Not in our name: Belgian culture sector criticises handling of migrants on hunger strike

Not in our name: Belgian culture sector criticises handling of migrants on hunger strike
Photo from the last hunger strike. Credit: Belga

From writers to actors, around 200 professionals working in Belgium's cultural sector have signed an open letter in which they criticise the government's handling of the hundreds of migrants on hunger strike in Brussels.

They urged policymakers to provide an "intelligible and coherent" response to the situation of the over 400 undocumented migrants who are demanding a blanket regularisation and have been on hunger strike since 23 May in protest of their situation.

"We, the Belgian cultural workers, ambassadors of our country and our communities throughout the world, refuse to represent a Belgium which, through its immobility and silence, allows situations that lead to social death and the death of human beings," the group wrote.

The professionals, including actress Marijke Pinoy, film director Jean-Pierre Dardenne and theatre directors Milo Rau and Luk Perceval argued it was not possible to talk about the world on a stage, to give meaning, to entertain, to create social contacts and compassion, while in the heart of Belgium, people are fighting with their own lives.

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"How can we still say without embarrassment that we are Belgian artists and technicians? How can we still be proud of what we are? How can we not be ashamed of the indirect and hidden violence that our country can cause when it comes to regularising people who fall outside the law?" the letter reads.

They have now urged the government to take responsibility, before "the drama becomes a tragedy", and that they will refuse to represent Belgium until this has been done, adding that they will "declare that this tacit and inhumane policy is not done in our name."

Deteriorating situation

Some of the hunger strikers, who have taken refuge in the Beguinage church in the centre of Brussels and on the campus of the VUB in Ixelles, have now started refusing water, the support organisation USPR reports.

Dokters van de Wereld, which is monitoring the hunger strikers, has also warned the health condition of the activists is rapidly deteriorating, and that there have been several suicide attempts in recent days, whilst others are suffering from kidney failure.

They have said time and time again that they refuse to give up before a solution is found for everyone in the group, and although talks between the government and the migrants progressed slightly last week, the situation still seems far from resolved.

State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Sammy Mahdi has continued to stress his stance, saying that the fight against economic exploitation high on the government’s agenda, but that he outright refuses to consider giving collective regularisation to the group, and has received backing from the government parties CD&V, Open VLD, MR, and Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

Several left-wing political parties - Groen, Ecolo and the PS - called on De Croo on Sunday to take the case out of the hands of Mahdi.

"The situation of the hunger strikers in Brussels continues to deteriorate, and the talks are at a standstill. Given the critical situation, Groen asks the Prime Minister to intervene before there are any casualties," Groen party chair Meyrem Almaci said on Twitter.

In response to the criticism from other parties, Mahdi asked the Director-General of the Immigration Department, Freddy Roosemont, to visit the migrants on Sunday to understand their condition, and emphasised that he wants to prevent anyone from dying.

Last week, Mahdi opened a "neutral zone" where the migrants could receive information about existing procedures and their options.

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