Today, Professor Olivier De Sutter of the university of Louvain-la-Neuve visited the church to attend a press conference given by the sans-papiers. Prof De Sutter is a UN rapporteur on human rights and extreme poverty, and said the aim of his visit was to enquire into whether Belgium was in breach of the sans-papiers’ human rights.
The 200 men and women currently occupying the church – which has been the site of many protests by sans-papiers over the years, based on the duty of the Catholic Church to provide refuge to those who need it – have now been 44 days on hunger strike, and earlier in the week closed the doors and will now only admit water and care-givers sent in by the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders.
The current occupation has currently been going on for more than six months. The protesters are demanding a blanket asylum approval for all of them.
Sammy Mahdi (CD&V), minister for asylum and migration, has however strenuously refused to give in to the demand, and recently was backed in that view by prime minister Alexander De Croo (Open VLD).
As in all such cases, ministers fear giving in on one case will simply throw open the doors to new asylum-seekers expecting the same kind of treatment.
The hunger-strikers, according to De Standaard, are not demanding collective regularisation, but rather clear and permanent regularisation criteria and an independent committee to apply them.
The sans-papiers insist they are not a drain on public resources in Belgium.
Many of them have been here for an long as a decade, living in the shadows, unable to apply for social aid, working for exploitative employers who pay them illegal wages for working in illegal conditions, in the knowledge that they will never complain for fear of losing their only source of income.