— Initially published on Getting the Voice Out, so some infos are specific to Belgium, but the procedure to follow is valid everywhere. —
Many foreigners in irregular situation are controlled/arrested on public transport, on parking lots, at train stations or at their homes. They are brought to a police station for investigation by the Immigration Office. At the police station, their personal belongings and phones are confiscated, which means that they cannot contact anyone. Within the next 24 hours, they are either released, often with an order to leave the country (OQT – Ordre de Quitter le Territoire), or they are detained in one of the 5 detention centres for migrants (centre fermé – CF).
- What to do…. BEFORE one of your friends is incarcerated:
– If your friend has already received an order to leave the country (OQT) or has a passport, ask their permission and make a copy, scan or take a photo of the order or passport. This will afford you access to the information (name, first name, nationality, date of birth) needed to find your friend.
– If they haven’t received an OQT or they have gotten rid of it, ask them to write down the first and last names, nationality and date of birth that are on record with their fingerprints and/or that they provided when they were caught. These data are essential for you to be able to locate them as soon as possible and to possibly undertake legal action.
In both cases, warn them of the risks of being placed in a detention centre for migrants (CF) if the police catch them and inform them of their rights, if they, unfortunately, get detained: possibility to give a phone call outside (ask them to write down your phone number on a piece of paper or to memorize it and to contact you as soon as possible) and the right to an attorney and to visits.
- If you find out that they have been arrested
– If you know in which police station they are, call or go on site. If there are others in the same police station, contact all your friends and go there together to demand their release. This type of pressure has already led to the release of some detainees.
– In principle, they are entitled to make a phone call if they are being transferred to a detention centre for migrants. If they call you to announce their transfer, try to find out the location and the exact name they have provided to the police and the Immigration Office (Office des Etrangers – OE). This will buy you some time!
Detailed procedure in case of a disappearance:
-In the first 24 hours of a disappearance, be patient: they may be prevented from calling for many various reasons. If you haven’t received any news from your undocumented migrant friend/guest for a substantial amount of time, ask their acquaintances, their friends or other hosts in case they had planned to travel or have been in an accident. They might be stuck somewhere without a phone or with no battery and the best thing to do is to wait for them to get in touch with you. The police can detain them for 24 hours before deciding what to do with them.
– Has it been more than 24 hours? Have you learned that your friend has been detained? Has your friend contacted you but without knowing in which centre they are, …?
- How to locate your missing friend?
Before starting to call detention centres:
Be aware that the primary role of a detention centre (CF) is not to help you or to collaborate with you but to “maintain undocumented migrants at a specified location close to borders so as to facilitate their removal from the country”. Also, the “social worker” provided to your friend represents the Immigration Office in the detention centre and is therefore not necessarily the kind of social worker you might have in mind.
Two possible scenarios:
-In the best case, you will have had time to talk to your friend before their arrest and you have the name they give to the police (whether actual or fictitious), as well as their nationality (whether actual or fictitious).
Call the “Caricole” detention centre at 02 719 71 09 or 02 719 71 10 as they – in theory – centralise the information and – normally – have a list of all the detainees. Ask them if the person that you are looking for is detained in their centre or in another one. They will ask you for your friend’s LAST NAME + first name + nationality. If they don’t find the information, it does not mean that your friend is not in a detention facility. Don’t give up; start calling all the other facilities:
Le Centre pour Illégaux de Bruges (CIB) Tél 050 45 10 40 mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Le Centre pour Illégaux de Merksplas (CIM) : 014 63 91 10 mail: email@example.com
Le Centre pour Illégaux de Vottem (CIV) : 04 228 89 00
Centre 127 bis : Tel 02 759 42 99 —-02 755 00 00
-Second possibility: If you only know his or her alias, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org where someone might be able to cross-reference that information with other calls made.
When you know that your missing friend is in a detention facility and you know its location, what else can you do?
(do what you can without any obligation: “Everyone does what they can, the way they can, when they can”)
-Get them a mobile phone without a camera (Note: your friend can request to have their SIM card in the detention facility). If not, try to get the phone number of a fellow detainee who is willing to receive your call. Through the private message (PM) groups you can also coordinate with other visitors to get the mobile phone to your friend.
– Visit him or her at the detention facility and/or bring them their belongings if at all possible (see the practical information provided for each detention facility CF). The PM groups have made it possible for hosts, friends and families to coordinate support (car rides, belongings,…) see below.
