having been convicted by the European Court of Human Rights in Strabsourg in 2010 and 2011.

This reintroduction triggers new criticism: "Belgium was convicted on three occasions for locking up minors. We are right back where we were when the European Court condemned Belgium", a member of the human rights organisation Amnesty International told reporters during a protest action at the offices of Prime Minister Charles Michel. 

"For the children, the impact is terrible. They find themselves staying in a prison, while their parents have not committed a crime. They are just seeking a better life", Philippe Hensmans explained, the director of the Belgian branch of Amnesty. 

The federal government argues that the closed centre is necessary, because many families escape when their repatriation is coming closer. In Steenokkerzeel, five special family units were built to avoid this.