The Brussels prosecutor’s office was informed of the movements of two Vietnamese minors and their involvement with human traffickers days before they embarked on a lorry taking them to the UK, where they were found dead along with 37 other victims, De Standaard reports.
The two youths had been staying in a reception centre for minors in the Netherlands where they were not detained, but free to leave at any time. They did leave, on 11 October last year, and were picked up by a Belgian taxi.
Dutch authorities followed the taxi to where the youths were dropped off in Anderlecht. The Brussels prosecutor’s office was informed of their movements.
However nothing was done, and the next time they were heard of was when they were found dead, with 37 other victims of the human traffickers, inside a refrigerated lorry that had travelled through Zeebrugge to the port of Purfleet in Essex.
Since then, arrests have been made in England and Northern Ireland, as well as France and Belgium. And questions have been asked about how much the Belgian authorities knew and when they knew it.
The latest answers to those questions came in an answer by justice minister Koen Geens (CD&V) to a parliamentary question from Ben Segers (sp.a).
The prosecutor’s office had originally said the Belgians had taken no action on a request from the Dutch authorities. They have since admitted that was untrue: the Dutch made no such request.
What Geens revealed was a lack of communication all the way down the line. The human trafficking unit was not informed of the Dutch pursuit; the magistrate on duty was not informed; the federal prosecutor was not informed. The official in charge at the time in the Brussels prosecutor’s office decided there was insufficient evidence for the Belgian system to open an investigation of its own.
In his statement, Geens went back on information he had given to the parliamentary committee on justice in July, when he said the Dutch authorities has expressly requested there be no intervention by the Belgians.
The Belgian authorities, in response to Segers’ questions, claim they had no evidence the youths were in the hands of traffickers; the taxi that transported them from the Netherlands could not be linked to traffickers; the Vietnamese family they stayed with in Anderlecht were not linked to traffickers.
“All that is completely beside the point,” Segers told De Standaard.
“The Brussels public prosecutor’s office was competent, and all the evidence was crying out for action.”
But action came there none. No further action within the Belgian system. No further communication with the Dutch. Nothing more, until the bodies of the 39 dead were found in the back of a truck in Essex.
“We will never know how drastically events that day could have changed the Essex investigation,” said Segers.
“But that the lives of these two youths could have been saved, we are one hundred percent certain.”