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19th Jan 2020

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.

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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.

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