Sunday

30th Apr 2017

Terror victims let down by Belgian bureaucracy

  • Maalbeek metro station last March (Photo: Eric Maurice)

Dressed in a smart suit, but with soot covering his lower face, a man in his mid-30s walked out of the Saint-Jean Clinic in Brussels.

It was early Tuesday on 22 March 2016 and a jihadist had that same morning detonated a bomb at the Maalbeek metro station in the EU capital.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • First bomb struck the international airport (Photo: Reuters)

Visibly shaken, the man briefly recounted what he had seen.

"There were so many injuries. It was horrific. I'm in shock," he told EUobserver at the time.

The metro blast had come quickly after a first bomb at Brussels International Airport.

Together, the explosions killed 32 people and injured over 300.

All told, 324 people from the attacks received hospital treatment. Of those, 224 stayed for more than 24 hours.

Almost a year later, Karen Northshield, a 31-year old Belgian-American, is still recovering at hospital.

A former top-ranking athlete, Northshield is still suffering from massive injuries.

Over the weekend, she told Belgian newspaper De Standaard that the government had abandoned her.

"How can you not take [care] of your own people, of your own victims?”, she said.

Her father accused the airport of seeking short term solutions for his daughter, who will likely require life-long care.

"The airport insurance company offered provisional, limited compensation if we would sign a statement releasing them of responsibility. We did not sign that statement," he said.

Brussels International Airport is yet to respond for a comment on her case.

But Florence Fay, a spokeswoman for the Saint-Jean Clinic, which also treated victims, said many people were struggling with insurance claims.

"One of the things that the victims said was there was no proactive action towards them to ask: ‘How are you doing? Are you fine? Do you need help?”, she told EUobserver.

The past 12 months have revealed a series of Belgian state security mistakes that allowed the attacks.

They have also prompted soul-searching in Belgian society over how Molenbeek, a Brussels district with a large Moroccan minority, had become home to several of the assailants.

Belgian bureacracy

The lack of proper care for the victims has exposed other problems with Belgian bureaucracy.

"The only thing that we can all agree on is Belgium has a very complicated state system and it is not easy for people [victims] to find their way around," a spokesperson from Belgium's minister of social affairs told EUobserver.

Various ministries have different lists of victims and different figures for emergency funds available to help them.

The justice ministry has a fund that grants people access to up to €30,000 for medical costs and up to €6,000 for funeral expenses, but not everyone knows it exists.

Over 1,300 people filed insurance claims following the bombings, but a lot fewer went to the ministry for help - just 370 by one account.

To further complicate matters, people who want psychological help have to seek treatment from micro-administrations in the Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels regions in the Belgian federation.

The ministry of public health did create a single contact point for victims, but insurance companies did not follow suit.

Meanwhile, the ministry's contact point still needs to be endorsed by a law, a so-called statute of national solidarity with victims of terrorist attacks.

The Belgian government said a vote on the law is being delayed pending the outcome of an internal investigation by a parliamentary committee, known as Comite P, into the alleged state security failures.

Once the statute becomes law, victims will receive a special identity card that entitles them to amenities like life-long pensions.

It is not clear when this will happen.

Insurance delays

Insurance companies have also been dragging their feet.

The firms generally pay out physical and so-called moral damages, but compensation for moral damages are only received when a victim's file has been nearly closed.

This could take years in some cases.

Earlier this month, Belgium's health minister Maggie De Block told insurance companies to quicken the pace.

"There were some meetings with the prime minister, with our minister, and the insurance companies, and they have agreed to pay the moral damages a lot sooner, like in the next week or next two weeks," said De Block's spokeswoman.

She said the companies had agreed to double the amount they usually pay.

Once the compensations is paid, extenuating medical costs will be covered by the yet-to-be-voted-on statute, she said.

Analysis

More hype than substance in EU counter-terror plans

The 22 March anniversary of the Brussels bombing will trigger a lot of soul searching. But EU counter-terrorism strategies over the past 10 years have been crisis-driven with little follow through or oversight.

EU starts legal action against Hungary

The EU Commission is to launch a legal probe into Hungary's attack on a Soros-funded university, but Hungary's Orban was unrepentant the he faced MEPs.

European states still top media freedom list

Nordic countries Norway, Sweden and Finland still have the world's most free media, according to Reporters Without Borders, but the overall situation is declining.

News in Brief

  1. Vote of no confidence prepared against Spanish PM
  2. Syria to buy Russian anti-missile system
  3. Germany seeks partial burka ban
  4. Libya has no plan to stop migration flows
  5. EU has no evidence of NGO-smuggler collusion in Libya
  6. Poland gets 'final warning' on logging in ancient forest
  7. Commission gives Italy final warning on air pollution
  8. Romania and Slovenia taken to court over environment policies

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCharlotte Hornets' Nicolas Batum Tells Kids to "Eat Well, Drink Well, Move!"
  2. ECR GroupSyed Kamall: We Need a New, More Honest Relationship With Turkey
  3. Counter BalanceParliament Sends Strong Signal to the EIB: Time to Act on Climate Change
  4. ACCARisks and Opportunities of Blockchain and Shared Ledgers Technologies in Financial Services
  5. UNICEFRace Against Time to Save Millions of Lives in Yemen
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersDeveloping Independent Russian-Language Media in the Baltic Countries
  7. Swedish EnterprisesReform of the European Electricity Market: Lessons from the Nordics, Brussels 2 May
  8. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  9. Counter BalanceCall for EU Commission to Withdraw Support of Trans-Adriatic Pipeline
  10. ACCAEconomic Confidence at Highest Since 2015
  11. European Federation of Allergy and Airways60%-90% of Your Life Is Spent Indoors. How Does Poor Indoor Air Quality Affect You?
  12. European Gaming and Betting AssociationCJEU Confirms Obligation for a Transparent Licensing Process

Latest News

  1. EU boasts unity on Brexit talks
  2. May’s election juggernaut
  3. EPP scolds Orban over university and NGO laws
  4. Oxford-Studie besorgt über 'Schrott' News in Frankreich
  5. Alte Freundschaft zwischen Le Pen und Putin
  6. EP chief faces questions after homophobic 'summit'
  7. EU signals Northern Ireland could join if united with Ireland
  8. One year later: EU right to open internet still virtual

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region and the US: A Time of Warlike Rhetoric and Militarisation?
  2. European Free AllianceEFA MEPs Vote in Favor of European Parliament's Brexit Mandate
  3. Mission of China to the EUXinhua Insight: China to Open up Like Never Before
  4. World VisionViolence Becomes New Normal for Syrian Children
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTime to Turn the Tide and End Repression of Central Asia's Civil Society
  6. European Free AllianceAutonomia to Normalnosc - Poland Urged to Re-Grant Autonomy to Silesia
  7. UNICEFHitting Rock Bottom - How 2016 Became the Worst Year for #ChildrenofSyria
  8. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  9. ACCAG20 Citizens Want 'Big Picture' Tax Policymaking, According to Global Survey
  10. Belgrade Security ForumCall for Papers: European Union as a Global Crisis Manager - Deadline 30 April
  11. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  12. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved