Former migration and asylum minister Theo Francken, already enmired in the scandal of humanitarian visas for sale, appeared to sink even deeper yesterday – thanks to the man arrested for taking part in the traffic. Melikan Kucam is a former city councillor in Mechelen and like Francken a member of N-VA. He has been arrested for selling humanitarian visas for cash, and charged with human trafficking, corruption and extortion.
The humanitarian visas were intended to allow Christians in Syria, Iraq and neighbouring areas to escape persecution by Islamic extremists and come to safety in Belgium.
Yesterday Kucam denied all charges, and even went so far as to say he had heard rumours in the Assyrian Christian community – he was chair of the Flemish-Assyrian community association – of suspect trafficking in visas. He communicated those suspicions to Francken’s office, he said via his lawyer, but nothing was done. Similar rumours were picked up by Mechelen councillors, but the only person to take action was mayor Bart Somers, who went to the police.
Francken has already been condemned as “politically responsible” for the scandal by the opposition, while even his party’s once and future government partners were giving him a wide berth.
Francken came out fighting. “I am responsible in he end,” he said. “I will defend my policy 100%. If there has been abuse, that is unforgivable and has to be severely punished.” But, he said, “A lot of reactions have been exaggerated, and show a lack of knowledge of the case, as well as a certain blood-thirstiness.”
Meanwhile speaking in parliament, Francken’s successor Maggie De Block said those Syrian Christians who had obtained visas on payment to Kucam or anyone else would be allowed to stay. She was not in favour of punishing anyone because someone else had done wrong, she told members. Some 600 people arrived in Belgium with humanitarian visas; Kucam is accused of having charged 10,000 euros each for up to 200 of them. He will appear in court on Tuesday to decide if his detention should be prolonged.
The Brussels Times