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Seven members of Burundian handball team detained by Belgian migration officers

10:03 17/11/2023

Seven players from Burundi’s under-19 national handball team were placed in a detention centre after they were discovered in Belgium by migration authorities.

At least 10 players went missing while participating in the world championships in Croatia in August and reappeared in Belgium where they hoped to seek asylum, according to an announcement by the organisations Getting the Voice Out, CRACPE and the Diaspora Burundaise de Belgique.

The players, most of whom are aged 19, reportedly attempted to be processed as minors. Two players did not apply for asylum at all and were ordered to leave the country.

Belgium's state secretary for asylum and migration Nicole de Moor (CD&V) confirmed the detention and explained that, under EU law, because the players are not minors they must return to Croatia, their first country of arrival in Europe.

“The asylum pressure in our country is already higher than in other countries,” De Moor’s office said.

“In accordance with Dublin rules, Belgium is not obliged to receive persons for whom other European countries are responsible.”

After learning that the players were not actually minors, Belgium’s immigration department had them placed in detention centres to await deportation to Croatia.

But the migrant aid organisations that released the announcement said that Croatia had “poor reception and detention conditions for migrants, conditions that are regularly criticised”, and called on the Belgian state to declare itself competent to deal with their asylum applications.

Sending them back to Croatia would put their lives at risk, the organisations say, “just like in Burundi”.

Written by Helen Lyons