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Calls for migration secretary to resign as Sudanese controversy rages on

10:32 27/12/2017
The conflict in the federal parliament regarding Sudanese migrants who were sent back to Sudan, a well-known dictatorial regime, continues, as some call for Theo Francken's resignation

The prime minister will not return to parliament during the holiday recess to discuss the issue of the migrants sent back to Sudan who say they were tortured, according to Brecht Vermeulen (N-VA) of the internal affairs commission. Several parties had asked that the commission hold an emergency meeting with prime minister Charles Michel about actions taken by migration secretary Theo Francken (N-VA).

The entire affair began last September when it was reported that Sudanese officials were searching Maximilian Park in Brussels for Sudanese citizens, with Francken’s permission. Francken’s office said that the officials were from Sudan’s foreign affairs office, and the purpose of identifying Sudanese nationals was to allow the government to provide documentation for repatriation back to the country if their request for asylum was rejected.

At the time, federal opposition parties Groen and PS claimed that Francken had given “carte blanche to a regime of torturers” from the al-Bashir government and that the officials were not thoroughly screened before being allowed to identify migrants in the park.

Since that time, Belgium has sent several migrants who had not officially requested asylum back to Sudan. Some of them were passing through Belgium on their way to the UK to request asylum. This month reports have come in from those repatriated that they have been questioned and tortured by Sudanese officials.

Coalition partners also critical

N-VA coalition partners CD&V have also been critical of Francken’s handling of the Sudan situation, with parliamentarian Nahima Lanjri quoting Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. According to the article, migrants in Europe should not be sent back to conflict regions or countries that are guilty of human rights violations, including genocide and torture.

Lanjri was responding to Francken’s claim that Article 3 can only be invoked if asylum has been requested. According to Lajri, that is not correct.

Some politicians are calling for Francken’s resignation. “With the Sudan affair, we have crossed the line of what is ethically tolerable,” Belgian MEP Gérard Deprez, a Michel MR party colleague, told Le Soir this week. “There is no other way to say it: Sending people back to Sudan is unacceptable. Either Francken needs to resign or Michel needs to fire him.”

Vermeulen of the internal affairs commission said that the situation will be discussed during parliament’s first plenary session in the new year.

Photo: Nicolas Maeterlinck/BELGA

Written by Lisa Bradshaw