Federal secretary of state Theo Francken has responded to a stern reminder from the Council of Europe over the detention of children whose parents are the subject of asylum requests. Earlier this week, the human rights commissioner for the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatovic, wrote to Francken with a warning “not to return to the practices of the past which compromise the rights of children”. In particular, the use of centres of detention such as the one at Steenokkerzeel, used to detain those who have been refused asylum but who remain on Belgian soil.
According to Mijatovic, the European convention on human rights forbids the forced detention of children, regardless of the residence status of their parents. “Even when the material conditions are of brief duration and are adapted to the situation, migratory detention is never in the interests of the child,” the letter states. “Providing a welcoming environment for children can never be a substitute for ensuring that children are never deprived of their liberty, for safeguarding their well-being or for acting in their best interests.”
In his reply to Mijatovic, published in English on Twitter, Francken replies: “These units are intended to accommodate families who are staying irregularly on the Belgian territory and manifestly refused to return to their country of origin, and only when all domestic procedures have been exhausted. The detention of these families including minor children has a clear, specific and plausible purpose, namely to detain only those families who didn’t return after having gone through an extensive cascade system of less coercive measures. Hence Belgium has elaborated a whole series of alternatives to detention of families.”