The public prosecutor’s office in Antwerp opened an investigation after the discovery of 55 workers originally from the Philippines and Bangladesh working in conditions of modern slavery on a construction site in the Belgian port city.
The investigation was entrusted to a section of the prosecutor’s office specialised in labour crimes, which confirmed that “55 potential victims” are to be heard.
Such a large number of people exploited at a single workplace is unprecedented in Belgium, according to the Payoke centre, an association specialized in assisting victims of human trafficking, writes Agerpres.
The men worked in the port of Antwerp as welders and pipe fitters, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office said, without specifying the name of the company involved.
According to the local press, they were placed under the authority of a subcontractor company of the chemical manufacturer Borealis in Beveren, near Antwerp.
The 55 are mostly Filipinos, and about two weeks ago some of them complained to the Philippine consulate in Antwerp about their situation, Director Payoke explained to AFP.
The workers “received between two and four euros per hour of work, that is around 600 euros per month. It is clear that they were in a very precarious situation”, noted Klaus Vanhoutte, who heads one of the three centres in Belgium hosting victims of modern slavery.
The network that exploits these Asian workers takes them through several European countries, with work permits issued in Hungary and Poland. Some of them already worked in Germany and a group were preparing to go to Greece, Vanhoutte said.
This file “is only the tip of the iceberg”, commented the minister of justice, Vincent Van Quicken borne, quoted by the Belga press agency.
The Belgian minister recalled that in Belgium there are “23,000 victims of exploitation or modern slavery”, according to the Global Slavery Index published annually by the non-governmental organization Walk Free Foundation.
Therefore, we call on the Belgian government and all European governments to fight this scourge and to bring those involved in such cases to justice.