Almost 500 people have barricaded themselves in a church in Brussels and have refused to eat for over 60 days. Now there are also those who have stopped drinking. They ask for political asylum and documents. So far, no concessions from the executive.
The Belgian government is under pressure to grant political asylum to a group of migrants who have been on hunger strike for 60 days with some of them in serious health conditions. After more than 50 days of hunger strike, some of the migrants without a residence permit locked up in the church of St. John the Baptist at the Beguinage in Brussels have started the thirst strike. The extreme gesture marks the new climax of a protest that began last January 30, when a group of irregular foreigners occupied thehe parish in the center of the Belgian capital and the premises of the two main city universities: the Universit Libre and the Vrije Universiteit of Brussels.
The number of occupiers sans papiers (as irregular migrants are called in Belgium) soon grew to the current 475, who never leave the protest sites. Many of them have lived in Belgium for over 10 years, a lady who has occupied the church for even 33 years , explains Mohamed Alex, spokesman for L’Union des sans-papiers pour la regularisation, the movement born on the occasion of the occupation and which unites irregular people with the people who support them. Among the latter there are also students, researchers, university professors, lawyers and many ordinary people.
On Monday, two UN officials urged the Belgian government to offer temporary residence permits to hunger strikers. The information we have received is alarming and many of the hunger strikers are between life and death, said the UN special rapporteur on human rights and poverty, Olivier De Schutter. About 150,000 sans papiers live in Belgium, according to the campaign group We Are Belgium Too, which calls for the regularization of undocumented migrants, many of whom are said to have been in the country for five to 10 years or more.
The avalanche political controversy puts the government in jeopardy, after the socialists have threatened to leave the coalition of seven parties. Pierre-Yves Dermagne, deputy prime minister, said he and other socialist ministers would leave the government if one of the strikers were to die. In recent hours, the Belgian minister for asylum and migration, Sammy Mahdi, praised the establishment by the Municipality of Brussels of a neutral zone near the occupied church, where irregular migrants can go to get information on their administrative situation and on the procedures necessary for regularization. Mahdi, the son of an Iraqi refugee who fled to Belgium in the 1970s, has so far denied any concessions in favor of irregular hunger strikers. There are 150,000 undocumented migrants in our country and it would not be fair to treat 400 people differently, he reiterated on Thursday. Obviously, we are doing everything to ensure that there are no deaths, he explained regarding the health conditions of the occupants. But the risk is there: about fifty people started the thirst strike last night and one of those occupying the church felt ill, could no longer get up and needed assistance, the movement spokesman said.
Premier De Croo expressed full confidence in his minister, while allies of his Flemish liberal party threatened to overthrow the government, calling Mahdi’s position irresponsible and incomprehensible. Not the first time that the migration issue has created problems for executives in Belgium. The latest government led by the French-speaking liberal Charles Michel, which fell on this issue and on the Global Compact migration pactAnd now the political controversy is rekindled as Belgium celebrates a day of national mourning for the victims of last week’s devastating floods.
July 21, 2021 (change July 21, 2021 | 13:06)