Human trafficking victims to protest at Flemish welfare minister's office
The Turkish and Bengali workers who were active at a construction site of chemical company Borealis will hold a major protest in front of Flemish Welfare Minister Hilde Crevits' office at 11 am on Friday. In July, the largest case of human trafficking in Belgium was discovered at the Borealis site in the Antwerp port area. According to the victims' lawyer Jan Buelens, the government of Flanders is not fulfilling its obligations.
"A delegation of activists will be received by the cabinet in Brussels," reports the workers' lawyer Jan Buelens. "After two months, there is still no solution for all the victims of human trafficking who were working for Irem (the Italian subcontractor of Borealis, ed.) at the Kallo construction site."
According to Buelens, the welders and pipe fitters were lured to Belgium with false promises, were not given a copy of their employment contracts and earned much less than the minimum wage. They were also housed in degrading conditions, according to the lawyer.
"Borealis was aware of malpractices since April, but only broke the contract with Irem at the end of July after pressure from the media," Buelens said. "The workers were not paid at all from then on."
At least 138 people who were working at the site have already been recognised as victims of human trafficking, making it the largest case of human trafficking and economic exploitation in Belgium. It concerns workers from the Philippines, Bangladesh, Turkey as well as Ukraine.
"Despite the recognition, the government did not initiate the corresponding procedure," Buelens notes. "As a result, the workers have no residence permit, no job and no shelter or counselling. As recognised victims of trafficking, the government is obliged to initiate the procedure. Yet the governments are not giving the slightest sign of life."
The last consultations in the case took place on September 9. " No tangible result came out of these," Buelens concludes. "The representative of Flemish Welfare Minister Crevits was even absent from that consultation."
© LOU BENOIST / AFP