A legal measure introduced in July last year to allow the children of illegal migrants to be sent to the detention centre 127bis in Steenokkerzeel just outside Brussels has been suspended by the Council of State. The measure was introduced by former migration minister Theo Francken, and contested by a number of human rights organisations and refugee workers.
The Council of State has the job of scrutinising government measures at all levels, from municipal all the way up to federal.
Unusually, the Council took its decision because of aircraft noise. The centre is directly under a major approach route to Brussels Airport, and the Council heard how the detention of children could be ordered for periods of up to one month while arrangements were made to repatriate their families to their country of origin. That would expose children to unacceptable levels of dangerous noise, the judgement says.
The Council based its ruling on a judgement of 2016 by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, when the French government was condemned for locking the children of migrants up in a centre close to the airport of Toulouse-Blagnac. The Belgian rules will now have to be amended to make certain that children can only be detained at Steenokkerzeel for “extremely brief” periods. But because of the nature of the legislative instrument employed by Francken, the Council is not competent to rule on the matter of detention of migrants in general.
According to a spokesperson for one organisation dealing with the children of migrants, the ruling makes it all but impossible for the government to lock up children – and by extension their families – in the centre at Steenokkerzeel. “If the government wants to go ahead and lock up children anyway, they will have to build a new closed centre somewhere else,” the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile the Office for Foreigners declined to comment, saying it needed time to examine the ruling in detail. Theo Francken criticised the judgement on Twitter: “Extensive tests were carried out. Everything is safe. Incomprehensible ruling. There are already so many children living in and around the airport.”