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Five Belgian police officers sent to trial over death of Semira Adamu
01 March 2002
It is reported that a Belgian court has decided on 26 March that five police officers are to be tried for the death of Semira Adamu, a Nigerian asylum-seeker, who died as police tried to subdue her on a plane when the authorities were trying to deport her in 1998.
Associated Press reports (26 March) that three face charges of assault and battery and involuntary manslaughter for allegedly pushing Adamu's head into an airline pillow just before the plane was to take off from the Brussels airport. Also sent to trial were two officers supervising the repatriation, who watched as Adamu was forcibly placed on board and strapped into a seat. The Brussels court ordered the two to face criminal negligence charges saying they let the use of violence to restrain the illegal immigrant go on far too long and should have stopped it.
Statewatch reported in 1998 on her death as follows:
"Chronicle of a Death Foretold": The causes and consequences of the death of Semira Adamu.
Statewatch bulletin, vol 8 no 5 (September-October 1998)
The death of Semira Adamu, a 20 year old Nigerian woman killed whilst being deported from Belgium, has made headline news throughout Europe, especially following the resignation of Home Affairs minister Louis Tobback. Inquiries have since revealed that Semira's death occurred as a consequence of practices which have become part of a daily routine of deportations from Belgium.
The countdown to Semira's death began over two years ago with the introduction in 1996 of a new asylum bill (see Statewatch, vol 6, no. 2, 3, 4 & 5). This new legislation (known as Vande Lanotte's law after then home office minister Johan Vande Lanotte) increased the responsibility of transport companies, making them liable for fines plus the costs of any sans-papiers brought into Belgium by them. It also allowed the indefinite incarceration of asylum seekers as well as the implementation of both the Schengen and Dublin conventions regarding safe third
The implementation of the new law led to the creation of several new asylum centres including the infamous "127bis" in Steenokkerzeel close to Zaventem airport. Although the Belgian government has since described the regime at Steenokkerzeel as "relaxed", campaigners at the time described the asylum centre as a "concentration camp" surrounded by two fences topped by razor wire. At that time one of the distinctive features of Steenokkerzeel was the arbitrary use of isolation cells to hold "unruly" asylum seekers for an indefinite period.
The new law also saw the introduction of quotas, (9,000 in 1996, 12,000 in 1997, 15,000 in 1998). In order to meet these quotas new practices were introduced to speed up deportations, such as the removal of the children of deportees straight from school. In October 1997, after resistance from deportees had led to the cancellation of deportations, a new Rijkswacht (Gendarmerie) directive in the form of a 14 page manual was issued to officers responsible for deportations allowing cushions to be put over the faces of deportees both to gag them and to prevent them from biting anyone.
This coincided roughly with the time that Semira Adamu entered the picture. Semira came from a relatively wealthy family from Lagos in southern Nigeria. She originally left Nigeria to escape an arranged marriage to a much older, polygamous man. Her eventual destination was Berlin, however the plane she was on made a stop-over at Zaventem, where Semira fell foul of the "safe third country" rule. She was then taken to Transit centre 127bis, where she was questioned for the first time on March 26 and refused entry. She appealed against this decision and after a second interview also went against her a decision was made to forcibly deport her. Semira was terrified by the thought of returning to Nigeria, where she faced not only marrying somebody against her will but also physical punishment by her family.
The authorities made five increasingly violen