The federal ombudsman has intervened to obtain a visa so that a young African girl can come to Belgium for a life-saving operation.
The girl, identified only as Esther, has a cerebral aneurysm – a weak spot in an artery wall which could break at any moment with almost certainly fatal results.
Esther lives in Cameroon, but the country has not the medical facilities to deal with her condition.
But she does have family in Belgium, including a sister who is a nurse, and she has obtained the agreement of a hospital in Brussels to perform the operation. She has paid a substantial deposit for the procedure, and booked a flight to Brussels. She also has the permission of the Cameroon authorities to leave the country.
Then the problems arise. Belgium is in the grip of the coronavirus crisis, and the borders are closed. The Office for Foreigners refuses to give her a visa, despite admitting that the case is extremely urgent and there is no alternative available in her homeland.
The problem arrives on the desk of the federal ombudsman, since the Office for Foreigners is a federal institution (under the authority of home affairs minister Pieter De Crem).
The ombudsman considers this decision unacceptable given the gravity of the situation, and orders the Office for Foreigners to grant a visa.
“Both the Belgian and European authorities have made exceptions to the closure of the borders. Essential travel, including humanitarian travel, is allowed. This is the case with Esther’s trip, for which the operation is, according to the doctor at the hospital in Brussels, vital and urgent,” the ombudsman reports.
The Office for Foreigners finally relents and grants the visa, but only if Esther flies first to Paris before travelling on to Brussels. Belgium’s federal ombudsman contacts their French counterpart to ask them to ensure that the girl is able to enter France and travel quickly and safely to Belgium.
In the end, Esther arrives in Belgium, and her operation is carried out safely in Brussels.