Monday

21st Jun 2021

Uproar at Belgian bill letting police raid homes for migrants

  • The Belgian government wants police to be able to raid homes to find migrants, in what critics claim is a bid to scare people trying to help shelter migrants from deportation (Photo: digitaledinges)

Belgium is transposing into domestic legislation an EU law to kick out migrants - but a proposal by the government that would allow police to raid homes of people suspected of lodging an irregular migrant has caused an uproar.

On Tuesday (30 January), Belgian magistrate Philippe Van Linthout told national lawmakers that the government bill is also an affront to the judiciary. "One day we will wake up in a country where fundamental rights no longer exist. As a judge that is really something that we must warn you about," he said.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Speaking at the federal parliament, Van Linthout warned the country's examining magistrates would be hard pressed to enact a proposal floated by Theo Francken, a Flemish nationalist and junior minister who oversees Belgium's asylum ministry. One conservative liberal MP said the bill aims to transpose part of EU directive on returns into national law.

But Francken's ministry has already been gripped by scandal following revelations he invited Sudanese officials last summer to identify people sleeping rough in a park in Brussels. Some of those swept up in the purge were then allegedly tortured upon their return to Sudan.

The fallout has been buffered by thousands of Belgian citizens sheltering refugees and migrants in their homes via social media outlets like Facebook.

Among them is the citizens' platform for refugee support, overseen by Mehdi Kassou, who told EUobserver that the government is trying to "scare people and to somehow stop the 'solidarity wave' going through Belgium now."

Critics like Linthout say the bill will only pile on pressure for magistrates to execute dubious warrants.

"We work on investigations but we are not there to execute administrative measures," Jean-Louis Doyen, a Belgian magistrate also told the deputies.

Belgium's constitution broadly prevents police from entering homes unless a major crime has been committed. An irregular migrant is not a crime but instead entails administrative infractions.

Break into homes of those helping

But the warrants would grant police the right to break into the homes of people suspected of helping migrants who have been ordered to leave the country. It would also allow police to rummage through the entire home for any documents, like passports or other ID cards.

"If these documents are suspected of being hidden behind walls, they can remove the walls. This is the reality of a search warrant," noted Doyen.

Others point out the bill offers no provisions to ensure police raids do not end up traumatising children and is disproportionate. To further complicate matters, the government is preparing another law that overhauls the role of examining magistrates now being asked to issue the migrant warrants.

"It is completely unbelievable. You give powers to a judge and then you want to change the role of this judge in the coming future", Belgian federal Green MP Benoit Hellings told EUobserver.

Defenders of the bill say it is needed to more effectively carry out returns and that a police raid would only be used as a last resort and once the migrant has been told numerous times to leave.

Knock on the door

But some NGOs dispute the argument, noting that the vast majority of migrants told to leave the country cooperate with police who come knocking on the door.

"In 2016, more than 19,000 controls were carried out by police at the request of the immigration office of which only 127 were cases where a foreigner refused to cooperate, where he refused to open the door," said Sotieta Ngo, director of the Brussels-based NGO, Cire.

Theo Francken is set to debate the law at the Belgian federal parliament on Wednesday.

Afghan migrant returns unlawful, says charity

Thousands of people are being returned from Europe to Afghanistan as the country undergoes some of its worst violence in years. Amnesty International is accusing the EU of "willful blindness" for backing the returns.

EU to step up migrant returns

After Juncker's state of the union speech, the EU Commission is set to propose many new measures on migration before the end of the year, with an emphasis on returns, legal routes, and "solidarity" with African states.

Europe needs to help sea rescues, say NGOs

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, along with Ecre, a Brussels-base NGO, have proposed a plan to increase sea rescues. The call comes ahead of an EU summit later this month among EU heads of state and government.

EU rejects UN blame for migrant sea deaths

Last week, the UN high commissioner for human rights said the EU and its member states are partly responsible for making the central Mediterranean more dangerous for asylum-seeker hopefuls. The EU rejects that - despite evidence suggesting otherwise.

EU defends Spain, after thousands enter Ceuta enclave

Spain has warned of a "serious crisis" for Europe after some 6,000 people entered Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in northern Morocco. The European Commission has voiced its support for Spain as diplomatic tensions with Rabat heat up.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. AstraZeneca must deliver 50m doses by September or face fines
  2. Next week is time for EU to finally lead on rule of law
  3. Austria blocking EU sanctions on Belarus banks
  4. Number of people forcibly displaced reaches historic high
  5. Three-quarters of EU citizens support vaccines, survey finds
  6. NGOs: Leaked EU biomass reform 'denial of science'
  7. US and Russia restart talks on cyber and nuclear war
  8. Europe needs to help sea rescues, say NGOs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us