Acknowledging an ugly history, Belgium apologizes for taking mixed-race children from African colonies

The nation's prime minister said his country takes responsibility for the removal and displacement of groups of 'métis' children decades ago as part of a brutal, racist policy

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel

Belgium’s prime minister has formally apologized Thursday — on behalf of the nation — for the kidnapping and forced adoption of thousands of children from former Belgian colonies in Central Africa.

According to The New York Times, Prime Minister Charles Michel took responsibility for the atrocities committed decades ago in remarks to Parliament.

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It has been nearly 60 years since the nations of of Burundi, Congo and Rwanda became independent following decades of Belgian colonial rule. However, this will mark the first time the country both acknowledges and takes responsibility for the harm systemically inflicted on the children of those nations.

Michel’s apology will be directed to the estimated 20,000 children born to Belgian settlers and local women during colonial rule. Known as “métis” children, once kidnapped from their mothers and violently taken to Belgium in the late 1950s, these captives were not granted Belgian nationality, and therefore considered stateless.

The Guardian reported that two years ago the Catholic Church apologized for the part it played in bringing métis children to Belgium. This more universal apology comes on the heels of a measure passed by Belgian lawmakers in 2018 urging the government to open its colonial archives and help the métis children — many now in their 60s and 70s — track down their birth documents and trace their family histories in their homelands.

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“Throughout Belgian colonial Africa, a system of targeted segregation of métis and their families was maintained by the Belgian state and acts were committed that violated the fundamental rights of peoples,” said Michel.

“This is why, in the name of the federal government, I recognize the targeted segregation of which métis people were victims.”

“In the name of the federal government,” Michel added, “I present our apologies to the métis stemming from the Belgian colonial era and to their families for the injustices and the suffering inflicted upon them.”

“I also wish to express our compassion for the African mothers, from whom the children were taken.”

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