The Challenges of Living in a Safe House: A Minister’s Perspective

2023-08-08 17:20:00

It was a first in Belgium: a minister in office had to live in a Safe House with his family because of threats made against him. It was last year. In an interview with the weekly Humo published on Tuesday, Vincent Van Quickenborne, Minister of Justice (Open VLD) returned to this particularly complicated period of his life, for him as for his wife and their children aged 4 and 7. .

Vincent Van Quickenborne is not the only politician who has been the subject of threats deemed serious this year and having resulted in judicial investigations as well as arrest warrants.

Last month is the Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open VLD) who was threatened. An ex-Belgian soldier was arrested in Norway. It was delivered to Belgium last week. In May, seven Chechens were arrested while planning an attack on the mayor of Antwerp, Bart De Wever (N-VA). “Our security system is working excellently,” Van Quickenborne said, citing the Sky ECC and Qatargate investigations.

A hundred people under police protection, including ministers and judges

It was last September that a kidnapping plan against Mr. Van Quickenborne and his family was discovered. “Just after a meeting with Bart De Wever dedicated to the fight against drug crime, I received the message that a vehicle had been discovered 100 meters from my house with weapons, straps and petrol . The day before, the federal prosecutor had warned me that there was something wrong”, explains Mr. Van Quickenborne to Humo.

The cordoned off neighborhood

It was then very fast. The family has been placed under protection 24 hours a day. “Our bodyguards weren’t in the Safe House but they sealed off the area. Every move from us outside was tracked.”

The family has been under protection twice. The first time, it lasted a week. The second, more than a month.

”We couldn’t celebrate Christmas and the New Year with our family. Our children could not go to school, could not see their friends or exercise a hobby outside. It was very heavy. I was relieved when I saw my daughter’s final report card in June. She is in the first year of primary school and was unable to take a test in December. She saw a psychologist for a while because she was scared. She mistook security guards for muggers. My 4 year old son no longer dared sleep in the dark, the light had to stay on all the time. Now this can be a night light. I notice that they both managed this period well, they don’t talk about it anymore”, explains the minister.

“New elements have surfaced”: the residence of Minister Van Quickenborne again placed under close surveillance

Mr. Van Quickenborne concedes: he was also afraid. But the strict security measures have secured him: “I knew it: it happens to me because we are on their heels. Many foreign colleagues sent me messages: ‘Don’t bend, persevere!’”

sleepless nights

The minister and his wife spent sleepless nights: “Anouk (his wife) often asked me: ‘When will this end? When can we see our family again? But this threat has made us stronger. In the Safe House, I got to know my children better. Our bond is stronger than ever. Anouk never asked me to stop. When it was too difficult for me, she would text me to tell me that I shouldn’t give up. But sometimes, despair also won me over. The former Dutch Minister of Justice also had to go into hiding”.

Threatened, Van Quickenborne confides from his “safe house”: “For the family, it’s very hard”

From September to February, the minister and his family were extremely restricted in their movements. “We had to report any movement 24 hours in advance. Even a short walk was done under accompaniment. One day, we received a call from Brussels because my children were playing near our house with the neighbor’s dog. They could not. Fortunately, the threat level has now dropped. I can move more freely again.”

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