They are half a thousand people who started a hunger strike on May 23. And that since last Friday they have taken another step and have decided to stop drinking as well. They are spread over three locations in Brussels, the Saint Jean Baptiste-Beguinage church (where there are two hundred), and at the ULB and VUB universities. “We are very tired and weaker and weaker, some begin to show damage. People are stressed, tired, anxious, desperate,” admits Tarik, who acts as a spokesman for his colleagues. “Inside the church,” he points to a temple where only health personnel enter, “there are men and women, originating in Pakistan, Nepal, Egypt, Morocco and Algeria.”
According to the Belgian media, Doctors of the World affirms that if things do not change, 300 strikers have only a few days of survival due to the hunger and thirst strike. The general director of the NGO, Genet, states: “A political signal is needed at all costs for them to end the hunger and thirst strike. Otherwise, within a day or two there will be one or more tragedies.”
And what do they claim? “Papers to work”, responds Tarik: “There are some who have been 10 years, 15 years, 20 years … And who do not have residency and, therefore, papers to work, even though they have titles from their country and They have been working without papers ever since. ” About what? “In construction, as waiters, as plumbers or electricians, taking care of the little ones and the elderly,” he answers.
Tarik explains that since nationality by birth is not recognized in Belgium, there are kids “born in the country, educated, but without papers.” How many people does this problem affect? “The exact figure is not known, there are organizations that speak of about 100,000”, explains Tarik, who has been in Belgium for eight years and has a family in Torrevieja: “You only ask for a residence permit to be able to work legally and with dignity.”
The problem is that “without papers you work 15 hours and they pay you 30 euros, so only the employer wins. The State loses because you do not contribute to social security. We only want papers for work.”
The situation is becoming critical due to the passing of days and the hardening of the strike after having stopped drinking. “It is a matter of life and death,” he says: “Now we are mere slaves of the boss.”
On Sunday night, Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration Sammy Mahdi (CD&V) said in a statement that “everyone wants to avoid a tragedy.” The director general of the Immigration Office made a visit on Saturday with medical personnel, with the aim of evaluating the situation at the request of the Secretary of State. “Health status assessment is important because we want to prevent someone from dying,” said Sammy Mahdi: “We continue to hope that people will want their cases to be dealt with individually, because there will be no collective solution or concessions for the strikers. Otherwise, there will be no collective solution or concessions for the strikers. tomorrow there will be hunger strikes in all the churches in the country. ”
And the pressure is noticeable in the Government. Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne of the Socialist Party indicated that he had warned Prime Minister Alexandre de Croo and the rest of the cabinet that, in the event of the death of an undocumented migrant, “the ministers and secretaries of state PS would resign in an hour. ”
Socialists remain unhappy with the way this crisis is being handled. Ambulances were dispatched to the strike site last night to ensure that there was no risk of death in the very short term. No one without papers then agreed to be taken away.
It is the first time since the beginning of the crisis that a party turns this strike into a question of government, although the collective regularization does not appear in the coalition agreement, and the socialist and green demands for alternative solutions have not been met.
The greens, Ecolo, is also pushing for a solution for the undocumented. The party’s co-chairman said in a tweet that his formation “would take actions in full coherence” with his positions. That is, it opens the door to resignation.
The Union of Without Papers for Regularization does a specific follow-up of the strike on Facebook, with photos, videos and statements of the immigrants. In it, you can see images of some of them with their lips sewn together as a symbol of the hunger strike.
The hunger strike began in May by 430 protesters when negotiations with the Secretary of State for Migration, Samy Mahdi, did not advance, who insists that he is willing to talk, but not about collective regularization, while calling for do not create false expectations.
In an article published this Tuesday in the Belgian press, employers’ organizations and unions ask that immigrants without papers have access to the “single” permit, so that they can initiate a procedure to work in jobs that present a shortage of candidates in Belgium.
The Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration, Sammy Mahdi (CD&V), has appointed on Monday a special envoy to direct asylum seekers on hunger strike to the existing procedures: Dirk Van den Bulck, General Commissioner for Refugees and Stateless Persons .
Mahdi claims that hunger strikers can discuss their case individually with the Immigration Office staff: “Anyone who wants to submit a regularization file can do so on the spot.”
Two UN rapporteurs call for action
Two United Nations representatives have urged the Belgian authorities to take action. The special rapporteurs Olivier De Schutter and Felipe González have written an open letter to Mahdi to offer “a way out of the blockade”.
González, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, argues that the Belgian government “should consider issuing temporary residence permits that allow anyone who submits an application to stay to regularize the right to exercise an economic activity.”
In the first place, the experts ask the Government to establish a permanent, independent and impartial mechanism that is competent to examine requests for regularization, since currently, people who wish to regularize their situation “are dissuaded from doing so for fear of being detained. and expelled from the country “. Second, they argue that it is urgent to specify and expand the conditions of access to regularization procedures. Finally, they urge the Government to protect the human rights of undocumented immigrants in employment, education, housing and health.
“The information we have received is alarming and several of those who are on hunger strike are between life and death,” says De Schutter, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.