“Dozens of minors roam the Brussels South Station area but nothing is done”
Dozens of minors are roaming around in and around Brussels South Station. They are children, some as young as 9, who are exploited, commit crimes and are prone to addictions. "We raised the problem back in 2020," says children’s rights commissioner Caroline Vrijens. "It is incomprehensible that no minister has yet been appointed to take charge of the situation."
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The situation in and around Brussels South Station has been at the forefront of the news in recent weeks. Hundreds of police officers were deployed last week to do something about the unsafe situation in the station neighbourhood.
Despite police efforts and a clean-up the stench of urine is back, there are new thefts and homeless people are popping up again.
Another issue is now also in play: minors, some no older than 9, are also roaming about in and around the station. They sleep in squats, criss-cross Europe for years and can find no safe haven.
“Unacceptable” says children’s rights commissioner Caroline Vrijens. According to her, these are often children who have been lured here with the promise of a better life by human traffickers from countries like Morocco and Algeria.
"When they then arrive here, they end up on the streets," Vrijens told VRT. "They are lonely, disappointed and vulnerable. They are exploited. They commit crimes. To cope with the enormously tough street life they are often also addicted to drugs." Exactly how many young people are involved, no one knows. Aid workers estimate that there are at least more than 40.
"These youngsters have no purpose in life. We know they don’t want to seek asylum. Instead, they want to stay under the radar. They know they are doing things that are not OK. If they are contacted by social workers, the children soon disappear under the radar due to a lack of structural help."
Nothing done with recommendations
"We identified the problem three years ago," says Vrijens. "We drew up an advice with a lot of recommendations. Among other things, it said that more private care and a pathway should be provided. The children’s rights commission also believes that identification of young people is essential.
"I can only note that nothing has been done," says Vrijens. "The group has only grown and nobody has any grip on it. Different ministers look towards each other, but no one was ever appointed to take responsibility. Incomprehensible."
The fact Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Flemish liberal/Open VLD) instructed the National Crisis Centre to monitor the situation at the South Station last week is a start, according to Vrijens, but she argues for a lasting solution.
"This particular problem must be given sufficient attention. Cooperation is needed between experts, the police, the judiciary and relief workers. For that to happen, a minister’s office must first take the lead and coordinate the situation. By the way, it is a European problem. So it should also be on the European agenda."