Questions Arise over Security Failures in Brussels Attack
Belgium’s Prime Minister Calls for Policy Changes
Questions are mounting on how a Tunisian ordered to leave Belgium after having his asylum request rejected was able to stay, before killing two Swedes in the streets of Brussels earlier this week.
Belgium’s prime minister Alexander de Croo admitted to reporters on Wednesday (18 October) that things had gone wrong and that policy changes were necessary in light of a slew of security failures from the 2016 terror attacks in Brussels.
Failure to Register the Suspect
One of the key concerns is why the dead suspect, Abdessalem Lassoued, had not been registered despite Belgium’s asylum office having had his details, according to de Croo. Lassoued had been ordered to leave Belgium in 2021 amid suspicions he had been guilty of other criminal acts in Tunisia.
Bernard Clerfayt, a mayor in Schaerbeek, a neighborhood in Brussels where Lassoued resided, revealed that federal authorities had not shared his details with them. He criticized the fact that Belgium’s asylum office had listed Lassoued’s address in Schaerbeek without informing local authorities.
Transferring Information between Countries
Lassoued is said to have first landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa in 2011, then traveled to Sweden before returning to Italy in 2016, where he had been flagged by Italian authorities as an extremist.
Sweden’s prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, stated that Lassoued had been imprisoned in Sweden and expressed that such information could have been transferred to Belgian authorities. Both prime ministers are now demanding a better and more coordinated return policy for rejected asylum seekers.
Challenges in Returning Rejected Asylum Seekers
However, getting foreign states to agree to take back their nationals has proven difficult. The EU’s policy to suspend visa-free travel to nationalities from countries that don’t take back their rejected asylum seekers has largely failed to deliver results. The EU currently has a visa-free regime with 60 non-EU countries.
Last year, EU states issued around 340,000 return decisions, but only about 21% of people not eligible to stay or not in need of international protection were actually returned. European Commission president, Ursula Von der Leyen, emphasized the need for member states to have the power to force a person to leave if they are considered a national security threat.
Pushing for More Return Agreements
Von der Leyen wants the EU to cut further deals with countries to encourage them to take back their nationals. However, this approach has faced criticism, particularly following a controversial agreement with Tunisia’s autocratic president over the summer. The EU is still in the process of overhauling its asylum and migration reforms, including a return directive proposal that includes the obligation for EU states to return individuals flagged as security risks.