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Desperation grows as more former hunger strikers have regularisation cases denied
Another of the former hunger strikers at the Church of the Beguinage in Brussels who was hoping for positive news regarding the individual assessment of his case has been told that his application for regularisation has been denied.
"I expected a positive response given my file," said Mohamed, a 29-year-old man, from Morocco. Instead, he has been ordered to leave the country. "I am worse than desperate."
Mohamed arrived in Belgium in 2011 on a student visa. "I went to school for seven years. I have always worked. I've never had a public order problem," he told reporters. “I speak the language, I have my family, I have my grandparents who are Belgian."
He no longer has a family in Morocco. His future is, according to him, in Belgium. "I have two promises of employment, two letters of recommendation from my former employers," Mohamed said. “I even have ambitions to do a bachelor's degree in nursing. I would have liked to work legally here and feel part of this society."
He is not the only one to feel bitter. Other protestors at the church are now receiving bad news after being promised by the secretary of state for asylum and migration, Sammy Mahdi that each of their cases would be heard individually as part of the negotiations that ended the hunger strike in July. Of the 20 former hunger strikers who have received a response, 15 have been refused.
The negotiators, who met the secretary of state a few months ago with the aim of stopping the hunger strike, studied the responses of the Immigration Office. "During this discussion, the guidelines applicable to the cases that would be presented by the strikers were discussed at length," explained lawyer Alexis Deswaef. "These guidelines, the words of the secretary of state, were what we brought to the protestors who, on this basis, decided to stop the hunger strike. And when I read the refusal decisions to which we had access, I see that it is the opposite of what the secretary of state told us."
For Alexis Deswaef, the Immigration Office and the secretary of state have made negative decisions in cases that they had been told would be approved. "Words given have not been respected," said the lawyer.
Sammy Mahdi responded by saying that the files have been handled correctly. "The Immigration Office deals with cases with both positive and negative elements,” he said. “On the basis of these elements, decisions are taken. There are rules, and you can't do everyone a favour."
"It has always been made clear that all files, from these hunger strikers, and others, must be treated in the same way,” he added. “The instructions that already existed were used to process all the files. I hope that when the decisions are made, when the files are examined with the positive and negative elements, that we respect the decision that has been taken." He added that there cannot be one set of guidelines for hunger strikers and another for other people who have submitted a regularisation file. "That would be dishonest," he said.
Last week, an undocumented woman resumed her hunger strike. "If we see that the demands for regularisation do not lead to anything, we will restart the hunger strike collectively," said a spokesperson for those at the Beguinage.
The hunger strike was started on 23 May by some 430 undocumented people. Following discussions, it was suspended on 21 July.