Throughout Europe, where there is a concentration of foreigners, including illegal immigrants, their conducts and activities become a burden to the government and the police. That’s where most of the citizens take the advantage to commit crimes against foreigners with impunity.
Accommodation and advocacy frauds
The ugly civil war in Sierra Leone and ethnic conflicts in Africa, forced many to the shores of Europe, with hundreds of refugees ending up in Antwerp, Belgium. It was this hectic period; some lawyers thought it is an opportunity to make money from immigrants, struggling for documents in Antwerp.
Some of the lawyers embraced criminality and went further to deceive some of the foreigners, to secure them Belgium passports and took thousand Euros each from them. Desperate people do desperate things. Without any slight knowledge that it was a fraud and gaining confidence in the lawyers, many paid the money to the lawyers.
The victims many of them Africans couldn’t tell their ordeal to the police, but I had all the information from them in my single room beneath a three storey building in a quiet neighborhood in Antwerp. Fortunately or unfortunately, one of the victims, David, was a man I knew very well before his family came from the Republic of Togo to join him.
The syndrome of lawless Antwerp didn’t only affect some of its lawyers but the police and some landlords, who stole money from foreigners they rent houses to. Leona Détigé, the female mayor of Antwerp, did well to correct the issues, known in Belgium as ‘Huisjesmelkers’ ‘that is landlords that milk money from tenants’ but the police under her administration disappointed her.
Like many places, houses rented to people in Belgium is accompanied by three months payment in advance, as a guarantee to take good care of the place. Some good landlords give back money to tenants when leaving the house without any problem, but some steal the money with false charges that you’ve damaged this or that.
The latter is the type of Belgian who rented his house to me. In fact, since it’s his wish to steal, he rents his rooms only to foreigners, because he knew they are scared to death to go to the police station to lodge a complaint.
Belgian landlord flees leaving his car behind.
In the same apartment where I lived was a Nepalese couple on the third floor. When his pregnant wife, could no longer climb the stairs, as the law requires, he gave the landlord three months notice that he will be leaving the house because of his wife’s pregnancy. When the time arrived for him to leave the house, the criminal landlord refused to give his amount of 27,000 Belgium francs, about 669 Euros.
Taking someone’s money is not my business, but when he stole my 9,000 Belgium franc, out of the 27,000 I gave him, I took it as a serious crime to follow up. I confronted him but he refused to give me my money. I told him squarely that I am not a Nepalese but a different African. He thought that was a bluff because of underestimation.
Without his knowledge, I sent a registered letter to the then mayor of Antwerp, Leona Détigé to tell her what the landlord was doing against foreigners. The mayor forwarded the letter to the Antwerp police to handle the case. I was working when the Antwerp’s police branch in Handel street, called me to come to their office. Before going to the office, the police told me to bring all the people, the landlord has stolen their money.
I contacted two African victims. The mere mention of police made them soft like a sugar in a hot tea. They refused to join me to the police station. They claimed that could affect them in the future if the government decides to deny them documents to live in Belgium. The only person who agreed to go to the police station with me was the Nepalese. He was a victim and my only witness.
At the police station, we were interrogated and both of us narrated our experiences with the crook landlord. Being a Belgian, the police refused to do anything positive for us. All that the police boss could say is “If we know that the man steals money from foreigners, why did we rent his house?” That was the end of the case. We left the police station disappointed.
Since the police didn’t take any action, I knew the fraud would persist with his schemes, so I chose to take the law into my own hands in a nonviolent but innovating way. Tenants kept moving in because he had written on the house “Te Huur,” meaning to rent. I boldly printed posters that read “Don’t be a victim. The owner of this house is a criminal who steals ‘waarborg’ of foreigners. Be wise and keep away from this house.” I posted them in Dutch and English, all over the house and the glass windows.
I checked them daily if the posters are still there. Sometimes I came to see them removed and then I paste fresh ones. Once I was putting fresh posters on the window when I spotted a police van behind me. The two policemen in the van stopped to read the poster on the window, without a question they moved away. I did this continuously for several weeks.
Another time, I was coming to see if the posters were on the windows, when I saw the landlord, removing away the posters from the windows. As I hastily headed to meet him, he abandoned his car and fled towards the central train station, terrified. I don’t know how old he was, but he was the fastest runner I had ever seen. I couldn’t get him when I gave him a hot chase.
I came back to where he left his car and deflated one of the car tires to prevent him from escaping. I waited for him over two hours but he never came back. I left and went home. In the morning when I came back the car was gone. I continued to post the warnings on the windows for three months. This hurt his business so badly that no one rented the house for a very long time.
Eventually, I rented a new apartment at the outskirts of Antwerp to have my peace, but the vindictive landlord was able to trace me to my new place and report me to the police in the community I lived. I received a letter to come to the police for interrogation. The police on duty read my charges and asked me if I understand the contents of the letter. “It’s a serious crime.” He said.
I told the officer, the Antwerp’s branch of their office knew about the case and was in charge of the investigation. He asked for a proof of my claim, but I didn’t have it with me, so he asked me to go home and bring it. When I finally presented them to him and satisfied, he told me to go home.
Joel Savage to appear in court
When the landlord heard that I’ve been set free, he was mad. He sent the case to court. In a letter of summons to appear in court, his lawyer stated that I wasn’t living in his house any longer, but I continued to post things on his apartment windows and doors, which had prevented people from renting the house and cost him revenue. His client filed for a compensation for almost three hundred Euros. I refused to appear in court, instead sent a registered letter attached to the police report of the case.
I asked the lawyer to judge, who really should be compensated in this situation, thereafter I didn’t hear from any of them again. Whatever happens to me benefits me. If you want a story which will keep you laughing till your stomach bursts, fight with your mind if this or that really happened and keep you in suspense, then I recommend ‘Little Belgium-Wonderful Experience.’