Police deny using excessive force
31 July 2007
BRUSSELS (AP) – Police denied accusations Tuesday they used excessive force in handling the deportation of an 11-year-old girl and her mother who were supposed to have been sent back to Ecuador, but were given a reprieve by a Brussels court after claims of inhumane treatment.
The case of Ana Cajamarca and her daughter Angelica has led to a widespread debate here over Belgium’s contentious asylum procedures which have seen the abuse of deportees, including the death of a Nigerian asylum seeker in 1998.
The case has also involved the wife of Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa who appealed to Belgian authorities not to deport the two away from family and friends.
Bruno Franckx told reporters that his police unit, which was responsible for carrying out the deportation order on Monday at Brussels International Airport, had not violated any rules and had not mistreated the two.
“The Federal Police have never used any means of constraint or use of violence against these two,” Franckx said, adding they were treated “correctly and humanely.”
Accusations of mistreatment were filed by lawyers for the two at a Brussels court on Monday in an effort to get a last-minute injunction against the deportation, after they were transported to the airport where they awaited their flight back to Ecuador.
The court agreed the Belgian authorities were wrong to have held Angelica, a minor, in a detention centre for over a month where illegal asylum seekers are held, adding that Belgium stood in violation of European human rights accords.
The court imposed an interim injunction against their immediate deportation and ordered their release from detention.
Their lawyer Selma Benkhelifa said the mother was poorly treated and suffered bruises after being handcuffed and was pushed by interior ministry officials who transported the mother and daughter to the airport.
“I am in a poor psychological state because of problems with the police and the stress,” Cajamarca told VRT Television after her release.
Interior ministry spokesman Geert De Vulder rejected the claims of inhumane treatment, saying the ministry would pursue an appeal to lift the injunction.
Their case was taken up by human rights groups and Ecuador’s First Lady, Anne Malherbe, a Belgian, who called for an amnesty and for the two to remain in Belgium, where Angelica’s estranged father still lives.
The two were taken into custody a month ago and have been detained at an asylum centre where they awaited a flight back to Ecuador.
Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa also condemned the treatment of the two during detention and said in a statement late Monday that any inhumane treatment was “unacceptable.”
Supporters of the mother and daughter claim the two are established in Belgium and say the girl has been going to school for four years, despite never having claimed residency or asylum.
The two, along with the girl’s father, came to Belgium in 2003 seeking a better life.
The father split with Cajamarca and is now in a relationship with a Belgian national.
The mother is engaged to a Belgian national and intends to marry soon, she said after finalising her divorce with Angelica’s father, her lawyer.
The deportation case comes after four police officers were given suspended jail sentences in 2003 for their involvement in the suffocation death of a Nigerian asylum seeker and the Belgian government was ordered to pay damages to the victim’s family.
The victim suffered a brain haemorrhage after the officers pushed her face into a pillow while trying to send her home to Nigeria by plane in 1998. Her death caused a public outcry that forced the resignation of the interior minister and led to pledges to overhaul the country’s asylum and deportation rules.
However, human rights groups claim not much has changed in the handling of deportees and in improving conditions at detention centres.
[Copyright AP 2007]
Subject: Belgian news