A new Belgian law has granted extraordinary powers to the government regarding deportation of expatriates on mere suspicion of their involvement in terror activities without a criminal conviction.
The law, which was quietly passed by the parliament, also allows Brussels to deport foreigners who are legal residents of Belgium for ‘presenting a risk to public order or national security’ without the involvement of a court.
The toughening of domestic security laws in the European nation has caused anguish in human rights groups and ordinary citizens who see such measures as a threat to civil liberties.
Besides counterterrorism concerns, supporters of this law have been motivated by anti-immigrant sentiments, which they feel are widely shared not only in their country but across the European Union and even in the United States, according to The New York Times.
Although other European countries have also introduced strict immigration policies, Belgian legislation stands out for its vague language.
Around 70 groups comprising civil rights, minority, labour and arts activists have signed an open letter in protest against the new legislation which grants unprecedented powers to Brussels to interpret and enforce the law as it sees fit
The law, which at least two rights groups are preparing to fight in the Constitutional Court, was first presented by Belgium’s secretary for asylum and migration in July in wake of a terrorist attack in the Belgium capital which left 32 people dead and caused injuries to 340 others.
Last month, Theo Francken, a Flemish nationalist and a member of the centre-right government, managed to slip an amendment to the country’s Foreigners Law before Parliament without much of a public debate. Since then, he has been increasingly on the defensive over the measure.
“I am not going to put someone out of the country, who has lived here all of his life and has children here and so forth, just because he got two speeding tickets. That’s absurd,” Francken told The Times in a telephone interview. “That is not my intention at all.”
“Let me be very clear. This is about 20 cases of terrorism and 50 cases of heavy criminality,” he said. “It’s about simplifying the procedures of orders for leaving the territory.”
But a month after the law passed, some members of Parliament and civil society groups are growing worried about the powers that it granted to the executive branch. “We’re turning the clock back 10 years,” said Jos Vander Velpen, president of the Belgian Human Rights League. “We have six months to appeal it, and we’re already intensively preparing our arguments.”
In its previous form, the Foreigners Law, which dates to 1980, allowed the deportation of foreigners only after they were convicted of serious crimes, including terrorism, and with the oversight of a magistrate. People who were born in Belgium or moved there under the age of 12 were exempt from deportation. All of those restrictions have been eliminated.
This article originally appeared in The News York Times.