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Visiting professor from Morocco locked up for weekend

A visiting professor from the Mohammed I University in Oujda, Morocco, was detained by security at Charleroi Airport over the weekend, citing that his tourist visa did not allow him to work in Belgium. Abdelkader Hakkou, also the vice-rector of the university in the northeast of Morocco, had arrived in Belgium to work on a research project with colleagues from the Free University of Brussels (ULB).

Hakkou (pictured) had apparently entered the country with a tourist visa for research purposes five times previously and had never been questioned. This weekend, he was questioned by agents as to whether he had enough money to support himself for the entire time he was planning to be in Belgium – a requirement when visiting the country on a tourist visa.

“I only had €85 on me because my stay was being hosted by the university,” Hakkou later told Le Soir. “Friends who were, by the way, outside waiting for me.”

The professor of biology was detained until 5.00 in the airport “with only a cold, iron stool to sit on” and only allowed to make a phone call at 1.00, he said. He was finally transferred to a holding cell in Steenokkerzeel, not far from Brussels, “where, I have to say, I was treated very well”.

48-hour detention

The professor was released on Sunday afternoon, nearly 48 hours after his arrival. Hakkou told Le Soir that he couldn’t understand how one security agent could make such a decision.

“This kind of power should only be given to qualified people who are capable of assessing the guidelines,” he said. “Belgium is an open country, but sometimes there are exceptions, and this way of handling people is troubling.”

According to the Immigration Office, the case was handled according to procedure. “If he had been in possession of the correct papers, there wouldn’t have been any problem,” said a spokesperson. “Eventually, we got in contact with ULB, which provided evidence that they were supporting his stay as a visiting professor.”

ULB rector Yvon Englert admitted that Hakkou’s paperwork could have been better arranged but said that the actions taken were much too extreme. “One simple telephone call could have taken care of it,” he said.

Photo courtesy RTBF

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