Demonstration for asylum seeker rights, as the government fails to deal with refugee reception crisis
In December 2022 and January 2023, news about Belgium was dominated by the so-called “Qatargate” scandal. From 9th December to 11th December 2022, Belgian police executed 20 raids across Brussels, including in the building of the European Parliament, in connection with corruption, money laundering and participation in a criminal organisation. Several people were arrested, among them Greek MEP Eva Kaili, vice president of the European Parliament, for allegedly accepting around €1,5m in bribes from Qatar.
Belgium's prime minister Alexander De Croo said after the arrests that “Belgian justice is doing what the European Parliament has failed to do. The European Parliament has a lot of means to regulate itself. It turns out that this is largely a system of auto-control based on voluntary efforts, which has clearly not been sufficient."
Police unions protest against government inaction
On 28th November 2022, police unions headed to the streets of Brussels to demand more support from the government over violence against police officers. The demonstration was organised after one officer was stabbed to death, with a second injured and taken to hospital on 10th November 2022 in Brussels. The attacker went to a police station just hours before the attack to tell the police that he hates them and to ask for psychiatric help. He was transported to a psychiatric ward on his own volition. However, he left the ward before being admitted and attacked a patrol officer. The attacker was listed as a potentially violent extremist by the CUTA - Coordination Unit for Threat Analysis.
According to Vincent Houssin, vice president of the police union VSOA, politicians have ignored violence against police officers for too long. “For more than 20 years we have been addressing violence against the police, for more than 10 years we have been working on an action plan. It is about time that the government finally effectively worked on zero tolerance.”
Football fans clash with police
On 14th December 2022, soccer fans briefly clashed with police in Brussels after Morocco's defeat against France in the World Cup semi-finals. Police arrested around 100 people for disturbing public order. The media reported that police used a water cannon and tear gas. During a previous incident on 27th November (after Morocco defeated Belgium in the World Cup) in the centre of the Belgian capital a car was overturned, set on fire and thrown onto other vehicles, self-service scooters were destroyed, as were street furniture and an ambulance. The response from the police was the same; no arrests were reported. Similar clashes between Moroccan youngsters and police are quite frequent in Belgium, indicating a complex problem.
Unions protest against rising cost of living
On 16th December 2022, unionized workers held a nationwide strike only in Brussels where over 15,000 people gathered to protest against the rising cost of living. The rally, organised by the three largest unions, was a part of the national strike that disrupted public transportation in the city, including Brussels Airport. Demonstrators called on the government for more in-depth action, to deal with the energy and economic crisis, thereby adequately helping citizens.
Demonstrations against unfair asylum and immigration policies
On 24th December 2022, around 300 people participated in the protest initiated by the CRACPE (Collective of Resistance to the centres for foreigners) in front of the closed centre of Vottem (Liège). Demonstrators gathered to condemn Belgium's unfair asylum and immigration policies. On its Facebook page, the organisation shared a post from Abolish Frontex, stating that detention centres are prisons that use different forms of inhuman treatment "to break the resistance of individuals to deportation".
Belgium has a long record of human rights violations in connection with the treatment of asylum seekers and disregard of court orders which call the country to change its course.
Most recently, on 15th November 2022, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Belgium to provide accommodation and material assistance to asylum seekers. An interim injunction was issued because of hundreds of applications in the last months of the year. The “Msallem and 147 others” case against Belgium concerns 148 asylum seekers who are without accommodation due to a lack of space in Belgian centres.
Het Europees Hof spreekt zich uit over 148 (!) verzoeken om voorlopige maatregelen. In alle gevallen blijft de Belgische staat ruim in gebreke. Dit is een fors signaal. Wanneer wordt de rechtsstaat terug gerespecteerd? @Nicole_demoor @alexanderdecroo https://t.co/XZ2nu5bmV9— Thomas Willekens (@ThomasWilleken1) November 16, 2022
At the end of December, five human rights institutions as well as the Commissioner for Human Rights published a joint statement in which they called on the federal government to put an end to the ongoing reception crisis and to respect the international obligations in the field of asylum. As of now, court decisions, even international ones, are routinely disregarded.
