More than 100 artists, thinkers and prominent personalities have put their names to an open letter in support of the Brussels hunger strikers.
Around 400 undocumented migrants, known as sans-papiers because they lack the needed official papers to gain residency status, are now on the 50th day of a hunger strike, in the Beguinage church in central Brussels, and on the two campuses of the ULB and VUB universities.
The condition of the hunger strikers is now so grave that doctors warn they are now at the stage where the damage done to their bodies may be irreversible. And the day cannot be far off when the strike registers its first fatality.
“Their bodies have burned all the sugars and fats and now they are consuming their own organs including the heart. The danger of death is real,” the letter published in De Morgen this morning states.
So far, the government, in the person of asylum minister Sammy Mahdi has refused outright their request for a blanket amnesty, allowing them to become bona fide refugees. Prime minister Alexander De Croo has given Mahdi his full and public support.
In the letter, the signatories describe the lives of a few of the hunger strikers, and how they have been mercilessly exploited by employers simply because as sans-papiers they have no recourse against wages of €3 an hour for heavy underground construction labour – on a public-funded project, moreover.
The letter explains how Belgium’s migration policy is preventing it from acceding to the hunger strikers’ demands, although those go no further than what is already the case in countries like France and Spain.
And the signatories are not mild in their judgement of the De Croo government.
“The Belgian government – like a number of other European governments – is making a grave political mistake. It is paralysed by the rise of the far-right. It is trying to distance itself by invoking a ‘strict but humane’ migration policy,” the letter reads.
“This means that they are using a watered-down version of the migration programme of far-right parties while using rhetoric that values human rights and international law.”
The letter concludes with a plea to the only party able now to make a move.
“For all these reasons, we invite the Belgian Government to restart the dialogue with the hunger strikers and to consider their demands with the seriousness they deserve.”
The letter is signed by a variety of personalities, including film-makers Ken Loach, the Dardenne brothers, Mike Leigh, Costa Gavras and Aki Kaurismaki; actors Susan George and Irène Jacob; former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis; intellectual Noam Chomsky; musicians Peter Gabriel, Roger Waters and Brian Eno; jurist Françoise Tulkens; cartoonist Philippe Geluck; and fashion designer Agnès B.