Evidence of ‘endemic racism’ among Brussels fire and emergency medical services
Thursday, 03 June 2021
Unia, an independent public institution that fights discrimination and promotes equal opportunities in Belgium, says they have compiled evidence of racism within SIAMU, which provides emergency medical assistance to victims of accidents or medical emergencies in Brussels.
“There is no doubt that there is a xenophobic climate within the fire and emergency medical service (SIAMU) which legitimises punishable racist remarks and acts,” said Unia, summarizing the conclusions of a report mentioned in Le Soir on Thursday.
“Anything that is not ‘man’ and ‘white’ is subject to remarks, insults and inappropriate comments: gay, woman, black, Arab, etc.,” Unia wrote in its report, which is a summary of testimonies.
The report cites a succession of sexist, racist and/or homophobic incidents involving everything from the training of new recruits, daily life in the barracks, promotions, interventions with citizens and comments made on social media networks.
“It is common for firefighters to share messages from Tom Van Grieken, president of Vlaams Belang, and from this party regularly accused of racism,” Unia’s report states.
Firefighters are said to have made discriminatory comments and engaged in discriminatory behaviour towards the public they help in the field, according to the testimonies compiled.
In light of their report, Unia is calling for the creation of a diversity plan within SIAMU, the revision of the teams to break discriminatory habits, and the implementation of quotas in the framework of recruitment within a corps of 1,176 firefighters who they say are currently mostly white, Belgian and male.
Marc Debont, the spokesperson for the Secretary of State Pascal Smet who oversees SIAMU, said the Unia report “is objective and shows the reality” of the situation.
“These are sometimes facts that go back several years,” Debont said.
“We can see that the word is out, in solidarity. This makes it possible to make progress in the work that needs to be done.”
Compiled in June 2020 following complaints in autumn 2019 of a problematic climate within SIAMU, the report, now anonymised, completes the audit carried out at the request of Secretary of State Pascal Smet.
The debates are due to continue on 15 June in the Brussels Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee in the presence of Smet.