In its Concluding Observations and Recommendations on Belgium published this week, the Committee Against Torture (CAT) acknowledged Belgium’s efforts to improve the situation for asylum seekers and refugees since the last report, but expressed concern regarding the detention of asylum seekers in the context of the Dublin system.
CAT states that asylum seekers referred to the Dublin procedure – which identifies the EU Member State responsible for the examination of an asylum claim – are systematically detained in Belgium for up to nine months.
The UN Committee urges Belgium to ensure that detention of asylum seekers is used only as a last resort, only when necessary, and for as short a period as possible. The CAT also calls on the authorities to establish and implement alternatives to the detention of asylum seekers.
In a report submitted to the Committee, the Belgian organisation Ligue des Droits de L’Homme argues that there is a worrying increase in the detention of asylum seekers in the Belgium since a reform of the asylum procedures took place in 2006. The organisation also noted that asylum seekers are systematically arrested at the border. It is highlighted in the report that detention is likely to jeopardize the opportunities for asylum seekers to successfully exercise their rights, due to restrictions on access to legal assistance and it has a serious impact on the physical and mental health of the applicants.
Alongside detention, the CAT also shows concern about the government’s attempts to rely on diplomatic assurances to deport migrants who may face torture or other ill-treatment in their home country, thereby risking a violation of the principle of non-refoulement. Amnesty International’s report submitted to the CAT states that Belgium sought diplomatic assurances against torture in order to extradite Arbi Zarmaev, an ethnic Chechen, to Russia, despite the fact that he is wanted on suspicion of being an accomplice to murder. Despite the Court of Appeal advising against the deportation, a request was granted by the Minister of Justice to extradite Zarmaev, based on diplomatic assurances obtained from the Russian authorities. The case is now pending before the European Court of Human Rights.
Besides publishing its Concluding Observations and Recommendations on Belgium and Poland, the Committee has also commented on Portugal’s, Andorra’s and Latvia’s implementation of the Convention against Torture. A common recommendation from the CAT to these three countries is to provide training on the Istanbul Protocol – on the investigation and documentation of cases of torture – to all medical personnel and other officials involved in dealing with asylum seekers.
In the case of Portugal, the CAT underlined that the Refugee Reception Centre is overcrowded. The Committee recommends that Portugal increases its accommodation capacity and ensures the provision of adequate supplies, such as medical care, adequate food, water and personal hygiene items. The CAT recommends that Andorra creates a refugee status determination procedure and takes clear legal measures to ensure that persons are not expelled, returned or extradited to another state where he/she may be subject to torture. In relation to Latvia, the CAT stated that the detention of asylum seekers in the country is not being used as a last resort measure. The report states that children as young as 14 are being detained. The Committee is also concerned about the non-suspensive effect of appeals against negative decisions under the accelerated asylum procedure, which risks violating the fundamental principle of non-refoulement.