Second suicide in a Belgian detention centre in three months

Second suicide in a Belgian detention centre in three months
A detainee at 127bis in 2011. Credit: Belga / Nicolas Maeterlinck

A man in a detention centre died by suicide over the weekend after he had agreed to voluntarily return to his country of origin. This is the second suicide to occur in a Belgian detention centre in three months.

The man, an Ethiopian national in his early thirties, died in the early hours of Saturday morning. His body was discovered in the bathroom by a fellow detainee. He had arrived at 127bis (a detention centre located near Brussels Airport) just a few days earlier and had already signed papers agreeing to return to Ethiopia voluntarily.

A spokesperson from the Immigration Office confirmed these details to The Brussels Times. She added that psychological support was available to both detainees and personnel inside the centre following the suicide. The centre will hold a meeting between management, psychiatric assistants and social workers on 14 March to hear feedback about the systems of care currently in place.

Translation: While less than 3 months have passed since the last death, a man once again took his life in a detention centre for migrants. This time, it's at 127bis. 💔 #stopdetention

This is the second suicide to occur in a Belgian detention centre in three months. The Immigration Office states that frequent suicide attempts occur as detainees know they are at the "end of the road" when it comes to seeking refuge in Belgium.

Getting The Voice Out, a non-profit organisation that campaigns for human rights in detention centres, argues that pitiable living conditions drive detainees to self-harm.

"These suicide attempts and other self-harming behaviours are direct consequences of the confinement and detention conditions suffered by undocumented migrants held in the centres," it stated in reaction to the latest death. It highlighted the poor mental state of detainees, which leads to daily violence as well.

Legally dubious system

Belgian detention centres have been dubbed "a bad first impression of Europe" by the few human rights campaigners allowed to enter the facilities. Detainees sleep in dilapidated buildings, family visits are made difficult by remote locations and long travel times, and mental health issues deteriorate rapidly in isolated living conditions.

In theory, the centres are supposed to house people without papers before they are deported to their country of origin. However, the lack of official paperwork severely complicates sending undocumented migrants back to their country of origin.

Many detainees are therefore released after several months of incarceration. The pointless human suffering this system produces has drawn virulent criticism from numerous human rights organisations.

On 25 December 2023, a man in Merksplas detention centre died by suicide. Three months later, his body remains in the morgue as officials have been unable to identify his family and notify them of his death. The Immigration Office informed The Brussels Times they intended to bury the body as soon as the case had been closed.

This article was amended at 11:15 to include an update on the suicide at Merkplas.

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