A team of around 30 volunteers yesterday tackled the job of cleaning up the De Lijn bus terminal under the North station in Brussels. The underground terminal has long been an impromptu shelter for trans-migrants and other homeless people in the city, as it offers some shelter from the elements. However their presence and the mess they create has twice been the trigger for De Lijn drivers to refuse to stop there. The latest protest is ongoing, with the terminus for De Lijn buses running into the capital switched to nearby Place Rogier, despite protests from local mayor for Saint-Josse, Emir Kir.
At the time of the latest protest by drivers, it was claimed that the migrants were now a threat of spreading diseases like scabies and TB. Cleaners employed by Bruxelles Propreté were vaccinated against hepatitis – although the disease had never been mentioned by De Lijn unions. Last week a report ordered by the Joint Community Commission for Brussels described the health risk in the area as “infinitesimal”.
There remains the problem of homelessness. Migration and asylum minister Maggie De Block has rejected calls to create a reception centre for the migrants, stating that accommodation is available for asylum-seekers only. The migrants in question do not intend to seek asylum in Belgium, but to travel to the United Kingdom instead.
Yesterday’s crew of volunteers was there to deal with the other long-standing problem of the bus terminal: rubbish and toilet smells. Those were among the main complaints of passengers using the De Lijn terminal to enter or leave the city.
“If the government won’t accept its responsibility, we’ll take over the job,” said one volunteer to Bruzz. The crew had reportedly travelled to Brussels from Mons, Charleroi and Liege, armed with buckets, brooms, bin-bags and bleach. As they began cleaning, they were joined by some of the migrants whose temporary home the station has become.
“It is shameful that these people have to live in such inhuman conditions,” said Bernadette, a volunteer from Brussels. “I am so proud of these people, but ashamed of my country.” Within an hour and a half, the cleaning was finished, the floors mopped of blood and vomit, old cardboard mattresses replaced with new, food and other waste shovelled into dozens of bags. Even the ceiling-high glass walls were sparkling. “You can see through them again,” said one of the team.