Concern over a week-long hunger strike by hundreds of undocumented migrants in the Belgian capital intensifies after four men sewn their lips this week to underscore their demands for legal recognition and access to labor and social services.
Humanitarians say more than 400 migrants, holed up in two Brussels universities and a baroque church in the heart of the city, stopped eating on May 23 and that many are now very weak.
Many migrants, mostly from South Asia and North Africa, have been in Belgium for years, some for more than a decade, but say their livelihoods have been endangered by the COVID-19 closures that resulted in job losses. .
“We sleep like rats,” said Kiran Adhikeri, a Nepalese migrant who worked as a chef until restaurants closed due to the pandemic. “I have a headache, an upset stomach, my whole body is full of pain.
“I beg [the Belgian authorities], thank you for giving us access to work, like the others. I want to pay taxes, I want to raise my child here in this modern city, “he told Reuters news agency, gesturing from his makeshift bed to where other strikers hungry people were lying on mattresses in the crowded room.
Many appeared emaciated as health workers tended to them, using saline drops to keep them hydrated and tending to the lips of those who sewed their mouths together in an attempt to show they did not have their own. have a say in their fate.
The Belgian government has said it will not negotiate with the hunger strikers over their application for official residence.
Deputy Minister for Asylum and Migration Sammy Mahdi told Reuters on Tuesday that the government would not agree to regularize the status of the 150,000 undocumented migrants in Belgium, but that it is ready to speak with the strikers on their fate.
“Life is never a price to pay and people have been to the hospital before. That’s why I really want to try to convince all the people and organizations behind it to make sure they don’t give no false hopes, “said Mahdi, when asked about the hunger strikers.
“There are rules and regulations … whether it’s around education, whether it’s around jobs, whether it’s around migration. Politics must have rules.”
Europe was caught off guard in 2015 when more than a million migrants reached the bloc’s shores, overwhelming social security and protection networks and instigating far-right sentiment.
The European Union has proposed an overhaul of the bloc’s migration and asylum rules to ease the burden on countries bordering the Mediterranean, but many governments prefer to tighten borders and asylum laws rather than welcome newcomers.