Child murdered in asylum centre in Ranst

Summary

The kidnapping and murder of a nine-year-old boy living in a refugee centre has sent shock waves through a town in Antwerp province

‘This centre should be closed’

Police have arrested five men in connection with the kidnapping and murder of a nine-year-old boy in Broechem, a district of Ranst in Antwerp province. The boy went missing on Monday evening.

The boy, Daniel, was last seen riding his bike on the evening of 22 April outside the asylum centre where he lived with his mother. Police were later called when family and staff could not find the boy.

A search turned up his bicycle but no sign of Daniel. A thorough search of the area followed, and the boy’s body was discovered on Wednesday in a ditch on the centre’s property. The centre is run by federal immigration agency Fedasil.

Authorities confirmed that Daniel’s death was being investigated as a homicide. At the end of the day yesterday, five arrests had been made. The men arrested are between the ages of 19 and 34. They are all residents of the centre and all are Palestinian, as was Daniel and his mother.

‘Unprecedented’

“This kind of thing has never happened before,” said Fedasil spokesperson Mieke Candaele. “The boy was very well known here, and he had many friends.” Families with children living in the centre have since been moved to other facilities.

“This is unprecedented,” said migration secretary Maggie De Block. “The death of a child, and then a violent death. This is just so unbelievable, of course for the mother and the family of the child, but also for the personnel.”

According to sources speaking to VRT, the five men kidnapped the boy for ransom, demanding money from the child’s mother and from his father, who is currently living in Lebanon. “We are seeking answers to all the questions around this case, and the guilty parties will be punished,” said De Block. “I am awaiting the outcome of the investigation.”

It’s crowded, and tensions rise. If people from different cultures are living like this, it can lead to incidents

- Hilde De Leeuw

Unions representing Fedasil workers have criticised the lack of staff, training and security in Belgium’s asylum centres. “When there are too many residents, they have to live in smaller rooms,” Hilde De Leeuw of ACV said on the programme Terzake. “It’s crowded, and tensions rise. If everyone is from different cultures are living like this, it can lead to incidents.”

She went on to say that the asylum centre in Ranst, about 14 kilometres east of Antwerp, has had many incidents of aggressive behaviour and that figures were not made public because “then the asylum seekers would not be seen in a good light”. Terzake was able to confirm that the rate of incidents in Ranst was higher than in other centres.

Residents of the centre are shocked and saddened by the incident and some told VRT that they did not feel safe there anymore. “There are a lot of children living here, but there is no supervision or care provided for them,” said Daniel’s uncle, Bassam Shahata. “This centre should be closed.”

Photo: Jonas Roosens/BELGA