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Brussels: Protests over UN migration pact turn violent

Around 5,500 members of far-right groups in Belgium turned out onto the streets of Brussels to protest against the recent UN migration pact on 16 December. Protests started in front of the headquarters of the European Union in Brussels and were said to be organised by Belgian right-wing groups.

Demonstrators held banners with slogans such as,

“Our people first”

“We have had enough, close the borders”

Firecrackers, paving stones and street furniture were thrown at Belgian security forces near the European Commission building. In response police used water cannons and tear gas to stop the demonstrators.

Reports say that at least 90 people have been arrested and six are to face criminal charges.
Dries Van Langenhove, from the nationalist youth organisation Schild en Vrienden said the protestors wanted to,

“Raise our voice against the Marrakech pact. We think the decision was not made in a democratic way, with a minority in government and a minority of the Belgian people,” he said.

“That’s what we are protesting against.”

A peaceful counter demonstration organised by left wing groups and NGOs in favour of the UN migration pact took place in Brussels city centre and attracted a crowd of around 1,000 people.

Naomi Stocker, one of the counter-protestors told the BBC,

“They advertise hate and discrimination and are violent. We want to warn people and send a different message.”

Belgian government tensions

The protests come after Belgium has faced a number of internal political issues recently. Only last week Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel had to reshuffle his government as the Belgian right-wing party quit over the UN migration pact. The Flemish-speaking N-VA – New Flemish Alliance – are a nationalist and conservative political party founded in 2001. Until their exit last week, they held 4/12 of the Flemish seats in European Parliament.

After Prime Minister Charles Michel vowed to take part in the Marrakech Migration Pact talks leader of the N-VA party, Bart de Weaver, announced his party’s withdrawal from parliament, to which Michel responded,

“I stand by my word, I will leave for Marrakech.”

Michel’s government followed suit and voted in favour of maintaining support for the migration agreement. Following the departure of the N-VA, Michel will now have to reform his government in elections that are scheduled to take place in May to ensure that it has an equal number of French and Flemish speaking ministers as per Belgian law.

The UN Migration pact

The UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is a wide-ranging framework for international co-operation that has 23 objectives aimed at making global migration safer for the millions of people that are on the move. Signed in Marrakech last week, it is the first ever deal on the migration crisis to be signed by a majority of UN member states, with objections to the pact led by the United States. The pact was approved by delegates from 164 nations and came after an 18-month long debate on how to coordinate action on migration around the world.

Pope Francis demonstrated support for the agreement and urged the international community to show,

“responsibility, solidarity and compassion” in dealing with migrants.

EU-wide right-wing backlash

The pact was initially rejected by President Trump last year. Austria, Chile, the Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary Poland, Latvia, Slovakia, and the Dominican Republic have all pulled out of the pact.

Belgium is one of many EU states to face internal opposition the migration pact. Marine le Pen, leader of France’s far-right front National party rejected the pact at an event in Brussels last week.

“The country that signs the pact obviously signs a pact with the devil,” Ms Le Pen said.

Steve Bannon, former adviser to the US president, Donald Trump, also denounced the pact. Attending an event hosted by the right-wing Flemish nationalist party, the Vlaams Belang where far-right leaders including Le Pen gathered. Bannon praised leaders such as Trump, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Marine Le Pen, saying,

“They call us racists no matter what we do,” Bannon said, according to Belgian media. “But it’s not up to workers in Hungary, France and the U.S. to resolve African problems.”

Comments such as these reflect the critics perspective that the migration pact could increase immigration to Europe. This unwarranted fear expressed in the outbreak of violence and protests reflects the rapid and shocking rise of extreme right-wing populism in Europe.

The UN Migration pact is due to be ratified at the UN Headquarters in New York on 19 December.

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