Flemish public transport authority De Lijn has given the SNCB until coming Friday to do something about the safety situation at Gare du Nord in Brussels, or it will stop using the station as a terminus for its buses from 26 November. De Lijn uses a tunnel under the main part of the station – on the floor between the metro platforms and the railway level – for the services it runs into Brussels. However the location is dark and dismal at the best of times, and a favourite spot for thieves, with muggings, bag snatching and the like.
Now that the cold weather is upon us, De Lijn says, the situation has become even worse, with trans-migrants moving from their camp in the nearby Maximilian Park to the station itself. According to the mayor of Schaerbeek, Bernard Cleyrfat, police have to handle up to three or four complaints a day regarding aggression, theft and aggressive begging.
One bus driver for De Lijn explained how groups of the homeless – be they migrants or otherwise – take over his bus for the time it is sitting at the terminus, producing a sense of insecurity for himself and other passengers. De Lijn runs 30 bus lines into the Gare du Nord terminus. When the buses stop running, the migrants sleep inside, in those parts of the station accessible to non-ticket holders. Their belongings, including sleeping bags and other makeshift camping materials, also cause an encumbrance for passengers using the bus terminus.
Now De Lijn has given the authorities a deadline which seems impossible to meet: clean up the station by Friday, or De Lijn will move its terminus to the open air, on the Place Rogier.
“Despite various contacts with the authorities involved, we have come to realise that the situation is not getting any better for our passengers and our employees,” said Roger Kesteloot, director-general of De Lijn.
The problem, however, is finding out exactly which authorities are concerned. Cleyrfat puts the blame on federal ministers Jan Jambon (home affairs) and Theo Francken (migration), who he says are having migrants brought from Flanders and dropped them off in Brussels. The SNCB argues that only part of the complex belongs to them, with the bus station being housed inside the North Communications Centre, a private property.