Belgian police can’t stop people leaving on non-essential journeys
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Belgian police can’t stop people leaving on non-essential journeys

Credit: Belga

People caught ignoring Belgium’s ban on non-essential travel by the police will be fined, but the police are not allowed to stop them from leaving.

If the police catch people crossing the border for a non-essential reason, they will draw up an official report and sanction them with a fine of €250 per traveller, but they will not send travellers back, according to an internal document seen by Het Laatste Nieuws.

The document was sent from the top of the federal police to the provincial departments at the end of last week, reliable sources told the newspaper.

The document aims to put the latest Ministerial Decree into a guideline for officers performing border checks. If the police intercept someone who wants to cross the border for a non-essential journey, that person has two options, according to the document.

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They decide to obey the rules after all and turn back, or they persist and still leave for their trip, in which case the police will not stop them. “If they still want to leave: official report (but let them leave anyway)” the document states.

“That is not an official guideline,” federal police spokesperson Sarah Frederickx told De Morgen, adding that she had no knowledge of the guidelines.

“From the moment someone commits an offence, and pays for their official report (afterwards or immediately), that person is punished according to our legal system,” she added.

There is no alternative, Frederickx said, as the police cannot just deprive someone of their freedom. “We have to follow the law. We can only ask the offender to turn around, and in doing so, we rely on his common sense,” she said.

According to Vincent Houssin of the VSOA police union, however, most travellers from Belgium will be “smart enough” to turn back when they are intercepted at the border, and not make mass use of this so-called loophole.

“99% of the population follows the rules. Then there is always that 1% that is out of line,” he told Het Laatste Nieuws. “Driving through a red light or robbing a bank is also illegal, and yet there are people who do it.”

Houssin also stressed that the €250 penalty is “only the basic fine,” but that the public prosecutor’s office can still decide that extra steps are necessary.

Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden is also counting on the goodwill of the Belgians. “It is simple: if you get a fine, don’t drive any further,” her cabinet said.

“These fines were not created to ‘bully’ anyone,” her cabinet said. “We do this for the health of ourselves and our loved ones. Because in order to prevent the spread of the virus, it is important that as few movements as possible take place across the border.”

On Monday evening, an additional email was sent by the federal police, stating that the offender “must be asked to comply with the measures,” according to the newspaper. To do that, the officer is allowed to talk the traveller into turning, order them to do so, or escort them.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times