Parties threaten to quit government if a hunger striker dies

Parties threaten to quit government if a hunger striker dies
Undocumented migrants on hunger strike. Credit: Belga

As the situation of the migrants on hunger strike in Brussels worsens, French-speaking socialist party PS and green party Ecolo have threatened to quit the federal government if any one of the activists dies, which would result in the current government falling.

Both parties have informed Prime Minister Alexander De Croo that the ministers and secretaries of state will resign, which would see the government De Croo I losing its majority as part of the Vivaldi coalition.

During the core cabinet meeting on Monday morning, federal Economy and Labour minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne warned that the PS ministers and secretaries of state would tender their resignation "within the hour" in case of a death.

Since 23 May, more than 400 undocumented migrants who are asking for collective regularisation, have been on hunger strike. In the last weeks, the situation has escalated.

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Some of the hunger strikers in the Beguinage church in the centre of Brussels and on the campus of the VUB in Ixelles recently started refusing water, whilst others have attempted to commit suicide, and it is feared someone may die in the coming days.

If that happens, several ministers, Dermagne alongside the minister of Pensions Karine Lalieux, Defence minister Ludivine Dedonder and Secretary of State for Recovery and Strategic Investments Thomas Dermine, among others, would resign.

Groen did not respond to The Brussels Times' request for a comment on the party’s latest position before publication.

Rising political tensions

For weeks now, the situation with the migrants has led to political tensions, as several of the government parties, including CD&V, Open VLD, MR, as well as De Croo himself have backed State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Sammy Mahdi's stance to refuse giving collective regularisation to the group.

However, the left-wing block of the government, including PS and Ecolo as well as Flemish-speaking ecologist party Groen, called on De Croo on Sunday to take the case out of the hands of Mahdi.

Earlier on Monday, Open VLD chairman Egbert Lachaert warned against provoking a governmental crisis over the hunger strikers, especially as the government is dealing with both the coronavirus crisis and the aftermath of the severe weather experienced by many regions across Belgium last week.

However, this latest announcement by both parties threatens to provoke such a crisis.

Crisis management

Last week, in a bid to reduce tensions, Mahdi opened a “neutral zone” where the migrants could receive information about existing procedures and their options, however, the migrants have repeatedly made clear that they refuse to give up before a solution is found for everyone in the group.

On Monday, it was confirmed that the commissioner general at the independent federal administration General Commissioner for Refugees and Stateless Persons (CGRA), Dirk Van den Bulck, would be the special envoy to guide the activists towards existing procedures in this zone.

"The government does not discriminate and takes every file submitted to heart. Anyone who wants to submit a regularisation file can do so on the spot," Mahdi said in a press release.

At the request of the government, medical teams were also sent to all three striking sites on Sunday evening to carry out a medical check-up of those who wanted it, but none of the activists agreed to be taken away.

Meanwhile, Olivier De Schutter, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, who visited the hunger strikers in the Beguinage church at the start of this month, sent an open letter to the Belgian government to Mahdi, saying their deportation must be ruled out.

Alongside Felipe Gonzalez, special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, De Schutter recalled the obligation to protect the human rights of migrants, whether or not they are legal residents in Belgium. "It would be desirable for the government to confirm that the state of health of the hunger strikers is an obstacle to any expulsion," the two UN rapporteurs said on Monday.

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