A wave of theft and vandalism has hit the downtown of Europe’s capital, only blocks away from where leaders have been trying to fix the continent’s debt crisis, provoking the local police chief to blame immigrants and drug addicts.
While government heads pulled up in the past few days in luxury cars shielded by security vehicles, the streets nearby revealed a cruder side to Europe’s economic troubles — shattered car window glass lining one major avenue and a slew of store windows smashed in a nearby neighbourhood.
The daily average tallied 26 thefts from vehicles, 13 pickpocket incidents and nine violent thefts in October in the zone of Brussels-Capital and Ixelles, according to police. The zone covers large parts of the Brussels metropolitan area including the city centre, Reuters reports.
Pickpocket incidents in the year up to November 1 were up to 3,020 this year from 2,509 in the same period of 2010. Violent robberies rose to 1,955 from 1,725. Thefts from vehicles declined to 6,200 in the period this year from 6,500 last – but in October they went up by 16 percent.
Police chief Guido Van Wymerschn says that rime is rising due to drug addicts and illegal immigrants.
He told De Morgen newspaper, in an interview whose contents were confirmed by his spokeswoman, that he had nothing against foreigners and that some immigrant families were just seeking opportunities to get ahead in life.
But, he said, some immigrants were criminals who had already committed crimes in their own countries and the federal government should take action.
“It should put in place a policy so that migrants know what they are up against,” he said. “People deserve a chance but we can also be more selective in deciding who we accept and who we don’t.”
Europe has seen controversial anti-minority moves in the past year or so. Since 2010, for example, France has deported thousands of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma. In September, more than 120 people were arrested in Bulgaria after rioters attacked Roma and their property.
In Brussels, jewellery storeowner Jacov Lamazi said he has increased security because of the crime wave.
He has always had security cameras, a guard dog, a baseball bat and a glass door he can see through before buzzing anyone into his Eli Lamazi Bijouterie-Jewellery.
But a year-and-a-half ago, in a street just behind the offices of international firms such as Deutsche Bank, the owner of a nearby jewellery store was shot and killed.
“After last year I got two to three security men,” Lamazi said.
Some people blame rising crime on unemployment – though Belgian unemployment, at 6.7 percent in September 2011, was below the EU average of 9.7 percent and down from 8.2 percent in September 2010.
The criminals, “they don’t have a job, they don’t go to school, they don’t do anything,” said Fidel Kape, brother of a jewellery store employee. They wait on the street, “they stick around to take money,” he said, adding that thieves used to rob with knives but now use guns.
Alexandre Aichtar, who was born in Belgium of Pakistani descent and works at his father’s grocery store, said joblessness and discrimination were at the root of much crime.
“If you are black or your name is Muhammad or something it’s harder to get a job. So people steal, do everything, to feed their family,” he said.
But he added that the police were not hard enough on criminals.
“Sometimes they take drug dealers out but after a half an hour they are free, so what is the point,” Aichtar said. “They should put them in jail and hit them, like in Pakistan.”