Belgian far-right launch anti-immigrant website
Belgium's Flemish far-right party, the Vlaams Belang, has launched a website inciting people to denounce migrants suspected of criminal activity, such as working on the black or abusing social security benefits.
Spearheaded by a Flemish nationalist politician from Antwerp, Filip Dewinter, the project aims to collect tip-offs from anonymous citizens and pass them on to the police.
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Dewinter in a statement published on Tuesday (10 April) said the Belgian government is "sweeping under the carpet" problems caused by migrants, who are at the same time being "pampered and spoiled."
The Belgian site mimics a similar one launched in February in the Netherlands by Geert Wilders, the frontman for the Dutch far-right Party for Freedom (PVV). But whereas the PVV site specifically targets people from eastern and central Europe, Dewinter's initiative is broader in scope and includes asylum seekers.
A spokeswoman for Belgian interior minister Joelle Milquet told EUobserver that the Dewinter webpage is "illegal" and that the matter is being handled by the ministry of justice. "It is an invasion of privacy. It is not up to citizens to take the place of the police," she said.
Meanwhile, the director of Belgium's Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism, Jozef De Witte, told Belgian radio that Dewinter "wants to shock and provoke." He likened the initiative to Nazi practices in the 1930s and to the Stasi secret police in east Germany in the Communist period.
The Polish embassy to Belgium said Warsaw condemns all forms of discrimination "as well as actions which violate or undermine such fundamental European freedoms as the right to free movement of persons."
Hundreds of thousands of people from eastern Europe have settled in Belgium since EU enlargement in 2004.
At the same time, the country has been struggling with an overcrowded asylum system.
Nearly 7,000 asylum seekers, including children, slept rough in the country's capital over the course of a cold winter in 2010. Belgian authorities were forced to erect and find temporary shelters for many of them. Others relied on the help of locals to escape the weather. At the time, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) denounced Belgian's dysfunctional facilities.
The Dutch anti-migrant website has been a source of controversy ever since it went up.
On 15 March MEPs from all political groups - aside from the nationalist EFD group - backed a resolution describing it as an "ill-intentioned initiative aimed at creating divisions within the society and obtaining political gains to the detriment of workers from central and eastern Europe."
It is still online, however.
For its part, the European Commission told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday that it is up to national authorities and their court systems to deal with initiatives that undermine European values.
"If there is no link whatsoever with European law, then there is no way the European Commission can get involved," said Matthew Newman, a spokesman for justice commissioner Viviane Reding.