Belgium records massive increase in suicides and attempts in asylum centres

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Conditions in Belgian centres, such as overcrowding, have been blamed for an increase in the number of successful and failed suicide attempts.

The Federal Agency for the reception of asylum seekers, Fedasils, started collecting figures on suicide and self-harm in the asylum centres in 2017 when 12 incidents were recorded in Flanders and nine in Wallonia (the figures do not distinguish between suicides and attempts).

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However, while delivering to Theo Francken, Member of Parliament, Sammy Mehdi, Secretary of Asylum Ministry, has revealed that those totals had increased respectively to 38 and 30.

Fedasil sought to place the raw figures in context. “For the first year (2017), four months are missing, so the figures are not representative,” explained Spokesperson Mieke Candaele. At the same time, the asylum centres’ population increased by almost 10,000, from 17,788 to 27,676.

Thomas Pelseneer, a mental health specialist with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), states the long waiting times before asylum requests are processed. There are currently more than 20,000 asylum-seekers waiting for a ruling on their case.

“In recent months, we have seen that almost all of our patients are depressed; Someone set himself on fire in front of the doors of the Klein Kasteeltje, an asylum centre in Brussels, during the Christmas period. A man from Afghanistan threw himself out of the window of the asylum centre after a negative decision,” he said.

In a study from 2021 and still only partially published, asylum-seekers themselves described the experience of long waits for a verdict as repetitive and lacking a perspective for improvement. And the feeling of isolation is exacerbated by language problems experienced by asylum applicants.

The conditions inevitably lead to rising tensions and, in turn to an increase in violence. The overcrowding leads to a great deal of stress for one worker.

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