Home Society Belgium’s far right capitalizes on migration after terror attack 
Belgium’s far right capitalizes on migration after terror attack 

Belgium’s far right capitalizes on migration after terror attack 

by host

BRUSSELS — The man who shot and killed two Swedish football fans in Brussels Monday night had been living in Belgium despite having a failed asylum petition, which the country’s far right is now eager to point out. 

The Flemish far-right party Vlaams Belang started circulating an ad on Facebook Tuesday pointing out Abdessalem Lassoued, a 45-year-old Tunisian man who was killed by police that morning, was denied asylum and was subject to an order to leave the country. 

The terror attack by an undocumented migrant, who was under authorities’ scrutiny for multiple criminal allegations, plays into Vlaams Belang’s hands ahead of Belgium’s national and regional elections in June next year, in which migration is expected to be a key topic.

“Why was this coward terrorist not arrested and expulsed to his country of origin?” the message read. It gathered close to a quarter of a million views only a day later, according to Meta’s library listing political ads on the platform. 

The post featured a picture of Nicole de Moor, Belgium’s state secretary of asylum and migration, and of her predecessor in the role, Sammy Mahdi, who’s now chairman of the Flemish Christian democratic party CD&V, which is part of the ruling coalition. 

Vlaams Belang is already atop the polls, with close to a quarter of the projected vote, while more centrist parties, such as CD&V and the liberal Open VLD party of Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, could fall into the single digits, a loss compared with their results in the previous election.

De Moor, De Croo and Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne (also from Open VLD) came quickly out of the gates on Tuesday to admit that Lassoued had resided in the country illegally after being denied asylum in October 2020. 

The actual order to leave the country couldn’t be delivered to Lassoued in March 2021 because he wasn’t at the address that he had submitted for correspondence, after which he dropped off the migration services’ radar. 

“An order to leave the country must become more compelling,” De Croo told reporters late Tuesday. “We must be able to organize [a] return for those with a negative asylum decision,” De Moor added, who said she would push for a more “clingy” return policy in the next months. 

The government will look into the different parts of the chain needed to repatriate people in the country illegally, De Croo said during a hearing with lawmakers Wednesday, such as organizing interceptions by police, having sufficient places in closed shelters before repatriation, and setting up databases of those ordered to leave the country. 

Lawmakers were not impressed by the promises made at Wednesday’s hearing.

There’s a “complete lack of an efficient return policy,” said Vlaams Belang lawmaker Barbara Pas — who added that De Croo’s promises on Tuesday were an example of “extremely slow progressive insight.” 

BELGIUM NATIONAL PARLIAMENT SEAT PROJECTION

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For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

“Your return policy is a total disaster,” Theo Francken, member of the nationalist N-VA and a former state secretary of asylum and migration added. The mayor of Schaerbeek, Bernard Clerfayt, even called for De Moor’s resignation on Tuesday, referring to thousands of expulsion orders that are not being executed.

The critics have the numbers on the side: Last year, fewer than 5,500 people were repatriated (both voluntary and forced), which is less than half the number compared with 10 years ago (close to 11,400 in 2012). 

The ministers argued that they were dependent on countries in North Africa, such as Tunisia, to be able to organize the return of people who were denied asylum. Justice Minister Van Quickenborne lashed out at the unwillingness of “certain North African countries to take back” those denied asylum.

Belgium wants to make the matter of forced return — and the relations with countries of origin — a priority during its upcoming presidency of the Council of the EU in the first half of 2024.

De Croo has already secured support from Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on that end during Tuesday’s commemoration of Monday’s victims.

“We have exactly the same problem in Sweden, we have very many people who are declined asylum but refuse to leave the country, that’s a big problem,” Kristersson said.

Claudia Chiappa and Nicolas Camut contributed reporting.

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