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20/11/2012Crime and the legal system in Belgium
Belgium is a relatively safe country with fairly low rates of crime, while Brussels is safer than large cities in neighbouring countries.
The most common crimes that occur in Belgium are petty thefts and purse snatching and pick pocketing is not a rare thing, especially in the bigger cities. In Brussels, the North Station (Noordstation or Gare du Nord), Central Station (Centraal Station or Gare Central); and the South Station (Zuidstation or Gare du Midi) are particularly notable areas where pick pocketing and snatch crimes occur frequently.
As we are in the technology century expensive pieces of technology such as iPods, iPhones and iPads are treasured and desired by thieves. Car thefts have also risen in number, especially in big cities like Brussels.
Protect yourself against crime
There are many things you can to do to ensure you are not a victim of crime. The Belgian government are correct when they insist that "prevention is better than cure" and their advice can help stop thefts and break-ins. Installing an alarm system in your home and checking that all windows and doors are locked (including while driving), locking a car, bicycle or motorbike in a garage overnight or registering your valuable possessions to make them easier to trace are all measures recommended by the authorities.
When travelling on public transport be mindful that thieves often loiter in transportation hubs, such as the Metro and train stations, to prey on travellers in unfamiliar surroundings. As mentioned, in Brussels, petty thefts of purses, light luggage and laptops are common at the North Station (Noordstation / Gare du Nord); the Central Station (Centraal Station or Gare Central) and particularly the South Station (Zuidstation or Gare du Midi).
Thieves often work together and a common scam is for one thief to ask for directions while their accomplice steals your luggage. They also look out for people who store their luggage in overhead racks, so it is best to avoid these, keeping your luggage with you.
Belgium is a comparatively safe country in which to live. According to the OECD Better Life Index for 2011, the homicide rate in Belgium was 1.7 per 100,000 people, somewhat lower than the OECD average of 2.1.
Notwithstanding the relatively low crime rate in international terms, the incidence of crime has increased in recent years. Between 2007 and 2011 there was a rise of 4 percent in the level of crime, particularly computer fraud and violent crime. The number of criminal cases involving violence or weapons increased by 32 percent, while computer fraud cases jumped dramatically, by 107 percent. Also rising significantly have been cases involving illegal dumping and financial crime.
According to OECD research the incidence of assault has been higher in Belgium than in other OECD countries. 6.7 percent of people reported falling victim to assault over the previous 12 months, compared to the OECD average of 4 percent. Notably this fell proportionately higher on the poorer sections of society.
In regional terms, Gand, which includes Bruges, had the highest incidence of assault in 2011, with 3,716 convictions, followed by Anvers (which includes Genk), with 1,961 and Mons (which includes Charleroi) with 1,926.
The Brussels region experienced a high level of alcohol-related crime. Assault cases involving alcohol were the highest in the country, even though the overall number of assaults was lower. Similarly, convictions for drunkenness were far higher in the Brussels region, and the capital and its surrounding region was also the guiltiest offender when it came to driving offences.
Despite the rise in crime people in Belgium still feel relatively safe. The fear of crime is about the same as the OECD average. 68 percent of people felt safe walking alone at night, compared to 67 percent across the whole of the OECD.
Know the rules
Whether you are going to live in Belgium or will just be visiting the country for a short period of time, make sure you abide by its laws from the moment you set foot in the country. Belgian laws can differ from those in your home country, so it is essential that you know what is legal and illegal.
In Belgium you are also required to carry official identification, such as a passport, at all times.
In case of emergency or violence
The emergency number in Belgium is 101 for police (Police Fédérale / Federale politie) support. If there are any other emergencies you should call 112 - the pan-European emergency number. Calls to this number are free from both mobile and fixed-line telephones.
If your passport has been stolen report to the local police immediately and fill in a police report, explaining how and where it happened. You will then need to visit your embassy to organise a new passport or temporary identification.
If you are a victim of violence or assault, find medical care and report the incident to the police straight away. The local authorities will guide you through the criminal justice process and, if needed, help you to find a lawyer.
Belgium does provide compensation for victims via the ‘commission for financial assistance to victims of intentional acts of violence’ depending on the circumstances.
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