|[The September 6, 2018, trial of 11 people who have helped migrants in Belgium has attracted a number of protesters. Photo: Melissa Vida. Used with permission.]|
The defendants have allegedly assisted 95 undocumented migrants, including 12 minors, to travel from Belgium to the United Kingdom last year, either by hosting them in their homes, by lending them phones and thereby indirectly helping them cross the channel.
On the day of the trial, three hundred people protested in front of the courthouse. Demonstrators say this is a political trial, aimed at dissuading people from helping migrants by establishing an intimidating judicial precedent.
The defendants are two Belgian journalists, one Belgian-Moroccan social worker, a Tunisian man who is a legal Belgian resident and seven people who are undocumented migrants themselves. Eight of the defendants have been in jail since the arrest.
Belgian law states that there must be a monetary transaction involved for an act to be framed as human trafficking, something the defendants deny ever happening. However, the relationship between the migrants and their helpers seems to fall into a legal grey area, raising fears that the law's scope is unjustly being expanded to target activists.
Myriam Berghe, one of the two journalists, said in an interview with RTBF (Belgium's public service broadcaster) that she's received money on behalf of a migrant she was hosting. The migrant in question had been sent money from abroad via Western Union, Berghe says, but had no way of collecting it due to having no papers. What for Berghe was simply an act of kindness, in the eyes of the authorities was payment for smuggling.
In the same interview, she explains that despite some of the people she's hosted being smugglers themselves, she wouldn't consider them “human traffickers...”
Read more from source at Global Voices here.