De Lijn moves stops out of North Station due to migrant situation

Summary

Flanders’ public transport authority De Lijn is moving its stops from the tunnel at North Station to areas outside the station until the situation with the homeless migrants is solved

‘Not the way you treat people’

De Lijn has made good on its threat to pull out of the underground transport hub at North Station. The Flemish transport authority, which runs some 30 lines through the tunnel, said a month ago that it would move its stops to another location if something wasn’t done about the migrant situation there.

There are entrances to the lower floor of North Station from the bus hub. For more than a year now the lower floor has been inhabited with homeless migrants and transmigrants. It offers shelter and some warmth.

It doesn’t, however, offer facilities, and De Lijn drivers have been complaining for months that the situation has become untenable. Aside from being awash in garbage, the human waste is causing a stench, as well as hygiene concerns.

“It is always grimy and dirty,” Flemish mobility minister Ben Weyts told Radio 1. “We simply cannot deal with this situation anymore in terms of safety and hygiene.”

Buses to stop outside station

The situation is not only difficult for De Lijn, passengers are also beginning to avoid the tunnel. A week ago, De Lijn said that if the Brussels region continued to ignore the situation, it would have no option but to move its stops.

The buses, however, will continue near North Station. Starting on Monday, the 30 lines will drop passengers off at the south end of the station, the side where Vooruitgangstraat and Noordplein are located. Passengers can board the buses a bit further south on Rogierplein.

“It is an extremely unconventional decision, and it makes me very angry,” De Lijn director Roger Kesteloot told VRT. “Our drivers are people, our passengers are people, and the transmigrants and homeless of Brussels are people. To be honest, the situation that is being allowed to continue is not the way you treat people. It is very unusual for us to take such action, and we are very sorry that we have to.”

Our drivers are human beings, our passengers are human beings, and the transmigrants and homeless of Brussels are human beings

- Roger Kesteloot of De Lijn

According to a 1995 agreement signed by De Lijn and the Brussels-Capital Region, the region is responsible for the management of “safety, lighting, heating, maintenance and sanitation” in the station. “That is clearly not happening,” said Kesteloot.

Ministers cannot seem to agree on whose responsibility it is to deal with the situation at North Station or what should be done. According to Brussels mobility minister Pascal Smet, it’s a railway station problem, and therefore the responsibility of the federal government.

While the federal police cleared out the area last spring, the effects were temporary. But Weyts says it’s not a federal problem, in any case. The federal and railway police, he said, “are responsible for the safety on the platforms and the trains, not the bus stops”. It’s the police in Schaerbeek, he said, who should restore order in their own municipality.

Photo courtesy VRT