Belgian church apologises to mestizos

Belgium's Roman Catholic Church has apologised to mestizo children for the role that Roman Catholic orders and institutions played during the colonial period. The Bishop of Antwerp, Johan Bonny, voiced the apology during a colloquium in the Belgian senate this week.

Mestizos are the children of European fathers and African mothers. In Congo, Rwanda and Burundi there was no place for these children as blacks and whites were supposed to live completely separate lives. African mothers were pressurised to give up their children. Sometimes described as "the children of sin", they ended up in Roman Catholic institutions in Africa.

In the Fifties hundreds of children from these institutions were brought to Belgium ending up in orphanages or with foster parents. They grew up in Belgium, but often possessed no birth certificate. Their nationality was removed and they had no contact with their parents or African family. Often they were kept from even knowing the identity of their parents. Organisations representing mestizos have been calling on Belgium to recognise their suffering and provide compensation.

The colloquium heard accounts of the fate of Belgian mestizos. The bishops called on Roman Catholic bodies in Belgium, Africa and Rome to release all information that could help mestizos to establish their true identity.

The Bishop of Antwerp, Johan Bonny: "Far-reaching segregation didn't do the mestizos any good. They were removed from their homes. Existing archive material that could allow people to identify their African mother should be made available. All restrictions on access to official documents should be lifted."

The Belgian authorities too are being asked to provide access to documents from the colonial period. Political parties represented at the colloquium want to support a parliamentary resolution urging Belgium to tackle the problems of the mestizos, recognise their suffering and prepare an official apology.