The Gaudi pilot project, an initiative by Interior Minister Jan Jambon (N-VA) and Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration Theo Francken (N-VA), resulted in 542 illegal migrants on Belgian soil being detained, sources announced on Tuesday. The operation took place in eight different districts across Belgium between December 11th and January 18th. The project aimed specifically to arrest and promptly deport any pickpockets or shoplifters who were found to be residing illegally in Belgium. The 542 arrests represent an increase of about a third compared to the same period in 2013. 70 of the 542 have already been sent back to their own country. In early January, Theo Francken hoped that “at the end of the test period, hundreds of illegal residents partaking in theft will have been sent back to their country.”
The Gaudi operation took place in Antwerp, Ghent, Louvain, Brussels-City, Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, Liège, Charleroi and Braine-l’Alleud. In these districts, the police specifically targeted pickpockets.
“The Christmas holiday and sales season is a favourite among pickpockets and shoplifters, some of which are residing here illegally with no permit,” said Theo Francken. “This operation makes people feel safer and sends a message to, for example, participating police services, that their work is being monitored and they have support.” The Secretary of State said that during the test, it was possible to apply a “direct measure” in two out of three cases: “being held in a detention centre, being sent before the prosecution, being sent back to prison because they were already the subject of an alert or had not yet been identified”. The other cases relate in particular to under-18s and people with an on-going asylum application procedure.
Bart De Wever, Alderman of Antwerp, one of the participating towns, also expressed his satisfaction. “Under the previous federal government, people were more likely to be deported if they’d done nothing wrong,” he says.