Here in Brussels, the 22nd of March is a day to pause and remember – a day on which, one year ago, 32 innocent lives were taken and many more were injured. It has been a great honour to stand with the victims today as we remember those who died and continue to suffer.
Since the terrible moments of those multiple attacks, the victims and their loved ones have faced a multitude of challenges and difficulties. The loss of family and friends, terrible injuries and psychological harm. They have faced financial burdens, many practical problems and the feeling of being left alone to their plight. The attacks have victimised them once, but inadequacies in the response of governments and authorities have caused further suffering.
This is not unique to Belgium and indeed it is not unique to victims of terrorism. For 26 years, Victim Support Europe has been speaking out on before of all victims of crime – too often the forgotten ones in our responses to crime. We will continue that work on behalf of all victims whilst also focusing on specific groups in need.
Following the Paris attacks in 2015, and a series of further attacks around Europe, Victim Support Europe has acted together with its members to help ensure victims are offered the support they need and that governments and international institutions understand better their needs and best responses.
Listening to support organisations and governments after the Paris attacks, it quickly became clear that there were many foreign victims involved. Like all other victims, they needed support and information in the aftermath of an attack, yet they often struggled to receive this – even more so when they returned home.
As a first step to strengthen our support, we established an international response network, committed to offering support to victims of terrorism in most countries of the EU as well as other countries in Europe and beyond, including Canada, United States and Brazil.
Through our co-ordination with national organisations and governments, we have been able to ensure for the first time that foreign victims were proactively contacted by national victim support organisations from their home country and offered whatever assistance they needed. There is much to work on and to improve with the system, but already we cover 28 countries and are looking to expand over time so no foreign victim is left alone on their return home.
After the Brussels attacks, we were asked by Minister Vandeurzen to provide support in getting identified foreign victims in touch with victim support organisations in their countries. Using both the network and contacts with a range of other organisations was an important step in connecting victims. Yet we know many victims have still not received the help they need or are not aware of the support that is available to them. Getting information to all victims continues to be a significant challenge which must be addressed.
It has been equally important to support governments in preparing information for victim in a simple and accessible format. At Victim Support Europe, we helped in a range of ways from translating information for victims, to collecting guidelines on the judicial process, meeting with different stakeholders, and disseminating updates to support organisations in touch with victims around the world.
In Belgium, we have worked closely together with our Member, Steunpunt Algemeen Welzijnswerk and the Flemish Coordinator for support to victims of the terrorist attacks in Brussels Kurt de Backer to support their work for the victims of terrorism. Together with Steunpunt, as part of the Governments review and preparation of new laws and policies, we have worked for the last year to inform the government and parliament about the needs of victims, the problems they face and international best practices.
At the end of 2015, the European Commission also proposed European legislation on combating terrorism. That proposal missed many important aspects ways of supporting victims of terrorism. Nevertheless, to the credit of the European Parliament, in particular MEP Mrs Jiménez-Becerril Barrio, and Rapporteur Mrs Hohlmeier, and with the ongoing support of the European Commission, we were able to propose a range of amendments and ensure that key rights for victims of terrorism were included in the Directive. That legislation was adopted this month and must be in place in every Member State within 18 months.
For many countries, terrorism and mass casualty attacks are new phenomena and there has inevitably been a lack of knowledge on the specific needs of victims of terrorism and specific measures to be taken. The Belgian Federal and regional government contacted us for advice and support on those issues. In the months after the attacks, we joined with international experts from around the world to strengthen our ability to support governments and civil society in dealing with victims of terrorism. We emphasised the need for a long-term vision on support for victims of terrorism. We helped to ensure that all countries have the right systems – victim oriented systems – to be able to support the victims.. Based on those efforts, we have been able to support the Belgian government and the Belgian Parliamentary Commission in further developing policy and legislation.
During the past year, we’ve been in touch with many victims. They all have their individual story and their individual needs. Many of them have had a hard time getting the right information, finding support and being recognised as victims. We know that many of the victims felt abandoned.
It has been important therefore to not only try to join them up with support organisations and government actors, but also to give victims a voice – to ensure their experiences are heard, to maximise the chances of problems being addressed but for victims now and for future victims.
We have spoken on behalf of the victims at many conferences over the last year and held our own event last November in the European Economic Social Committee. Present before representatives from the EU and national governments, Parliamentarians and NGOs, we were proud to give the opportunity to three victims of the Brussels attacks to share their experience. These testimonies have had an important impact on both public awareness and political initiatives. Find the testimonies here.
Victim Support Europe has stood on the side of victims of the attacks in Brussels where we could. We are supporting them wherever we can to strengthen their message and amplify their voice. Touched as humans by their stories and important work we have volunteered our time to be of help where we could. We are very glad to see V-Europe and The Circles – We have the choice, two organisations set up after the terrorist attacks are doing amazing work for victims and society.
One year after the attacks on 22/3 Victim Support Europe commemorates the victims of the terrorist attacks. We know that support for the victims is needed both now and in the long term. We will always remember.