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Court upholds not guilty verdict of four people who housed transmigrants

19:31 26/05/2021

A Brussels appeals court has refused to overturn the decision of a lower court that four people who invited transmigrants to stay in their homes were not guilty of human trafficking. The four were found not guilty in 2018, but the prosecutor appealed the decision. They have once again been found not guilty, putting an end to a case watched closely by migrant and refugee organisations.

The original case involved eight transmigrants who assisted others in travelling through Belgium to get to the UK and four Brussels residents who took some of those transmigrants into their homes. This was during the period that many asylum-seekers and other migrants were camping in Maximilian Park in Brussels, and citizens were asked to offer them shelter if they could.

Seven of those migrants were convicted of human trafficking charges and given sentences of one year to 40 months in prison, most partially suspended. The convictions were controversial because the migrants were not part of an organised human trafficking ring but were assisting in helping others get onto trucks with the promise that they themselves would be allowed on a truck headed to the UK at a later time.

Some of those convicted had been invited by four Brussels residents – including two journalists and a man who volunteered in the makeshift refugee camp at Maximilian Park – to stay in their homes. They, too, were brought up on charges of human trafficking and have now been found not guilty for a second time. Even if they knew that their boarders were involved in helping others to get to the UK, that is not the same as taking part in these activities themselves, the court said.

“This is a relief,” said lawyer Alexis Deswaef. “These people have done nothing wrong. You are allowed to loan someone your telephone or let them use your computer or offer them a room. This verdict is a relief for so many people. It’s just too bad that we had to wait four years for it.”

Photo: Anouk Van Gestel, former editor-in-chief of Marie Claire Belgique, awaits her verdict in 2018
©Thierry Roge/BELGA

 

Written by Lisa Bradshaw