Ambulances are driving away one by one from the Catholic Church of St. John the Baptist in the beguinage in the historic center of Brussels, taking away migrants exhausted by the hunger strike, who have been refusing to leave the church for several weeks.
About 450 people who have been living in Belgium for many years, but have not received legal documents in the kingdom, declared a hunger strike at the end of last month. Having failed to achieve concessions from the authorities, many have already refused not only food, but also water this week.
Inside the temple, on both sides of the central hall, dozens of men are lying on mattresses or just on blankets-mostly natives of North Africa: Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. Closer to the altar part, women were located separately from the men behind the partition.
From time to time, Belgian deputies, representatives of the European Parliament, and non-governmental organizations come to the hunger strikers. They interview the protesters, make notes and take pictures, but they do not promise to help. The issue is now in the hands of the Belgian government and parliament, but there is no solution to this problem yet.
46-year-old Algerian Kamel to that he has been living in Europe for 27 years, 16 of them in Belgium. He speaks both French and Dutch fluently and claims that he has tried many professions in Belgium – from a builder to a waiter in a pizzeria.
“They take illegal immigrants to work, but they pay less… Many people are paid only six euros per hour, ” says the immigrant.
He claims that he is quite able to provide for himself, but he cannot arrange his personal life without documents. “I would like to have a family, but without documents, without a residence permit and a national identification number, it is impossible to do it officially,” Kamal said. “Neither I nor all those who are starving here need refugee status, we do not want to receive benefits and live at the expense of others, we just need documents, at least temporary, to live normally.”
Ayoub, a 30-year-old Moroccan, arrived in Belgium four years ago. He has the profession of a nurse in demand in Belgium, is ready to take care of seriously ill people, but also faced difficulties when applying for a residence permit.
“We don’t even know by what criteria requests for a residence permit are considered, how and for what reason those who have been living and working for many years are refused,” says Ayoub.
All eyes are now focused on the Secretary of State responsible for the dossier of migrants and the granting of asylum, Sami Mahdi. The youngest member of the Cabinet of Ministers (32 years old) Mahdi himself is the son of a political migrant from Iraq who arrived in Belgium in the 70s. His photos are pasted on the walls of the church with appeals to resolve the issue as soon as possible.
According to the participants of the action, the Mahdi never came to talk to the hunger strikers, but on the eve he appointed a negotiator on this issue.
Earlier, he said that there will be no collective decision on granting a temporary residence permit to the hungry, everyone should apply to the internal affairs bodies independently. “There will be no collective settlement. The action and the hunger strike will not change the rules. Everyone who does not have registration should apply individually to review their dossier,” the Belgian official said.
According to him, if you give an exception a residence permit to those who are starving, then “the next day all the churches will be filled with starving people.”
Nevertheless, a step towards it has been made. Not far from the place of the hunger strike, the authorities have opened a bureau that will accept the documents of migrants for consideration, but without a guarantee of a positive solution to the issue.
The Belgian media claim that the hunger strike in the center of Brussels has exacerbated the contradictions within the coalition government. In particular, the Social Party and environmentalists can recall their ministers if the hunger strike of illegal immigrants eventually leads to deaths among its participants.
According to the charity organization “Doctors of the World,” which provides medical assistance to the hungry, this may happen very soon. “We can no longer prevent the tragic development of events, given the refusal of the starving from water and their psychological state. It is urgently necessary to find a way out and put an end to this hunger strike, which from a medical point of view already has very serious consequences,” the organization said in a statement.
According to various sources, about 150 thousand foreigners who do not have official registration live in Belgium. At the same time, they are actively working in many sectors of the economy, in particular, in construction, where there are not enough workers.