Thursday

18th Jan 2018

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.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

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.

MEPs target exports of cyber surveillance tech

MEPs have introduced a human rights clause into the export of cyber surveillance technology as part of EU-wide reforms to prevent abuse by autocratic regimes. The Strasbourg plenary will vote on the bill on Wednesday.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  2. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other EU Border Regions to Work Together to Generate Growth
  4. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  5. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  6. Dialogue PlatformRoundtable on "Political Islam, Civil Islam and The West" 31 January
  7. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  8. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  9. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society
  10. ACCAWelcomes the Start of the New Bulgarian Presidency
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li and President Tusk Stress Importance of Ties at ASEM Summit
  12. EU2017EEVAT on Electronic Commerce: New Rules Adopted

Latest News

  1. Next year's EU election at risk of Russian meddling
  2. Hungary to tax NGOs that 'help' migration
  3. Cyprus, Malta, and Russia gang up on whistleblower
  4. 'No backsliding' on Brexit promise, Irish PM warns
  5. Commission and council dig in on GMO opt-outs
  6. Ombudsman asks ECB chief to quit secret bankers group
  7. Polish Nazi-jibe MEP 'spams' EU inboxes
  8. Macron eyes France-UK border agreement

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressChair of EU Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism Condemns Wave of Attacks
  2. Counter BalanceA New Study Challenges the Infrastructure Mega Corridors Agenda
  3. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  4. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% Plastics Recycling Rate Attainable by 2025 New Study Shows
  5. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  6. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  7. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  8. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  10. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  12. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap