Record number of refugees lose residency permit

Summary

Last year saw more than 200 recognised refugees sent back to their home countries, usually because of infractions to the travel ban

Law tightened

Last year, 217 asylum-seekers in Belgium had their right to stay in the country revoked. It is a record number for a single year.

People can lose their refugee status by breaking the law or if it is discovered that they have committed fraud at some point in the immigration process. The third reason – which appears to be the majority of cases – is that the person has travelled to their country of origin.

People granted refugee status in Belgium are allowed to travel, but not to their country of origin. If they do so, it is assumed that the danger that led them to flee the country is no longer valid.

Refugee status lasts for a period of five years, after which the refugee can request permanent residency. This is usually granted if there are no complications, and then the person can travel at will.

Figure triples

For many years, 60-70 people a year lost their refugee status for one of the three reasons (though fraud is very rare). Last year, however, the figure was 217.

“It’s a lot and also not a lot,” said Commissioner-General for Refugees Dirk van den Bulck. “It is indeed a clear increase compared to previous years, but compared to the total number of residency permits granted every year, it’s not that many.”

The reason for the increase is a co-operation among migration officials in neighbouring countries arranged by former migration secretary Theo Francken (N-VA). They now exchange information on refugees travelling to and from their countries, as travellers tend to cross the border to fly out of Europe to avoid being detected.

Compared to the total number of residency permits granted every year, it’s not that many

- Commissioner-General Dirk van den Bulck

Francken also tightened the rules on refugees found guilty of criminal activity. Previously, minor offences were not immediately seen as a reason to revoke refugee status. Now they are far more likely to lead to a loss of status.

“We investigate every single situation,” said Van de Bulck. “Sometimes we find that not every report we receive is in fact correct. Someone might be suspected of travelling to their country of origin, but it turns out that wasn’t the case.”

If it is the case, Van den Bulck’s department investigates the circumstances that led the refugee to travel back home. If refugee status is revoked, the person can appeal the decision to the Council of State.

Photo: Jonas Roosens/BELGA