Brussels church ends occupation leaving migrants without shelter

Brussels church ends occupation leaving migrants without shelter
The Beguinage Church in Brussels. Photo by Lauren Walker/The Brussels Times.

The central Brussels church that was one of the locations for the hunger strike of undocumented migrants has announced that the occupation must end due to the building’s unsuitable conditions.

The administration of the Beguinage Church stated in a press release on Wednesday that the occupation of the church by undocumented migrants under the formation of Union des Sans-papiers pour la Régularisation (USPR) must end.

It argued that “from a humanitarian point of view,” the building is not suitable to house these people, especially in wintertime. It added that it will take the necessary legal steps to formally implement this decision.

The migrant action was supported by the House of Compassion organisation, run by priest Daniel Alliët. In a press release, Alliët wrote that he understands and supports the decision of the church administration, but that this message “in no way means the end of our solidarity with undocumented migrants.”

Referring to previous attempts to evict migrants from the church, Alliët contested this latest development and asserted that his organisation’s commitment to the migrant cause would not falter: “We will continue to stand up for the rights of undocumented migrants”.

Site of hunger strike

The church was one of the locations of the strike, alongside the campuses of two Brussels universities (VUB and ULB), where 400 undocumented migrants went on a hunger strike for almost two months in a bid for collective regularisation. Many of the activists were hospitalised as a result of their worsening health.

The Beguinage Church in Brussels. Photo by Lauren Walker/The Brussels Times.

The strike came to an end to their strike in July 2021, by which time their health had deteriorated dramatically, after it was promised that their cases would be quickly reviewed in the “neutral zone” set up by Migration Minister Sammy Mahdi to mitigate the situation.

Mahdi’s dealing with the strike itself and the discussions with partner organisations following the action’s end resulted in political tension, from majority parties threatening to quit the federal government in case of death to the representatives accusing the government of unprecedented deceit.

Dignified process

Some 20 people still rely on the church for refuge, according to the church’s administration. These are mostly people who lost their homes in the past year. Alliët criticised the state of the church, describing it as an “inhumane reception situation, with one toilet, no heating, no washing facilities, let alone showers.”

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According to House of Compassion, partner organisations are searching for accommodation in time for those who will be rendered homeless by this decision.

“The fight for a more humane asylum and regularisation policy continues. We want to continue supporting it wherever we can, helping to find the most appropriate ways,” the organisation’s statement concluded.

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