Working grant – The slavery of care: Bulgarian women working in the West as caregivers

Themabeeld 1The story focuses on the plight of cash-strapped Bulgarian women who come to Belgium and the Netherlands as posted workers to care for elderly people who want to spend the last months or years of their life in their own home, instead of in a retirement home. The investigation focuses on one of the main players on the market offering such services, Seniorcare24.

The investigation revealed that the Bulgarian women employed by this group are being exploited. Their wages are kept far below Belgian minimum standards, if paid at all. The women’s working days are marked by long hours, very little time to rest, and threats and intimidation by the company’s owners. Moreover, through a network of Belgian and Bulgarian legal entities, the company’s owners seek to evade any kind of oversight and, ultimately, legal liability.

Moreover, it is argued that, while this type of service is very much desired by elderly people, and could have real benefits for all parties involved, a framework that guarantees both the legality and affordability of such services, and the well-being of the caregivers, is currently lacking.

File number: JF/JA2A/2017/402/1

A cross-border research grant of  €5,000, allocated on 1 May 2017.


BrugneraRuben Brugnera is an independent investigative journalist, based in Brussels. His mission is to break important stories that are likely to be dismissed by day-to-day reporting and to make them accessible to a broad audience. His key interests lie in political-economic issues (corporate lobbying, regulation of technologies, health), the environment, the European Union, structural injustice and social exclusion. Ruben enjoys engaging in cross-border investigations that at the same time have a strong local or national relevance. He holds a degree in political science and economics at KU Leuven and took part in Journalismfund’s IRJ training programme.

MerriganMichaël Merrigan is based in Brussels, Belgium. He has a background in international law, human rights law and investigative journalism (Journalismfund/Pascal Decroos Fund training programme). His work is driven by a life-long fascination with the complex and often conflictual relationship between the individual and the community. As a human rights specialist with a global mindset, he focuses on in-depth investigative stories into human rights abuses and structural inequalities, especially those with an international dimension.


PostJasmijn Post is a Dutch journalist living in Brussels. She works for the local news outlet BRUZZ, where she covers, among other things, Molenbeek politics. Recent stories include those on exploited Uber drivers, smuggled Nigerian sex workers and on the people volunteering in the Brussels North Station, helping migrants. With a background in investigative journalism and cultural anthropology, she believes in giving a voice to those people otherwise not often heard. Although she loves writing news articles and interviews, making video reports and her column about art, her heart goes out to long investigative and well-written stories.

VaglenovStanimir Ivanov Kumurdjiev (also known as Stanimir Vaglenov) is the online projects manager at Media Group Bulgaria and manages more than 50 online media channels, including websites, social channels and more. Ivanov Kumurdjiev’s investigations have covered Osama Bin Laden’s network in the Balkans, money laundering, organised crime, the theft of European funds, the baby trade and arms dealer Viktor Bout. He was also part of several ICIJ projects including Offshore Leaks and Big Tobacco Smuggling. In 2007 he founded the Bulgarian Investigative Journalism Centre in Sofia. He has won numerous journalism prizes, including the Daniel Pearl Award and a Global Shining Light Award as part of the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. Ivanov Kumurdjiev published a book, Свалят правителството! (Overthrow the government!) – a collection of his work – and teaches investigative journalism at Sofia University “St Kliment Ohridski”.

HofkensAnoek Hofkens is an editor (online and TV) at the Dutch daily talk show Jinek. Prior to that, she worked for the feminist monthly magazine Opzij, NRC Next and OneWorld. She has been on several reporting missions abroad, including the United States (2017), Suriname (2010, 2012, 2014) and Uganda (2013). Her work focuses on global developments from the perspective of the individual. She studied Cultural Anthropology at Utrecht University and Journalism at the Fontys College for Journalism.




Fraude met Bulgaarse vrouwen in de ouderenzorg (BE) – Knack, 30 May 2018

Fraude met Bulgaarse vrouwen in ouderenzorg: zwoegen voor 400 euro per maand (BE) – Knack, 30 May 2018

Bulgarians Accused of Practicing Modern Slavery in Senior Care in Belgium (BG) – Bivol, 30 May 2018

Българи експлоатирали домашни асистенти за възрастни в Белгия (BG) – Bivol, 30 May 2018

Onderzoek Uitbuiting in de zorg (NL) – De Groene Amsterdammer, 13 June 2018

Непосилна грижа срещу 400 евро на месец (BG) – 24 Chasa, 14 June 2018

How to get around the EU posted workers directive – EUObserver, 20 June 2018



Fraude met bejaardenzorg, (BE), Telefacts (VTM), 30 mei 2018


Watch the full documentary here, Telefacts (VTM), 30 May 2018

Secondary publications

‘Moderne slavernij’ in de Belgische ouderenzorg (BE) – De Standaard, 30 May 2018

Peeters zit samen met Bulgaren over fraude met zorg (BE) – De Tijd, 31 May 2018

Jo Vandeurzen: ‘Activiteiten Bulgaars zorgbedrijf moeten eindigen’ – Knack, 30 May 2018

Fraude met Bulgaarse vrouwen in Belgische ouderenzorg –, 30 May 2018

Importante fraude dans les soins aux seniors impliquant une société bulgare – Le journal du Médicin, 30 May 2018

Fraude dans les soins aux seniors: Kris Peeters travaille avec les autorités bulgares – Ciel FM, 30 May 2018

Esclavagisme moderne et arnaque dans une société de services pour seniors – 7sur7, 30 May 2018

Quand une société bulgare arnaque les seniors belges (et leurs soignants) – Paris Match, 30 May 2018

Fraude dans les soins aux seniors: Kris Peeters travaille avec les autorités bulgares – RTBF, 30 May 2018


Debate in Flemish Parliament during plenary session –, 30 May 2018

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