Belgian mayor seeks to ban male asylum seekers from pool

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A Belgian mayor said he would propose banning male refugees from a swimming pool for a month on Monday after complaints from female bathers, earning a swift rebuke from the migration minister who said it would be ill-advised.

A migrant walks inside a makeshift camp outside a foreign office where migrants register, in Brussels, Belgium October 1, 2015. REUTERS/Yves Herman

The proposal underlined an increasingly highly-charged debate over immigration in Europe, particularly since authorities in neighboring Germany accused gangs of migrants of sexually assaulting women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve.

“We had women complain because they felt stared at and selfies had been taken with them. It’s escalating. We never had any complaints before,” said Marc Vanden Bussche, mayor of the coastal town of Kokzijde.

Bussche said he had decided to act after police were called in to investigate an Iraqi man who had caught an 11-year-old girl as she came off a slide.

The politician from the Dutch-speaking liberal party Open VLD, said he would propose a one-month ban at a council meeting on Monday to allow tempers to cool. The town recently took in 300 asylum seekers.

“In the meantime we will teach them about our way of life and explain the rules of the pool to them,” he said, adding the ban would not affect children and their mothers.

Belgium’s state secretary for migration, Theo Francken, advised against the move.

“It’s never wise to punish a whole group for the transgressions of a few,” he said in a tweet. “Asylum seekers live in open centers, they’re free to go swimming. But hands off!”

The German town of Bornheim, 30 km (19 miles) south of Cologne, temporarily banned male asylum seekers from its pool this month after receiving complaints of sexual harassment.

More than 600 women in Cologne and other cities filed complaints ranging from sexual molestation to theft in attacks on the New Year’s weekend. Police have said their investigations are focused on illegal migrants from North Africa and asylum-seekers.

Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Andrew Heavens