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Hundreds of undocumented migrants queue for 'neutral zone' in search of residency

05:09 27/07/2021

Several hundred people queued on Monday to try to access the "neutral zone" set up in Brussels to handle regularisation requests after a hunger strike by undocumented migrants was called off last Wednesday.

As part of the agreement to end the strike, secretary of state for asylum Sammy Mahdi had announced the space would be set up to guide hunger strikers through the existing procedures and allow them to file an individual request for paperwork.

However, according to Mahdi, false rumours circulated claiming that people going to this area would receive a residence permit. As a result, long queues of people hoping to obtain papers materialised.

It had originally been decided that the "neutral zone" would provide information to migrants in general - not just those who participated in the hunger strike action.

"In order not to give anyone false hope, it has been decided to no longer open this area to the general public," Mahdi said, adding that existing appointments on Monday would be honoured.

On Monday morning, between 200 and 300 people had lined up. Some had already queued up on Friday, including Israel, who has lived in Belgium without paperwork for 11 years.

"There are a lot of people who have been in Belgium for a long time but who work on the black and who just want to have a paper," he told reporters. "We are human beings. We are waiting for a gesture from the government."

Photo: Hatim Kaghat/Belga

Written by Richard Harris