The ‘neutral zone’ set up by the government to treat the demands of the Brussels hunger strikers has been closed to the public, after an influx of other asylum-seekers.
The zone is situated not far from the Beguinage church in central Brussels, where some 200 of the more than 400 hunger strikers were living. The hunger strike had been under way since 23 May, and most of those taking part were in a seriously depleted medical state.
The neutral zone was the idea of secretary of state for asylum and migration, Sammy Mahdi (CD&V), who had ruled out absolutely their request for a collective regularisation of their status, to allow them to work for a living wage.
However what seemed like an irresolvable stand-off suddenly, at the last second, reached at least a temporary resolution: the hunger strikers would suspend their action, and the government would make available the resources needed for them to pursue individual requests for regularisation in the neutral zone.
But the neutral zone must have seemed like preferential treatment to the hundreds of people whose claims are slowly making their way through the system, as well as those who have still not been able to make an asylum application, since the numbers allowed to do so on any given day are strictly limited.
The result: The office in the neutral zone, at the side of the Saint-Catherine church a short walk from the Beguinage, has been swamped by applicants who had nothing to do with the hunger strike, though their claims may be just as valid.
Initially the new arrivals were treated equally, then as the flow increased by an appointment system. Even that was not enough, and Mahdi has now closed the office to all but the hunger strikers themselves.
“This neutral zone was set up to direct the hunger strikers to the existing procedures and apply individually,” Mahdi said. “But there are many false rumours circulating, for example that anyone who presents themselves to the neutral zone would be given a residence permit.”
Mahdi has continued to deny there was any deal or special allowances made to end the hunger strike. No-one from the other side has so far seen fit to contradict his claim.
“In order not to give anyone false hope, it was decided today to stop opening this zone to the general public. The appointments that were scheduled yesterday and today will all be completed.”
The authorities have arranged to obtain a list of names of the strikers from the organisations that supported them throughout the strike.
“They will still be able to obtain information about their file in the neutral zone so that they can decide whether they wish to apply for regularisation.”