Antwerp police’s rapid response team (SRT – Belgian Federal Police’s Counter-terrorism Unit) has been heavily criticised for firing a non-lethal weapon at a Syrian teenager. The teenager was threatening to self-harm and to injure others with fragments of glass at an institution for young offenders on November 1st.
The Dutch-speaking Commissioner for the Rights of Children, Bruno Vanobbergen, criticised this armed intervention, which caused the young girl to suffer a slight stomach injury. “It is absolutely unacceptable to use weapons to tackle young people who have fled from war, and to fire a bullet in response to a youngster’s vulnerability, particularly within a young offenders’ institution.”
More generally, he is calling for psychological counselling and enhanced support for young and adult refugees, stressing the traumas they have suffered in their country of origin and the uncertainty which hangs over their future. He acknowledges that whilst police intervention is sometimes necessary, it also requires a sense of proportion and concertation, in a language the young person understands, between the appropriate care professionals who are familiar with the context.
John Crombez, the President of the Socialistische Partij Anders (social-democratic Flemish political party) has spoken out, denouncing the police’s action and their comparing the projectile used to a paintball bullet. “It is unacceptable to fire at children and to normalise this.” He has demanded a response from the Minister for Welfare, Jo Vandeurzen (CD&V).
The leader of the Antwerp Green Party, Wouter Van Besien, has demanded a response from the Mayor of Anvers, the President of the N-VA (New Flemish Alliance), Bart De Wever. “He must prove that the SRT, created to fight terrorism in the town, will not treat everyone like a suspected terrorist.”