“A lack of available accommodation in reception facilities and reported delays with the registration and processing of asylum applications have serious consequences for the human rights of asylum seekers, including their right to health and their access to shelter and other basic needs.” Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović.
Notwithstanding the crisis, the Belgian government does not seem in a hurry to remedy the situation. In January 2023, it was announced that the Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration had drafted a package of measures containing structural reforms in the field of asylum. The reform, among other things, aims to achieve “a more effective return policy”. According to Euronews, the government, citing a lack of means, points a finger at the absence of European solidarity.
Protest against detention of Belgian humanitarian worker in Iran
On 22nd January 2023, a protest was held in Brussels to advocate for the release of Belgian humanitarian worker Olivier Vandecasteele, who had been detained in Iran since February 2022. He was recently sentenced to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes for alleged espionage against Iran. The demonstration, organised by his family and Amnesty International, drew over 1,500 participants. Amnesty International maintains that the arrest and detention were illegal and that Olivier did not receive a fair trial. Talks are ongoing for a potential exchange of Vandecasteele for an Iranian diplomat convicted by a Belgian court for planning a bomb plot against an opposition group in exile in 2021. After Iran sentenced the aid worker in December, Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne stated that Olivier's arrest was an act of retaliation for the Iranian diplomat's imprisonment.
😢 Everyday is a day too much you are missed 💔 #333days of wrongful detention for Olivier 😢 Support #freeoliviervandecasteele #BELGIUM4OLIVIER 👇 Sign & share the petition for his immediate release https://t.co/veFMCy0Sj5 ✍️ #Thankyou #notatarget #oliviervandecasteele #40years pic.twitter.com/Ci81HokJIi— Free Olivier Vandecasteele (@FreeOlivierVDC) January 22, 2023
On 24th January 2023, a protest was staged against COVID-19 measures, with around 50,000 people taking to the streets. It is reported that police and protesters clashed after protesters damaged the offices of the European External Action Service, the EU’s diplomatic body. In response police used a water cannon and tear gas to disperse protesters. Police reported that three people and 12 police officers required hospitalisation, while 70 protesters were detained.
BRUXELLES - Les policiers à l’intérieur du Siège du Service européen pour l'action extérieure (SEAE) sont violemment pris à partis.— Clément Lanot (@ClementLanot) January 23, 2022
Importantes tensions en cours. https://t.co/hgzhfku4iD pic.twitter.com/OI5VE21Cab
Several journalists attacked during football clashes
- On 14th December 2022, freelance journalist Yassin Akouh was arrested by the police while he was filming the clashes between police and football fans after the France-Morocco football game. The journalist was violently detained, despite identifying himself and showing police his press card. Earlier, on 10th December 2022, the journalist was threatened while covering the Morocco-Portugal game during which young fans clashed with police. Despite showing the police his press card, they told him "go away or I'll smash your face”, after which the journalist left.
- On 27th November 2022, several attacks took place following the Belgium and Morocco football match. The Dutch speaking public broadcaster VRT's vehicle was hit with stones by civilians which resulted in a window being broken, following a football match between Belgium and Morocco.
- On the same day, journalist Rob Van Herck from VTM Nieuws was punched in the head, ribs and face when reporting live on TV. Additionally, several teams from the RTBF media outlet were insulted and physically attacked by groups of youths.
- an RTL Info's journalist and her cameraman were assaulted in the street and their equipment was stolen.
Journalist convicted of defamation
On 9th December 2022, Belgian writer and blogger "Marcel Sel" was convicted of defamation after he made comments about RTBF journalist Philippe Carlot which attacked him and his article. The article in question, published in 2021, covered the conflict between students and one of their teachers after she posted a message of solidarity with Samuel Paty (a French teacher who was beheaded by an extremist) on the Student Council Facebook page. After the article was published, Carlot received insults via Facebook and Twitter. Two other legal proceedings by journalists Florence Hainaut and Myriam Leroy for slander and defamation against Marcel Sel are in progress.
Civic Space Developments