Migrants in Brussels end mass hunger strike for legal status after 60 days
A group of undocumented migrants in Brussels have ended a hunger strike after 60 days, giving up the demand for a collective regularisation of their status.
A representative for the group announced on Wednesday that people camped at the Church of St John the Baptist at the Béguinage in central Brussels were ending their refusal to eat or drink.
People outside the church, who had gathered in solidarity with the hunger strikers, applauded the announcement. Another group at a university building also suspended their strike, local media reported.
The hunger strikers were taken immediately to hospital, with some to remain in intensive care, the Belgian government said.
Once recovered, they can move to a “neutral zone” to make individual applications for a residence permit. The government had refused a collective amnesty, saying the current rules were just and humane.
Belgium’s state secretary for asylum and migration, Sammy Mahdi, tweeted that he was relieved. “For me it was not a fight against people, but for the correct policy. We hope that no one will have lasting injuries.”
Speaking to Belgium’s francophone public broadcaster RTBF, he said the government had not changed its policy. “There is a policy with rules that must be followed. We have explained this on several occasions, we have discussed with civil society. Our procedure is fair, correct and humane.”
Belgium’s prime minister, Alexander De Croo, welcomed the decision, adding that “a government can never accept blackmail. It would be unjust for those people who followed the rules correctly.”
The outcome defuses tensions in Belgium’s seven-party coalition government, which was divided over the plight of the hunger strikers. Socialist and Green ministers had threatened to walk out if one of the strikers died, toppling the 10-month-old government.
About 150,000 undocumented migrants, known as sans papiers, live in Belgium, according to campaign groups, including some who have been settled for years. Many fear that an attempt to regularise their status will result in an order to leave.