Councilor from anti-immigration party ‘sold visas to refugees’

  21 January 2019    Read: 1697
Councilor from anti-immigration party ‘sold visas to refugees’

A Belgian local politician from an anti-immigrant party that rails against asylum seekers has been arrested on suspicion of selling humanitarian visas to refugees, the Independent reported.

Melikan Kucam, a city councillor in Mechelen from the Flemish National Alliance (N-VA) is alleged to have charged people up to €20,000 for a Belgian visa, according to prosecutors.

Mr Kucam has been charged with trafficking, corruption and extortion.

The N-VA describes itself on its website as “one of the few parties in Belgium that dares to start a strong debate about identity, citizenship, community, integration, [and] immigration”.

Senior figures in the party have previously responded to the refugee crisis by decrying the “pampering of illegals”, pledged to “clean up” immigrant areas, and condemned “open border NGOs”.

A lengthy investigation by Belgian news programme Pano alleged that the councillor Mr Kucam used his influence in Mechelen’s refugee community to obtain lists of people fleeing their homes from the war in Syria.

He then acted as an intermediary for the Belgian government, and is said to have demanded a large fee for them to be placed on a green list of people eligible for visas. This list was then forwarded to the Belgian government’s immigration ministry, which was run by his party.

“All witnesses told the same story, independently of each other,” the Pano progframme said. “And, each time, Melikan Kucam was referred to as the key figure of the whole event.”

Belgium’s asylum system has until now allowed such intermediaries – such as church groups and community leaders already in Belgium – to green-light certain visa applications.

Following the story coming to light, Belgium’s new immigration minister Maddie DeBlock said Belgium would now only accept applications for humanitarian visas from the UN refugee programme to minimise the risk of any future corruption. This effectively ends the intermediary system.

"Working through an intermediary has created victims," she said. "Giving money for a humanitarian visa is totally wrong."

Mr Kucam's lawyer, Frank Coel, told Belgian broadcaster VRT: “He emphatically denies that he would have asked for any sum of money, accepted or whatever to put people on lists to make them come over here.

“Possibly large sums of money were paid to passers-by and travel agencies, who had to transfer people from Syria to Lebanon, not to Kucam. And this information my client reported to the cabinet of Theo Francken [then immigration minister] in July.”

Theo Francken, a high-profile member of the NV-A who severed as the country’s immigration minister at the time of the alleged corruption, said he “did not have any indication that something was wrong”. The Pano journalists emphasised that they were not accusing Mr Francken of anything.

In a statement posted on twitter the former minister said he stood by his immigration policies and that the intermediary system was useful. 

“If abuse is made then it is unpardonable and must be punished hard,” he said.

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