Hunger strike support group lifts its occupation of University of Ghent building
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Hunger strike support group lifts its occupation of University of Ghent building

The protesters in the UFO building. Credit: Belga

Supporters of the large group of undocumented migrants that started a hunger strike in May to press for the collective regularisation of their status announced on Sunday that they had suspended their occupation of the UFO building at the University of Ghent.

The occupiers said their decision, which followed the migrants’ suspension of their hunger strike on Wednesday, was made in close collaboration with the hunger strikers’ association, l’Union des sans-papiers pour la régularisation (USPR).

The migrants had been on a hunger strike since 23 May at three locations in the capital – the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB), Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and Eglise du Béguinage in the centre of Brussels.

The support group warned on Sunday that they would resume their action if the government failed to deliver on its promises to the hunger strikers.

“In the wake of the suspension of the hunger strike by the USPR, the occupiers of the University of Ghent recognise the need to pursue the mobilization and the struggle,” they said.

“The occupiers and their supporters remain active and determined to ensure that the political procedures move ahead as promised.”

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The occupation could resume “if the government does not fulfill its promises,” they stressed.

Some 30 supporters of the hunger strikers had occupied the UFO building since 5 July to back the migrants’ demand for a collective regularisation of their status.

They and their groups have now decided to begin a long-term movement for general regularisation for all undocumented migrants in Belgium, based on the initiative launched by the USPR.

“This movement is also necessary because the proposal of the Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration, Sammy Mahdi, which ended the strike, says nothing about the 150,000 undocumented migrants who are kept in illegality and outside the social safety nets,” they said.

The group also criticised the University of Ghent’s rector Rik Van de Walle.

“Instead of engaging in a dialogue with us, the rector reinforced the image of an inappropriate and radical occupation,” they said. “By doing this, the rector ignored the way the occupation was used to reflect on and discuss the role of the undocumented in our society and what a humane situation would look like.”

The rector had also threatened to take legal action against the occupiers and have them expelled from the building if they did not vacate it by Sunday 25 July.

One of the conditions that led to the decision to suspend the occupation was that political messages and drawings in the hall would not be removed.

“The occupiers also demand that Rector Van de Walle begin negotiations to create a safe area within the University of Ghent to which all undocumented persons would have access,” the group said.

The Brussels Times