Four of the over 400 undocumented migrants who are on hunger strike in Brussels to demand collective regularisation have had their mouths sewn shut.
The 430 migrants have been on hunger strike since 23 May at the Free Universities in Brussels (VUB and ULB) and the Beguinage church in the centre of the city, and according to doctor Rita Van Obberghen, who is monitoring the hunger strikers, their health is deteriorating.
"They are weakening, and some are beginning to find it difficult to stand upright. They are getting more and more abdominal pain," she said.
Van Obberghen explained that the action of sewing their lips together with thread is partly symbolic, to show that they have no say in their situation.
"But they also want to prove that they really don't eat anything. They can only drink through a straw," she added.
In the past, several of the migrants have been taken to hospital because their condition deteriorated dramatically, but sometimes refuse to be treated, according to the doctor. "They sign documents to be released so that they can continue their hunger strike," she said.
"Now, they are so tired and so cramped that sometimes they can't sleep, and that can have physical and mental consequences," Van Obberghen warned.
Call for solutions
State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Sammy Mahdi has been called on to find a political solution, including by French-speaking socialist and green parties PS and Ecolo, but has said he would not negotiate with the strikers, adding that they were told to leave Belgium years ago, but instead "stayed for years working illegally".
"Simply regularising everyone who received an order to leave the territory, that is not how the policy works. We are not going to regularise all 150,000 undocumented people," he said on Twitter.
"There is a policy where individual regularisation is possible as an exception. Collective regularisation is not," he added.
The Flemish-speaking counter-part of PS, Vooruit, has supported Mahdi in his reasoning. "There is absolutely no question of a collective regularisation. Regularisation remains an exceptional procedure and is a favour, not a right," said Vooruit MP and migration specialist Ben Segers.
Mahdi has instead argued that a "neutral zone” should be created near the undocumented migrants who are on hunger strike in Brussels so they can get information about their cases and options where they are located, rather than having to go to the relevant services for this, such as the Foreigners Office.
Mahdi has called on the action to stop several times, saying it is life-threatening.
“I hope that there will be no deaths, and I go to sleep every night with the idea that it could happen and I don’t sleep. I try to do everything I can," he added.