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US arbitrarily refuses travel permits to Belgian lawyers

16:47 18/09/2018

At least five Belgian lawyers have been denied visas to visit the United States this year because they have at one point or another defended a client accused of terrorism. One of the lawyers, Dimitri De Béco of Brussels, told La Dernière Heure about the situation.

“This is extremely concerning,” he told the paper. “I have been put on the same level as my clients.”

De Béco (pictured) – who has been involved in some high-profile cases – filled out the Electronic System for Travel Authorization required by the US government for travel to the US under the visa waiver programme. “I’ve been to the US several times; this time I was going to visit friends.”

He was “very surprised” when his request for entry to the US was denied. He made an appointment at the US embassy in Brussels, had to pay €300 and was required to fill in more paperwork. But alas, he was told that his file was “complex” and “not worth the effort” to approve. He cancelled his trip.

‘Never problems under Obama’

He then discovered that other Belgian lawyers had the same problem this year. Lo and behold, they had all defended terrorist suspects. “Our colleagues who hadn’t defended such suspects had no trouble getting travel permits to the US.”

De Béco and his colleagues are concerned about the legal sector being somehow held responsible for representing clients that require representation under the law. The head of Belgium’s bar is planning to take the matter up with foreign affairs minister Didier Reynders.

“Under the Obama administration, there were never problems like this,” said De Béco. “Though to be honest, I don’t have much of a desire anymore to travel to the US.”

Photo: Dimitri De Béco leaving court earlier this year following the first day of the Brussels Airport diamond heist trial
©Thierry Roge/BELGA

Written by Lisa Bradshaw