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Thursday, December 7, 2023

‘We are not slaves’: Brussels’ migrant hunger-strike

Undocumented migrants are refusing water as part of a wider strike at a baroque church and university campus in Brussels.

“We are people, we need to be treated with humanity and not like slaves,” 53-year old electrician Ahmed, pictured above, told EUobserver over the weekend.

Ahmed asked not to have his last name published. He is not among those refusing water.

But a handful have stitched their lips together. Most have been refusing food since 23 May, amid an on-going standoff with the federal government.

Some 475 undocumented migrants, from mostly south Asia and north Africa, are demanding a clear path to legal residency, with many having lived and worked in Belgium for years.

Among them is Ahmed who is from Morocco. He says he has been working in Belgium for almost 10 years, doing 16-hour shifts for €50.

“We have been subjected to arrests and disproportionate violence,” he said, of the Belgium police.

The issue, at the Free Universities in Brussels (VUB and ULB) and Beguinage church, has attracted the attention of 90 European Parliament left-leaning and liberal MEPs.

They are requesting those on strike gain legal status by the state.

“The hunger strike weakens them considerably, suicide attempts have taken place in recent days and some people have sewn their lips together in protest,” they said, in a joint letter last week to Belgium’s prime minister and state secretary for asylum and migration.

“As members of the European Parliament, we ask you to accept their requests for regularisation through residence and work permits,” they said.

But Belgium’s state secretary for asylum and migration, Sammy Mahdi appears unconvinced.

He told the BBC World News over the weekend that people cannot come to Belgium and expect to get a legal status.

“You cannot just believe that by being here for a few years, you have the automatic permission of staying here,” he said.

Mahdi said the rules will not change, regardless of the hunger strike.

“The rules will remain the ones we are developing right now,” he said.

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