Belgians accused of harbouring illegal immigrants acquitted

Belgians accused of harbouring illegal immigrants acquitted
Myrian Berghe (l) and Anouk Van Gestel

Four Belgian citizens accused with eight others of human trafficking have been acquitted by a court in Brussels. The four had taken in refugees who had been transported to Belgium on their way to the United Kingdom. The case had become known as the “solidarity trial”, with the four Belgians arguing they were merely sheltering the refugees in a spirit of human compassion. Two of the accused are journalists: Myriam Berghe, a freelance reporter, and Anouk Van Gestel, editor in chef of Marie-Claire Belgique magazine. The other two acquitted were Tunisian-born Walid C. and Belgian Zakia S. The court accepted their defence that they had only become involved in the case for humanitarian reasons, when the refugees reached Belgium.

Of the eight others, one man has absconded to the United Kingdom, where he has now gone underground. He was ordered to be arrested, but a European arrest warrant has yet to be issued. The others were given suspended sentences of between 12 and 42 months.

The four accused acquitted are involved with the Platform for Refugee Support, one organisation that came to the fore in the summer of 2016 when refugees camped out en masse in the Maximilian Park in Brussels due to the lack of official accommodation for asylum-seekers. Members of the platform took refugees who had not yet been processed into their own homes. Of the four, only Walid C. served time – eight months – on remand.

“If I had it all to do over, I would do exactly the same thing,” said Myriam Berghe after the verdict. “This is my conception of hospitality. I trust these young people, and they trust me. We trust each other. We talk a lot about the hosts, but we have to think about them: it can’t be easy to move in with people you don’t know to take a shower or wash your clothes. Life for them is awful.”

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times

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