Police makes clean sweep at Brussels South station

A major police operation occurred Saturday in and around Brussels South railway station. Some 60 people were arrested, most of whom were migrants without legal residence. The action came after complaints in recent weeks about nuisance and insecurity and a cry for help from national railway company NMBS/SNCB and the Brussels Capital Region.

As a result, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open Vld) and Minister of the Interior Annelies Verlinden (CD&V) decided that the National Crisis Center would be put in charge of restoring the liveability and safety of the South Station and its immediate surroundings.

‘Sustainable approach is needed’

For the major police operation at the station to tackle the problems of nuisance, drugs, and homelessness, the federal police, railway police, local police, Securail, and some services of the Brussels municipality joined forces. The station and the area around the bus stations were also thoroughly cleaned.

“It has an immediate effect, but we cannot do this every day,” said Minister Verlinden, who visited the station. “A sustainable approach to the problem is needed in the long term. Tackling poverty, housing, drug addiction, and infrastructure degradation are essential parts of the solution.” The ultimate goal is to arrive at a coordinated solution to the complex issues, “but the answer cannot be providing more people and resources. In my view, improving collaboration must also be possible.”

Plan with three axes

The plan that has been developed, with the National Crisis Center (NCCN) as strategic coordinator, works on three axes. The first is tackling criminal phenomena and illegality in and around the station building. Besides the federal police and the local police zone Brussels-South, the Immigration Department and the security services of the NMBS/SNCB, among others, are also involved in the list of actions.

A second axis is to tackle the condition of homeless and needy people, addiction and health problems, and public cleanliness in the South Station area and its immediate surroundings. This will be worked out by the Brussels Region, the municipal and city services concerned, and the federal health and immigration services. The national drugs commissioner will also provide support from its drugs commissariat.

The third axis is infrastructural adaptation, which works to improve security in and around the station building. Besides efforts that will have to be made for this by the NMBS/SNCB and railway network manager Infrabel, enhanced camera surveillance by the Brussels Region must also be further investigated and developed.

Role of Minister-President

The NCCN is also organizing another crisis meeting on Monday. The aim is to discuss and evaluate this large-scale police action. As the coordinating role of the NCCN is limited in time, it is planned to be transferred to the Brussels Capital Region in the short or the long run.

Brussels Minister-President Rudi Vervoort (PS) reacted satisfactorily to the action plan in the table today. “The South Nation is unique in Belgium because it is the only station in our country with a Schengen border, making it an international crossroads where many people gather. But the aggravated situation made it call for integrated coordination, with each institutional actor assuming and exercising its responsibilities,” Vervoort said.

According to the business newspaper De Tijd, the Vervoort cabinet, in particular, was not happy with the tone of some of Minister Verlinden’s statements. At the same time, the federal government believes Vervoort should take responsibility. But that is precisely where the shoe pinches. Legally, the Minister-President cannot operationally direct the police, while he does not even have any say over the railway police, which is federal.

This passing of the buck and lack of political responsibility or decision-making in security rears its head whenever there is a Brussels problem. De Tijd, therefore, wonders aloud whether it would not be better to federalize or expand Brussels’ powers again through state reform because otherwise, Brussels will continue to rely on ad hoc solutions.

However, in this case, the NMBS/SNCB and the Brussels Region should also acknowledge blame because they have let the situation deteriorate for years through lousy governance, urbanization, and spatial planning that has been successful.


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