FECL 45 (July 1996):
At the end of June, the Belgian Senate voted a new, particularly harsh asylum law. Among other things, the law provides for the unlimited detention of asylum seekers whose application has been turned down.
The Bill was proposed by the Socialist Interior Minister, Johan Vande Lanotte, and was first vehemently opposed by the Christian Democrat coalition partners in Belgiums "red-black" coalition government, who accused the Interior Minister of "perfidious inhumanity". When the Christian Democrat Senate group threatened to abstain from voting the Bill, the Socialist Prime Minister Dehaene himself had to rush into Parliament and catechise the leaders of the four coalition parties in order to ensure the adoption of the Bill. Nonetheless, several Christian Democrat senators abstained from voting.
Detention of "illegal" aliens
The new asylum law has provoked controversy not only within the ranks of the government but also in the Belgian public. It provides for the unlimited detention of rejected asylum seekers in special centres, pending their deportation. Under the former law, this form of detention was limited to a maximum two months.
Airlines are required to check their passengers travel documents before boarding and make sure that their livelihood is ensured in Belgium, otherwise they are made responsible for their return.
Medical care only in emergency situations
The most controversial provision of the new law concerns "illegal" aliens right to medical care. They are to be granted medical assistance in "emergency situations" only.
Christian Democrat MPs expressed concern that doctors and hospitals might turn away people seeking help, merely out of fear of not being reimbursed. They particularly referred to routine examinations of pregnant women which can be crucial in avoiding complications at birth. It was finally agreed to leave it to the doctors to decide in each case whether their is an emergency or not.
Source: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 29/30.6.96