Migrant hunger strike puts pressure on Belgian government

Hundreds of undocumented migrants are on a month-long hunger strike to draw attention to their plight

Leonie Chao-Fong
Wednesday 30 June 2021 14:17
<p>A woman on hunger strike rests as she occupies with others a space of the VUB Dutch-speaking university in Brussels</p>

A woman on hunger strike rests as she occupies with others a space of the VUB Dutch-speaking university in Brussels

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Hundreds of undocumented migrants living in Belgium have been on a month-long hunger strike in protest against the way their asylum requests are being processed.

The hunger strike began on 23 May at the Free Universities in Brussels and the Beguinage church in the centre of the capital with numbers estimated at between 200 to 400.

Undocumented migrants in Belgium have been fighting for years for legal recognition and the right to work. Some of the strikers say they have been living and working in the country for more than a decade but have no access to proper healthcare or benefits.

The Belgian government has said it will not negotiate with the strikers and have called for an end to the action.

State secretary for asylum and migration, Sammy Mahdi, said work was being done to improve the application system for people seeking to stay in Belgium.

“They say that there are 150,000 living here illegally, and the 200 people that decide to stop eating should be regularized individually? What would be the result?” he told VRT network. “A week later you get 200, 2,000, 20,000 people who would do exactly the same.

“That’s not the way to go about it.”

To highlight their plight, some migrants had their lips sewn together this week and are only accepting small amounts of liquids through a straw.

A volunteer medical support group who have set up a makeshift aid situation has insisted the situation is critical with the strikers suffering “heart problems, renal problems, psychological difficulties and several suicide attempts.”

Several protests have taken place in Brussels in support of the migrants, who are requesting to be regularised by the Belgian government as well as to be incorporated into professions facing labour shortages and sectors that have struggled to fill vacancies during the coronavirus pandemic.

One striker, Ahmed, told Euronews: “ ”I sometimes wonder how our government can sleep when it has so many people starving, dying and suffering. They are in a state of agony and it continues to sleep peacefully.”

The Socialist and Green coalition partners have called for a more flexible approach that could give the strikers a better chance at obtaining the necessary legal papers.

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