The federal office for foreigners last week released a total of 300 people from detention centres who were being held for being in the country illegally.
The reason was that the centres were so full they were having trouble adhering to the government’s instructions on social distancing, which means that people have to remain 1.5m apart at all times.
The centres are used to detail migrants who are not applying for asylum, and have been found in the country without papers. The 300 detainees, mainly men, were released from detention with an order to leave Belgium within 30 days.
In such cases, the sans-papiers, as they are known, are not forcibly placed on a flight to their homeland, but simply allowed to go out of the front door of the detention centre.
It is to be expected that many will disappear into clandestinity. Since they are without papers, tracing them from now on will be difficult if not impossible.
As De Standaard reports, the detainees were released because of Belgian government rules, while they were in detention at all because of the decision of other governments to stop flights to and from Belgium.
That prevented them from being sent home directly, and they were instead placed in detention centres, although none of them had been involved in any previous public order offence.
Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt are among countries who have closed their borders and stopped all traffic to and from Belgium. This week the government arranged 56 charter flights with Brussels Airlines to have some 9,500 Belgians repatriated from 14 countries where travel is no longer permitted.
The 300 who were released include some of those considered vulnerable. “Last week already we started releasing vulnerable groups, such as people with diabetes or bronchitis,” a spokesperson for the office told Bruzz.