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Belgium stops deportations to Ebola-hit African countries

Belgium has stopped deporting migrants back to Ebola-hit African countries — to make sure the police officers who escort them are not exposed to the deadly disease, officials said Monday.

The Belgian authorities “decided in mid-August to cancel all assignments” by such officers “to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea because of the Ebola epidemic,” federal police spokeswoman Agnes Reis told AFP.

The three countries account for the vast majority of the 4,922 deaths from the Ebola epidemic, the world’s worst ever outbreak.

“We don’t want to take risks,” Reis said, adding that at least usually two officers, but sometimes many more, escort deported migrants on the plane back to their home countries.

After handing over the deportees to the local authorities, the police usually wait at the airport for a return flight, or sometimes escort them to the immigration services.

“We don’t want to make them run the risk of travelling in the affected countries, or even of waiting in the airport for several hours,” Reis said.

In 2012, Guineans represented the second largest group seeking asylum in Belgium, following Afghans, with a total number of 1,808 requests, the authorities said.

The trend continued in 2013 but the number of Guineans seeking asylum decreased in the first nine months of 2014.