– Contact gettingthevoiceout (GVO) by email and give them the name of the detained person, their nationality and the name of the facility. GVO will put you in touch with a visitor or, for the guests of the plateforme d’hébergement citoyen with a designated contact person for that facility (“référents centre” (RC)) (see below).
As soon as you are in contact with your detained friend, try to find out what happened and if they want a lawyer.
If they want to be assisted by a lawyer, contact Gettingthevoiceout and provide them with as many details as possible. In some cases, it is urgent to find a lawyer because certain steps must be taken within 10 days, sometimes even within 5 days.
Send the information to email@example.com, never through Facebook or PM (private message)
This is the information the lawyer will need, in order of importance:
Name under which the person is registered in the detention centre (most often their OQT names if they have already received OQT’s)
-Nationality (as recorded by the Immigration Office) and their real identity
-Name of the detention centre: 127 bis, Caricole, Vottem, Bruges, Merksplas?
-Identification number (Immigration Office/IBZ/SP) that should, in principle, have been put on their badges upon their arrival at the centre.
-Date of birth
-Date of arrest
-Place of arrest
-Language of the case / language of their (how to know?)
- Visits to detention facilities
Each centre has their own rules and procedures for visits (see specific information for each facility in annex). Visits also provide an opportunity to ask the detained persons about other guests/friends who are not accounted for.
- Legal aspects
CAUTION: The legislations linked to the topics of migration are extremely complex. Don’t try to take on the role of a specialist or a specialised lawyer and don’t ever rely on the advice provided by the social workers in the detention centre as they first and foremost tend to defend the interests of the Immigration Office and not those of the migrants!
The first question to ask oneself: does your friend want the support of a lawyer? The decision is theirs but should they decide to get a lawyer, it is important that they be willing to listen, trust, follow their advice,and follow the legal proceedings to the end. Much too often, a lawyer is found only to be rejected by your friend for various reasons (fear of the unknown, lack of trust in the lawyer, belief that without lawyers they will be rapidly “dublinated” towards their point of entry…from which they’ll easily be able to return, which is often a false assumption!). Giving up on the proceedings benefits the Immigration Office whose aim is to make the life of the detainee so unbearable that they accept to be deported or agree to return voluntarily.
A specialised lawyer can identify flaws in the proceedings (badly formulated arrests and incarcerations documents, lack of interpreters, requests for asylum introduced by the Immigration Office against the will of the detainees, blind application of the Dublin rules…) and the lawyer can make sure your friend’s rights are respected.
Gettingthevoiceout has a list of competent lawyers to defend the rights of the migrants.
- In case of release or deportation:
Inform firstname.lastname@example.org as quickly as you can on the fate of your friend so as to provide us with a global perspective on these deportations/releases.
- In case of deportation threats
As soon as they arrive at the centre, the migrants can be threatened with deportation to the country of origin by the social worker, without mention of the existing recourses. They should not let themselves be intimidated.
One day though, if the legal proceedings have not reached a positive outcome, they will be given a “ticket” for a trip towards their country of origin or their “Dublin” country. It is then essential to inform the lawyer very quickly as he or she may, in some cases, still be able to introduce a recourse.
At the first deportation attempt, detainees can refuse boarding: they will be brought to the airport and if they refuse to get on the plane, they will be brought back to the detention centre, generally in a calm manner.
At the second deportation attempt (sometimes the third), they will be told they will be escorted and forcefully deported. If they resist, it can become very violent. If the detainee wants support to prevent their deportation, the CRER and Gettingthevoiceout can call upon people to mobilize, go to the airport and talk to the passengers of the flight in question. They’ll explain to the passengers that they have the right to inform the flight captain that they refuse to travel with a man/woman that is being deported by force. They can refuse to sit down as long as the deportee is on the plane.
For more information, please see http://www.gettingthevoiceout.org/how-to-stop-a-deportation/
- For the hosts of the Plateforme hébergement citoyen: Coordination groups via Messenger and Whatsapp
Messenger or Whatsapp groups specific to each detention centre have been created.
They connect together the people/families concerned about the fate of a detainee, who would like to coordinate visits (car pools), drop off packages, get info, help and support one another, …
The Plateforme hébergement citoyen has also appointed contact persons for each detention centre (CF)in order to provide information, facilitate coordination with Gettingthevoiceout and stimulate the MP groups. They are voluntary. They are no legal advisors and they don’t liaise with the lawyers.