Associations working with refugees and transmigrants in Brussels have condemned what one spokesperson called “an electoral masquerade” surrounding the removal of migrants from the bus depot under the Brussels North station. Speaking anonymously to La Libre, one worker said, “We were completely used by the federal government, who now get to boast and make their voters believe that the situation is under control. If you come down here yourself, you’ll see that’s not at all the case.”
The transmigrants have been camping in the bus depot for months, and were later joined by Brussels homeless. Their presence led to drivers from Flemish public transport authority De Lijn refusing to use the depot as a terminus any longer, with claims of aggression, disastrous hygiene conditions and even infectious diseases. No evidence was found for the latter claim, but the location was filthy from food and toilet waste, and passengers and drivers did feel a sense of insecurity.
Eventually the government found a solution by moving the migrants to other locations – after migration minister Maggie De Block had forcefully refused to do so because the majority are not seeking asylum here. However the associations have pointed out that in fact it was organisations like the Red Cross, the Brussels homeless agency Samusocial and the activist-run Civic Platform for Aid to Refugees who found the 140 places needed. The federal ministry, they claim, added nothing.
And indeed, most of those who have found a place to sleep still have nowhere to go during the day, and have found their way back to the Maximilien Park (photo) near the station, where as many as 400 trans-migrants had been living in a tent city in the summer of 2017 until they were moved to the vacant WTC buildings nearby.
According to Mehdi Kassou, who works with the Civic Platform, who described “an infernal ping-pong” between the two locales.
“We can see that things are going back to exactly the same place they were a year ago,” he told the RTBF. “The Schaerbeek police zone refuses to allow them on its territory, and the police drive them out. That forces them to turn to the Maximilien Park. Once they’re settled there the police move them on again, and they go back to the North station. So again we’re seeing the infernal ping-pong we witnessed a year ago. There are solutions, but I think politicians have been terribly immobile on this matter.”
Back in the station, meanwhile, Het Nieuwsblad reports that retailers inside the station, which has recently been renovated to accommodate more retail space, now fear that once the elections are over – this weekend, in other words – the reinforced police presence will be reduced, and the migrants will return in force to the station.
Even the police themselves are not convinced the problem is solved. As one inspector told the paper, again anonymously, “Just wait until next week, when the votes are all counted. The problem is not solved. Now, a week before the elections, all the transmigrants are gone. For the last week we’ve had to patrol here with ten officers. Here’s my advice: come back and take a look next week.”