Progress in talks between migrants on hunger strike and government

Progress in talks between migrants on hunger strike and government
People on hunger strike in the Beguinage church last summer. Credit: Belga

Progress has been made in the talks between the hundreds of migrants on hunger strike in Brussels and the government, according to the Union des Sans-Papiers pour la Régularisation (USPR), which is representing the group.

On Wednesday, a meeting was held between the union, Freddy Roosemont, director of the Immigration Department, and State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Sammy Mahdi's chief of cabinet, however, there is still no question of an agreement.

During the talks, the possibility of removing several obstacles to the granting of residence permits as well as on what exceptional circumstances can be invoked for certain migrants were discussed, according to reports from Bruzz. 

The union is now waiting for "clear guarantees that a case has started for the migrants and is waiting for the follow-up of files".

The over 400 migrants or so-called sans papiers – as they have been refused the documents needed to show they are accepted as asylum seekers –  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.

On Thursday, Mahdi said that he places the fight against economic exploitation high on the government's agenda, and he has previously stressed that he outright refuses to consider giving collective regularisation to the group. Prime Minister Alexander De Croo backed his decision.

However, the hunger-strikers are not demanding collective regularisation, but rather clear and permanent regularisation criteria and an independent committee to apply them, according to De Standaard.

The United Nations has since intervened to investigate the situation of the undocumented migrants, as Professor Olivier De Sutter, UN rapporteur on human rights and extreme poverty, attended a press conference given by the sans-papiers at the church to enquire whether Belgium was in breach of their human rights.

Situation is 'deteriorating'

Earlier this week, several migrants sewed their mouths shut in protest, whilst those in the Beguinage church, which has regularly been a place of refuge for sans-papiers over the years, closed the doors to all medical help.

Meanwhile, the situation is rapidly deteriorating, according to Karen Naessens, coordinator of the non-profit organisation House of Compassion.

"Things are really not going well for the people. One ambulance after another is arriving here now, but they are so desperate. They want papers or to die," she told Radio 1 on Friday.

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