Expatica news

Belgium an ‘epicentre’ for people traffickers

15 December 2004

BRUSSELS – People trafficking networks are flourishing in Belgium, it emerged on Wednesday.

A report by the Centre for Equality of Opportunity and the Fight Against Racism (CECLR) concluded that the country was a key stop-over destination for the smuggle of illegal immigrants.

The Chinese triads, for instance, which are believed to have smuggled Asian immigrants into England – and demanded huge sums for doing so – worked with an Albanian network in Belgium.

The immigrants were mainly smuggled through Antwerp and from there onwards, it was the Antwerp group that took care of getting them to the UK.

CECLR warned that the Belgian people trafficking network had remained intact despite widespread police crackdowns on illegal immigrants and arrests of smugglers.

It said people traffickers were generally also involved in drug smuggling and other crimes. When illegal immigrants and traffickers had been arrested other middle men had been easily found within the criminal ranks.

Jozef De Witte, head of CECLR, said: “It’s useless saving the victims if the trafficking networks are left to expand.”

He said the authorities needed to attack the structure and the leadership of the trafficking networks. Getting to the source of their financing is also vital, he argued.

CECLR is also calling for a rethink in immigration policy at a European level to encourage desperate immigrants to go through legal channels, rather than turning to the black market.

“Organising a hunt for illegal immigrants is completely counter-productive,” said De Witte.

“That would make prices for victims soar and would see the profits of criminal organisations increase still further, allowing them to damage society and the economy even more deeply.”

The CECLR also wants the Belgium government to change the way under-age illegal immigrants are treated when they are discovered.

At the moment, minors and adults, who have been the victim of people smugglers and cooperate with the authorities, are treated in the same way.

They should be given special protection if they are frightened of testifying against traffickers, insists CECLR. They should be given a special status in view of their extra vulnerability.

CECLR’s full report can be read at www.diversite.be

[Copyright Expatica 2004]

Subject: Belgian news