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Belgium gets tough with the undocumented

Return offices are to be established in all Belgian provinces.  The offices will have the task of encouraging everybody who hasn’t got the right to stay in Belgium to return to their country of origin voluntarily as this is cheaper and has more chance of being a permanent success than forced repatriations.

Belgium faces a difficult task in getting undocumented people to return to their own country.  Each year 24,000 people are ordered out of the country.  Only 20% takes notice of this instruction and returns home voluntarily. 

Secretary of state for asylum and migration Sammy Mahdi (Flemish Christian democrat) acknowledges that a systematic approach is lacking.  There is hardly any follow-up for the large group that doesn’t return home voluntarily. To ensure a more proactive approach up to three return offices will be established in every Belgian province.  The big cities, Brussels, Antwerp and Liege, will be the main priority.  

New procedures are being introduced says Mahdi: “People instructed to leave the territory will receive a document stating a date on which they are expected at the return office”.

They will then have to attend the office on several occasions to learn more about their return, why they must return home and what assistance they will get.

At the end of the day, all those instructed to quit the territory will be supervised. Mr Mahdi remains a firm believer in voluntary return given it is more sustainable and cheaper. 

“At the minute the procedure leading to return often isn’t initiated.  Intense discussions are needed to secure returns.” 

Those failing to co-operate with a voluntary return supervised by the return offices will face forced repatriation.

“There are people who don’t turn up or don’t want to co-operate.  Forced return is then necessary.  We will continue to put effort into this and reinforce it.”

60 new staff are being recruited at the immigration department to help run the return offices.  A further 20 extra staff will have the task of supporting families with children.  The new initiative will cost 20 million euros.  Mr Mahdi now also hopes to make improvements to agreements with countries of origin.

Sammy Mahdi
James Arthur Photography

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