Alternatives to Detention in Belgium

Preparing families for independent departure

Belgium has open housing facilities for families who have to leave the country, who apply for asylum at the border, or who fall under the Dublin Regulations. These housing facilities are located in close proximity to public transportation, schools and shops.

Usually, each family is allocated its own unit. Buildings are not locked and there are no security staff. The families receive a weekly allowance, food vouchers and non-food items.

Children can attend schools in the local area and families have access to physical and mental health services if required.

Each family is assigned a ‘coach’ employed by the Belgian Immigration Department. These coaches are, in effect, case managers responsible for providing holistic, tailored support through intensive casework.

They review the family’s file, explore all options to remain in the country legally, seek legal advice if required, make practical arrangements for the journey and work with the family to accept and prepare for return.

Case managers cultivate rapport and encourage families to share their full story in order to realistically consider all future options.

Since the project began, the majority of families (70% to 80%) have remained in immigration processes.

There has been a high rate of voluntary return and low rates of absconding: from October 2008 to August 2011, 217 families (including 396 children) were housed at the units. Of this group, 88 families returned to their countries of origin or were removed to a third country under the Dublin Regulations.

Almost all of these (80) departed independently, with only eight forced
returns. Of the remaining 129 families, 69 were released and 48 absconded (usually within five days of arrival). The average length of stay was 24 days.

Comprehensive reception and care arrangements in the community for UAMS

Authorities who intercept a UMC on Belgium territory or at the border must immediately notify the Guardianship Service of the Belgian Ministry of Justice (Belgium Guardianship Service), who are responsible for conducting identification verification and age assessment of UAMs detected within or at the borders of Belgium and assigning each UAMs with a guardian who will work with the authorities to find a durable solution for the child.

The guardian will act in the best interests of the child, and will assist him or her in all stages of the immigration process and other legal or administrative procedures. UAMS are placed in reception and care facilities in 3 stages (Observation and Orientation Phase; Transitional Phase; and Stable Housing or Autonomous Reception).

Placement of children and their families in open family units; case management and case resolution (coaching)

Under Belgian law the families staying at these units remain legally “detained”; in practice however, the family units are not closed and families have a large degree of freedom of movement albeit with some restrictions.

Although there is a 10 pm to 8 am curfew and one adult family member must always remain in the house, this is applied with some flexibility with the prior authorization of the coaches. The families receive a weekly allowance, food vouchers and non-food items.

Children are able to attend schools in the locality and families have regular access to physical and mental health services if required.

Families are required to sign a “contract” that sets out their rights and obligations while in the family unit as well as the consequences of absconding.

Maximum Time Limits on Detention

2 months for asylum seekers (max 2.5 in case of an appeal); 2-3 months for those in Dublin procedures; 5 months for immigrants in a returns procedure (if an individual is detained on a public order ground, then the maximum is 8 months).

Find out more:

European Migration Network, The Use of Detention and Alternatives to Detention in the Context of Immigration Policies in Belgium, (Brussels: EMN, 2014),

There are alternatives cover

Over the past five years, the IDC has undertaken a program of research to identify and describe a number of positive alternatives to immigration detention (‘alternatives’) that respect fundamental rights, are less expensive and are equally or more effective than traditional border controls.

This research, entitled There are alternatives, provides readers with the guidance needed to successfully avoid unnecessary detention and to ensure community options are as effective as possible.

This text was published in September 2015.