Hundreds of persons marked World Refugee Day, celebrated every year on 20 June, with demonstrations in Brussels and Liège in support of undocumented migrants currently on a hunger strike to press demands for the regularisation of their status.
Some 500 persons participated in the Brussels demonstration. In Liège, dozens assembled between 2.00 p.m. and 6 p.m. at the Esplanade Saint-Léonard, where an appeal signed by local politicians was made public.
“The governmental agreement has chosen to ignore any regularization process. [The undocumented] are the victims of the Belgian State’s restrictive policy on asylum and immigration since the last regularization carried out in 2009,” said France Arets of Collectif liégeois de soutien aux sans-papiers, a group of organisations in Liège that supports the migrants.
“They were forgotten in the measures adopted during the pandemic and lost their small jobs. Yet, they sewed thousands of facemasks, underwent training and obtained qualifications that correspond to essential functions and/or labour-strapped professions,” Arets explained during the protest in Liège.
The some 400 migrants began their hunger strike on 23 May in Brussels at the Église du Béguinage, Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB).
“They are in danger in their countries,” Arets stressed. “It’s here that they have built their lives.”
Sunday’s support activities in Liège, which were also aimed at raising citizens’ awareness on the regularisation issue, took the form of musical performances, testimonies and addresses by associations such as the Collectif liégeois and the Comité de soutien à la Voix des Sans-papiers de Liège.
Politicians from Liège joined the protesters to lend weight to the appeal, in which a multiparty group of elected leaders called for the establishment of clear regularization criteria, and their evaluation by a permanent, independent commission, while slamming what they saw as the governmental declaration’s silence on regularization.
Appeal signatories included Liège Mayor Willy Demeyer (Parti Socialiste, PS), Herstal Mayor Frédéric Daerden (PS), Sophie Lecron and Antonio Gomez Garcia, local municipal councillors for the Parti du Travail de Belgique (PTB), and CdH federal parliamentarian Vanessa Matz.
Also signing the appeal were four elected officials from the Ecolo party: regional parliamentarians Véronica Cremasco and Olivier Biérin, and Liege municipal councillors Guy Kreetels and Caroline Saal. Saal also heads the Ecolo group.
In Brussels, a few hundred activists first assembled at the Béguinage Church around 3.00 p.m. before being joined by representatives of trade unions, students and political parties. They were addressed by various speakers, then, at about 4.00 p.m., they began a 10-kilometre march to the sites occupied by the hunger strikers at the ULB and VLB.
Flag-waving representatives of the CSC-ACV and FGTB-ABVV labour federations, BXL and Santé en Lutte collectives and COMAC student association all took part in the march, joined along the way by ordinary citizens. Participants shouted slogans such as “Solidarity with the undocumented,” “Only one solution: regularization,” “First, second or third generation, we are all children of immigrants,” and “It’s not the undocumented, but the law that needs to change.”
At the head of the procession, demonstrators carried two banners marked “Dying for papers? Really?” and “The lives of the strikers are in danger.”
Demonstrators stressed that they supported the demands for a clear, precise regularisation policy because the undocumented have also said they wish to be involved in post-crisis recovery.
The Brussels Times