A sense of nuance and responsibility

The government has been applying a humane and strict migration policy for the past three years.


Belgium does not have a Calais Jungle on the route to Great Britain. Every effort has been made to prevent such a thing from happening.


The situation is under control, unlike in certain countries. Such a lack of control endangers social cohesion and encourages all forms of extremism.


The government has assumed its responsibilities. We welcome those people who are entitled to asylum. At a European level, we are working on controlling borders and preventing the suction effect that could quickly become unmanageable.


Despite the major asylum crisis, the situation in our country has remained under control since 2015.


This is the result of coordinated and determined action from the government and all administrative and police services.


Belgium makes it a point of honour to ensure compliance with European and international duties.


The policy pursued is humane and is supported by respect for the decisions of the administrative and judicial courts.


However, I must set the record straight because of recurring campaigns of disinformation. I have deliberately chosen to do so with the necessary distance.


The policy on returning nationals to their countries of origin, and to Sudan in particular, is a sensitive topic that deserves a nuanced approach, and deserves better than simplistic and caricatured portrayals in one way or another.


I would like to shine a light on some of the facts which are very different from the perception that some are trying to create.


- First of all, this is a European issue. Many countries apply the same policy. The United Kingdom, France, Italy and Norway regularly organise technical identification missions in cooperation with Sudan. In 2016, Italy returned 40 Sudanese nationals to their homeland, Sweden returned 15 and Ireland returned 5. Norway returned 60 Sudanese nationals over the course of 2015 and 2016 (source: Eurostat). In December, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began a process of voluntary repatriation to Sudan, and has stated that it is working in direct cooperation with the Sudanese government to ensure that re-integrations operations are successful (source: UNHCR).


- Furthermore, administrative and judicial decisions are always taken on a case-by-case basis, using information from the individual records of the persons involved and their personal background.


The decisions for removal are taken by the Immigration Office. The Immigration Office is required to conduct a risk analysis relating to possible violations of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which prohibits inhuman and degrading treatment. An investigation must be conducted into the compliance of each return with Article 3 of the ECHR, as confirmed by the Director-General of the Immigration Office. He also stated that no people are returned to areas which the Immigration Office deems to be dangerous.


Specifically, the Immigration Office decided to return 9 Sudanese nationals to their country (one voluntary return, three without supervision, and five with supervision) based on the outcomes of the technical identification mission.


- The decisions can be contested before independent courts. The individuals who are the subject of an expulsion order may file an appeal with the Foreigners’ Disputes Council. In the event of an urgent appeal, the expulsion order may be suspended. If the person in question evokes their fear of repercussions upon returning to their country of origin, they may file an asylum application, even after the expulsion order of the Foreigners’ Disputes Council and after identification, which will result in the suspension of the expulsion order.


On 20 December, the Liège Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the State and overturned the decision of the President of the Court of First Instance forbidding the Belgian State from repatriating Sudanese nationals. The latter decision had resulted from proceedings instituted by the League for Human Rights.


- The Commissioner General for Refugees and the Stateless analysed Sudan’s specific situation in a recent note published in October. The note is much more nuanced than its unilateral interpretation lets on. Firstly, it distinguishes between different cases of persons of Sudanese origin, and details the way in which each case was handled. In general terms, no subsidiary protection is granted for 11 states (provinces) of Sudan, which account for almost the entirety of the country’s territory. However, any Sudanese individual making claims of an individual fear will be in a position to obtain refugee status, as is the case for people of any other nationality.


It appears from said note that not every person of Sudanese origin is automatically entitled to international protection. This is evidenced by the fact that the percentage of recognition for people of Sudanese origin was at 54.7% in 2017.

Furthermore, as indicated in the note, the CGRS assesses the issue of an alternative to asylum in other regions of Sudan in certain cases. This further evidences the fact that the conflict situation does not extend across the entirety of the country’s territory, and that it is localised in certain regions.


 - The persons concerned, who in most cases were deceived by unscrupulous smugglers, opt not to file an application for asylum in Belgium because they wish to travel to the United Kingdom. In some cases, filing an asylum application would entail a return to Italy, in accordance with the Dublin Regulation, which permits a return to Sudan in certain cases.


-   Finally, Belgium has assumed its share of solidarity, always out of a concern for dignity and humanity. In our country, international protection was granted to (source: CGRS): 

-   10,783 individuals in 2015; 

-   15,478 individuals in 2016; 

-   12,679 individuals between January and November 2017. 


Furthermore, the government has issued more humanitarian visas in the past three years than the previous government periods: 1,616 in 2017 until late September; 1,185 in 2016; 849 in 2015 (compared to 208 in 2014; 270 in 2013; 211 in 2012; 270 in 2011 and 357 in 2010).


This is objective data that is far removed from the caricatures and simplifications, from all sides, that can harm our country’s image and credibility. Whenever I have felt that it was necessary, I have called for a sense of responsibility and nuance, both from the opposition and the majority.


In 2016, another immigration case led to heated debate and severe attacks on the government. A Syrian family had applied for a visa for a short stay, with the explicit justification that the purpose was to travel to Belgium in order to file an asylum application. In a similar case, the Court of Justice of the European Union had issued a judgment in March 2017 which fully endorsed the position of the Belgian Government. The European Commission and 13 European countries supported Belgium in those proceedings. The judgment was followed by a deafening silence from stakeholders and commentators who had stirred up resentment against the government just a few weeks previous.


The press reported on abuse and torture upon return to Sudan. Because of the seriousness of these allegations, it was immediately decided to launch an investigation into the matter. The investigation must be independent and have a European and international dimension. Its purpose is to provide clarity and provide the Parliament with transparent information. Obviously, political assessments of the matter may only be taken with knowledge of the facts on the basis of the outcomes of this investigation. I have announced that no repatriations to Sudan will take place until the results, which are expected this month, have been received.


I also wish to thank the various administrative, judicial and police services for their daily work in humane situations that are often painful and complex. I know that they are ensuring the proper implementation of Belgian, European and international laws. They are the driving force behind our rule of law.


The dignity of the people involved must be at the core of all decisions, from a concern for justice and humanity.


It is in this context that the government reports to the Parliament every week.


We will continue to follow the course of a humane and strict policy, with a sense of nuance and responsibility.


You may count on my determination.


Charles Michel

Prime Minister