Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie (N-VA) President and Antwerp Mayor Bart de Wever referred, at an internal meeting in 2016 taped by an embedded journalist, an arrangement with then-Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration Theo Francken (N-VA) to round up migrants for deportation. The raids were organised in Antwerp to facilitate the expulsion of migrants by special deportation flights, unofficially known as “Air Francken”. The migrants to be targeted by the “razzias” were of the nationalities that corresponded to Theo Francken’s expectations, according to a recording aired on Tuesday by RTBF, based on an article in Vif/L’Express.
During the meeting in Hoboken, Antwerp, attended and taped by an independent journalist who had infiltrated the N-VA, De Wever complained of the shortage of detention places for undocumented criminals in the Antwerp area. “Don’t shout it from the rooftops, but it’s reached a point where, when we plan interventions, we have to reserve places,” the Antwerp mayor had said.
“That’s the advantage of having a Secretary of State as a friend,” De Wever could be heard saying on the audio recording. “When, for example, we’re going to do a razzia in the Quartier Rouge, we ask him ‘How many places do you have for us? How many of them can you expel? To which countries are the next planes going?” he said, drawing laughter from his audience.
“You may laugh, but it’s really like that,” he explained. “So, you keep going until the car is full and preferably with the nationalities planned for ‘Air Francken’. If you can fill the plane, it would be madness not to do so.” This quote was originally spoken in Dutch from the Antwerp region, and the word translated as ‘car’ could also be translated as ‘prison’, as it has been by other sources.
The N-VA president thus asserted that police action in Antwerp was organised on a discriminatory basis, targeting primarily certain nationalities with a view to their rapid expulsion.
In 2017, human rights associations had already reported that there were raids against migrants, coupled with arrest quotas, at the Parc Maximilien in Brussels, but then Interior Minister Jan Jambon (N-VA) had denied this.
De Wever does not see anything wrong with what he said. “The deportation of illegal dealers, pimps, human traffickers and other criminals to their country of origin is indeed a priority for us. In Antwerp, the police services and the Immigration Office have worked closely together on this,” he explained in De Morgen. “I am particularly proud of the work that I have been able to do together with Theo Francken,” he added.
“We remain fully committed to this way of working,” N-VA party spokesman Joachim Pohlmann said. “It is a question of efficient policy: the police operations are aligned with those of the Immigration Department.”