As Europe’s leaders dither over attempts to save the doomed single currency, another immigrant crime wave has swept across Brussels. Just blocks away from where heads of state recently met to discuss Europe’s worsening debt crisis, shattered car window glass lines one major avenue, and a multitude of store windows stand smashed in a local neighbourhood.
October’s daily average of offences in the zone of Brussels-Capital and Ixelles tallied 26 thefts from vehicles, 13 pickpocket incidents and nine violent thefts, according to police. The zone covers large parts of the Brussels metropolitan area, including the city centre.
Pickpocket incidents 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 crime is rising due to illegal immigrants and drug problems.
He told De Morgen newspaper that 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 whom we accept and whom we don't.’
Jewellery storeowner Jacov Lamazi said he has increased security because of the crime wave, reported Reuters.
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 – but the Belgian jobless rate of 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 ‘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, a Pakistani man born in Belgium, works at his father's grocery store, and blamed ‘discrimination’ for the crime wave.
‘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 half an hour they are free, so what is the point,’ he asked. ‘They should put them in jail and hit them, like in Pakistan.’
More than 30 percent of Brussels’ population is foreign-born, mostly concentrated in the north and west sides of the city, in the Molenbeek, Saint-Josse and Schaerbeek communes, which are home to a large Moroccan community. More than a quarter of the city's inhabitants are Muslim.
Brussels was hit by Muslim riots in 2009, when police were attacked with Molotov cocktails and gas cylinders, and suffered a previous immigrant crime wave in 2010.
Many neighbourhoods are considered no-go areas for indigenous people and policemen.
In May this year, British National Party Chairman Nick Griffin MEP suggested that, while staying in Brussels, pro-immigration MEPs be relocated to a block of flats in the ‘enriched’ city slums they helped create. As well as saving taxpayers’ money, he said it would allow politicians to ‘enjoy the same benefits of immigration as so many of their poorer constituents’.