The Belgian Chamber of Representatives adopted an extremely controversial counter-terrorism draft law in the midst of rising fears of terrorism in Europe.
This measure, adopted on February 9, is a new edition of the “Foreigners Law” adopted in 1980. According to the New York Times, the Foreigners Law previously allowed the deportation of convicted criminal foreigners with the oversight of a judicial officer. Morocco World News reported that a law dating from 2005 protected foreigners with dual nationality born in Belgium and foreigners who immigrated before the age of twelve, even if they had previous criminal convictions.
Currently, the new law includes a provision over the possibility of deporting foreign-born Belgians, or Belgians who immigrated before the age of twelve, which would nullify the protections included in the 2005 law. And Belgium’s new draft law comes in response to widespread concerns about terrorism across Europe, as well as rising anti-immigrant sentiment.
In recent years, other European nations have been adopting stricter immigration policies, and taking increased measures to ensure national security. Nations including Hungary, Austria, and the Netherlands have made their requirements for the deportation of foreigners lowered and simplified.
The New York Times reports the draft law was first presented in July by Theo Francken, Belgium’s Secretary for Asylum and Migration, who is also a Flemish nationalist member of the center-right government. In February, Francken added an amendment to the Foreigner’s Law before parliament without thoroughly consulting the public and Chamber opposition.
According to Morocco World News, Belgium’s newspaper Le Soir reports that the Belgian Chamber of Representatives quietly passed the two bills in order to address increasing anxiety about national security, and the imminent threat of terrorism. More specifically, the law was created because of concerns over 70 individuals suspected of terrorist involvement, 20 of whom had committed terrorist acts.
Salah Abdeslam was a major driving force in the creation of this immigration law, as he is a Belgian-born French national of Moroccan descent. His suspected involvement in the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris caused worry among the Belgian government, mainly because he could not be deported from Belgium until he transferred to a French prison.
Now, Morocco World News reports, any individual who presents “a threat to public order or national security” in Belgium is subject to deportation under the new draft law.
The Belgian Chamber of Representatives has seen a divide as a result of the new draft law. Those who support these policies believe it will improve efficacy in the fight against terrorism, while the law’s opposition question how deporting terrorism will make Belgium safer, especially considering the measure may have a discriminatory effect and cause increased resentment against Belgium among terrorists.
The New York Times notes that the new draft law is unique among other European immigration policies, in that its language is extremely vague. According to The Express Tribune, at least 70 groups consisting of human and civil rights activists have signed an open letter petitioning the new legislation.
“This is about 20 cases of terrorism and 50 cases of heavy criminality” draft law’s supporters, like Theo Francken insist, “It’s about simplifying the procedures and orders for leaving the territory”. Opposition activists and the Belgian Chamber opposition heavily critique the law and its open-ended language.
Jos Vander Velpen, president of the Belgian Human Rights League believes the law is a step backward for Belgium.
Velpen assures that there are six months to appeal the draft law, and that their group is “intensively preparing” their arguments according to The New York Times. Groups such as Human Rights Watch have critiqued the draft law and are awaiting the outcome of the law’s appeal.