Since this newspaper reported at the end of July that dozens of Filipino and Bangladeshi workers were being economically exploited by a (sub)contractor on the construction site of chemical giant Borealis in Kallo, the ball has started to roll. It turned out that there were many more victims than initially thought. They all obtained the provisional status of ‘victim of human trafficking’ and are received by the city of Antwerp.
READ ALSO. Reception of victims of human trafficking has already cost Antwerp 310,000 euros
So much for the good news, because many of them do not have a residence or work permit and are therefore in a seemingly hopeless situation. Some of the victims already obtained this status, but the majority still have not. Monday in front of Payoke’s office, which cares about the fate of the victims, they demand a structural solution to their predicament. “Don’t forget us”, they chanted.
Returning to their homeland is not one of those solutions for them. “Going back is not an option. We are in great danger in our homeland.” The activists fear reprisals from Irem, the Borealis contractor who they believe is responsible for their misery. “Irem is dangerous and could harm us,” said one of the activists.
“We have been waiting for two months,” says a Bangladeshi man who worked as a welder for the Italian company Irem, which employed people on a site of the chemical company Borealis in the port of Antwerp. “We have had no income for two months. Nobody helps us. We need an orange card from the government so we can put our skills to work.”
READ ALSO. Trapped twice: 52 victims of human trafficking hit again by malicious practices at BASF’s subcontractor
Payoke: “We are the only ones committed to victims”
Klaus Vanhoutte, director of Payoke understands the protest. “It is now time for the governments in this country to release resources to help these people. We have been screaming for that for months now.” Vanhoutte regrets that the action continues in front of Payoke. “We are the only ones, along with the other aid centers, who are committed to the victims day and night. With more resources, we could solve this crisis much faster.”
READ ALSO. Aid organization drowns in human trafficking case at Borealis wharf: “Without extra help, Payoke should do the books”
Jan Buelens, lawyer for the victims, clarifies that the action is not directed against Payoke. “This place is symbolic for us because Payoke is the point of contact for the victims. But we do focus on the government. It is now up to the government to take action.”
According to Buelens, the workers are at their wits’ end. “This cannot last a day longer,” said Buelens. “The Turkish people are still in the apartments where Irem put them. The government has been delaying for a long time and now it is up to them to get them out of this dire situation.”
According to Buelens, some colleagues of the protesting workers, whose story got in the media, were helped in contrast to the current group. That group must also still receive part of their wages, from which their rental costs may be deducted in the future. “Two months after they were discovered, there is still no help for 119 of the 174 victims. Only 55 of them have already been helped,” says Buelens. The protesting workers also point to the international ties that subcontractors such as Irem have with their local government. “Going back is signing their own death warrant, most workmen fear,” Buelens says.
If the government does not come forward with papers, there would be more actions on the agenda. “However, the solution is simple,” says the lawyer. “If the government issues them a residence document, the so-called orange card to which these victims are entitled and which the 55 others received in a month, they can find a new home and work.”