Suicide attempts by asylum seekers on the rise in Belgian reception centres

The number of asylum seekers who make suicide attempts is increasing. This is apparent from figures that member of parliament Theo Francken (N-VA) requested from the office of the Belgian state secretary for Asylum & Migration Sammy Mahdi (CD&V).

Fedasil, the Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers, has been registering figures on suicide attempts in asylum centres since 2017. They show that the number of desperation attempts has tripled in about five years. In Flemish centres the number rose from 12 in 2017 to 38 in 2021, in Wallonia from 9 to 30.

In a written response, Fedasil says the figures need some nuancing. "For the starting year 2017, four months are missing, so these figures are not representative."

According to Fedasil, it is therefore impossible to draw conclusions based on absolute figures. The total number of residents in the care network increased in that period from 17,788 to 27,676 people, almost 10,000 more.

"Based on that, it is impossible to say that there has been an increase, let alone a spectacular one," communications director of Fedasil Mieke Candaele reported in De Standaard.

Nevertheless, the number of incidents in that period has risen faster than the number of asylum seekers, De Standaard reports. In 2020, when there were fewer applications due to the pandemic, the number of suicides rose further in the Flemish centres, while it fell slightly in the Walloon centres.

It is mainly the long waiting times that drive asylum seekers to despair, as they have no guaranteed future prospects. Thomas Pelseneer, a nurse in the mental health team of Médecins Sans Frontières, which has been providing psychological care to homeless people and asylum seekers since 2017, has also noticed this.

"In recent months we have noticed that almost all of our patients are depressed. One person set himself on fire in front of the Castle's doors during the Christmas period. A man from Afghanistan threw himself out of the window after a negative decision," Pelseneer told De Standaard.

According to Ilse Derluyn, who as a professor at the UGent researches migration, there is no scientific evidence for a direct causal connection between the long waiting times and suicide. "But scientifically we do see clear links between the emotional wellbeing and the long insecurity. In combination with the daily stress of living in an asylum centre, this can weigh on people's minds. In practice, we see that the longer someone has to wait, the harder it becomes."


© BELGA PHOTO NOE ZIMMER - Illustration shows refugees waiting outside, at the entry to the 'Klein Kasteeltje - Petit Chateau' (Little Castle) Fedasil (Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers) registration center for asylum seekers in Brussels, Friday 17 June 2022. The Brussels Labor Court finds a "deliberate, coordinated and persistent" violation of the right to reception of asylum seekers. This practice "seems desirable, considered and organized" by the State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Mahdi (CD&V). Since the beginning of this year, more than 1,400 lawsuits have been filed against Fedasil for failing to provide asylum reception.


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