ANTWERP - In the summer of 2022, 174 Filipino, Turkish and Bangladeshi workers were discovered to be working illegally at Antwerp port in Belgium. It was the biggest number of modern slaves discovered in the country. Newspapers called it an ‘unprecedented case.’ This story looks at the ordeal of exploited workers, the routes of trafficking between Asia into Belgium which many have fallen victim to. 

The public was shocked to find out that this many modern slaves lived  so close to home, working for Borealis, an Austrian multinational and European conglomerate. 

Antwerp is becoming a destination for cheap labor, with migration patterns showing evidence of this. Hence it's also a trafficking destination for trafficking. It's been happening for a while, the same pattern has emerged in the Netherlands and Germany: Asian skilled laborers sent to Eastern Europe then trafficked westward. And the Borealis case has blown the matter wide open.

Stakeholders feel The Belgian authorities aren't keen on admitting there is a trafficking problem. Doing so could be very expensive, not to mention damaging to their public image. The companies involved in the trafficking might go unpunished.

The team spoke with workers, the shelter, the lawyers involved in the case, civil society groups and parliamentarians looking to change Belgian laws on trafficking. 

The case spotlights the voices of workers and their continuing ordeal. It also looks at the reasons and patterns behind the trafficking of non-EU citizens into Belgium. 

© Michael Beltran

Team members

Michael Beltran

Michael Beltran is a freelance journalist from the Philippines. 

Michael Beltran

Goele Vandenberghe

Goele Vandenberghe (°1987) is a freelance Belgian journalist and videojournalist based in the Netherlands. 

Goele Vandenberghe

Muhammad Owasim Uddin Bhuyan

Muhammad Owasim Uddin Bhuyan is an award-winning journalist from Bangladesh. 

Muhammad Owasim Uddin Bhuyan

Juliana Ruhfus

Juliana Ruhfus is an award-winning broadcaster and investigative journalist based in the UK.

Juliana Ruhfus
€13.800 allocated on 03/10/2022

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