Detention of families

Since 1 October 2008, families with minor children (since the end of September 2009, also those who are refused entry at the border) are no longer held in detention centres, but in family units where they are supervised by a returncoaches.

There are currently 28 family units of this type: 3 houses and 3 studios in Zulte; 5 apartments and 1 studio in Tubize; 7 houses in St-Gillis-Waas; 3 houses in Tielt; 6 houses in Beauvechain.

These family units (housing located in a local community) are all equipped to accommodate families in appropriate and humane conditions. The Immigration Office assigns each family a place to stay. Families are then free to leave the accommodation to run errands, consult a lawyer, go to the doctor or take their children to school. However, an adult family member must be present at the accommodation. In principle, every family staying in the country irregularly or that does not meet the conditions for entry into the country may be housed in accommodation of this type. The families must stay there until the day of their return to their country of origin or, if necessary, until a decision is taken allowing them to stay in Belgium. If it is not possible to arrange  a return and no residency status is granted, the families will receive an . They will then no longer be able to access their accommodation.

The return coach will permanently accompany the families to prepare them for their return or during their procedure to obtain a possible right of residency. Coaches have been assigned to monitor families' cases. They try to convince the families to collaborate in their identification (identity and nationality) and their return. They are also the intermediary between the families and the different Belgian authorities, embassies and consulates, lawyers, non-governmental organizations, etc. and help the families to better understand the decisions taken and the procedures. Families can still apply for assistance under the Assisted Voluntary Return, Reintegration and Vulnerable Groups Programmes. To this end, the coaches work in close collaboration with and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The Immigration Office promotes voluntary return. If the family does not cooperate, a forced return will be arranged. Families that obtain a right of residency are directed to the competent authorities, who will help them with the necessary steps for their registration in the population register.

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On 3 and 4 February 2022, the Committee on the Rights of the Child issued findings against Belgium in two cases concerning the detention of minor children with their parents in a family home in a closed detention centre.

The Committee concluded in both cases that the detention of the children constituted a violation of Article 37 of the Convention, read alone and in conjunction with Article 3, on the grounds that "by failing to consider possible alternatives to the detention of children, the State party failed to give due weight to their best interests as a primary consideration, either at the time of their detention or at the time their detention was extended."