56 arrested in police operation around Brussels South Station
A major police operation was staged in and around Brussels South railway station on Saturday. Hundreds of officers were called in to do something about the unsafe situation in the station neighbourhood. 56 people were arrested, including a number who were in the country illegally or on the wanted list. A lot of rubbish was also cleaned up during the wider operation.
Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden (Flemish Christian democrat) says she is satisfied with results of the police action organised in the Brussels South station area. The operation ran till 6 pm on Saturday. The minister also visited the station to show her support to police officers.
"It has had an immediate effect, but we cannot do this every day," said Ms Verlinden. "After the ‘cry for help’ from railway company NMBS and the Brussels Capital Region, saying they could no longer handle the situation, we wanted to organise visible actions in the short term. In the long term, a sustainable approach to the problem is needed. Tackling poverty, housing problems, drug addiction, the degradation of infrastructure: these are essential parts of the solution."
Some Brussels mayors were also present, including those of Sint-Gillis and Anderlecht. They asked the minister for more cooperation and more resources. According to Verlinden, recruitment efforts are under way. "The Brussels Capital Region already gets additional resources for prevention and the like. I want to review everything, but the answer is not ‘always more people and more resources’. I think it is also a matter of working together as well as possible."
Ambulance and cleaning crews
VRT NWS journalist Helen Goedgebeur was at the scene at the start of the operation. "Around 10 am, officers from various Brussels police zones arrived in several vans," she says.
"They spoke with homeless people, who were sleeping in tents or on mattresses here. Several people were arrested because they were in the country illegally. The Immigration Department had officials there to follow that up further and help people. An ambulance was also present to take people under the influence of drugs away."
In recent weeks, some neighbourhood committees and organisations has raised the alarm after numerous complaints about the unsafe situation in the station neighbourhood. It was then decided that the National Crisis Centre would be put in charge of tackling the problems including drug abuse and homelessness at Brussels-South.
Both the railway police, the local Brussels-South police and the federal police were involved in the operation. First and foremost, it was aimed at tackling antisocial behaviour, preventing pickpockets from making a move, etc. Police were also present inside the station and at the bus stations.
The question remains: what next? "It would be better to have more police presence every day, instead of 200 officers on one single day," says pharmacist Karim Ben Miled, who works in the South Station. "It is good to carry out some extra checks today, but more officers are needed every day."
"We expect the federal government to give us a special status so that we have enough people available to guarantee security here," says Mayor Jean Spinette (Francophone socialist/PS) of Sint-Gillis.
Earlier Minister Verlinden said debate was needed on the powers of the Brussels regional government. "At present we are obliged to work on the basis of existing agreements but in the long run we have to think about change," Verlinden noted.