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Rally in support of hunger strikers draws attention to critical situation
More than a hundred supporters of the undocumented people currently on hunger strike in Brussels demonstrated on Sunday afternoon outside the closed doors of the church of Saint John the Baptist at the Béguinage in the city centre. The crowd was made up of members of various groups, solidarity movements, trade unions and regular citizens from all over the country.
After 50 days on hunger strike, the situation of the undocumented immigrants is becoming increasingly critical, with no solution in sight. The protest began on 23 May in an attempt to persuade the government to give the immigrants collective regularisation. The church is providing shelter for 200 hunger strikers - while another 200 are also camped on the campuses of the two Brussels universities, VUB and ULB.
The gathered crowds on Sunday heard speeches in support of the call for people without official identity documents to be given regularisation based on the life they have spent in Belgium. Many speakers urged the government to take action as the health situation of the hunger strikers becomes increasingly desperate. Those inside the church are now refusing all but medical care and water, which is delivered with the addition of electrolytes by the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders.
"They have post-traumatic symptoms, cognitive problems and they are becoming depressed," one of the rally’s coordinators said. "If it continues like this and the government does not move to break the deadlock, the situation could quickly become fatal. We are not in conflict. There are no winners or losers. We are all winners, including the government, if they regularise these people."
The Union of Undocumented Immigrants for Regularisation (USPR) expressed its satisfaction after last week's negotiations with the government. An in-depth discussion took place on the possibility of removing certain obstacles to the granting of a residence permit, as well as on the "exceptional circumstances" that can be invoked. However, there has been no progress since: "They continue to talk on a case-by-case basis and individual cases, but this leads to arbitrary decisions," the coordinator said.
A few days ago, Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations special rapporteur in charge of human rights and extreme poverty, visited the hunger strikers and was moved by what he saw. "It's obviously upsetting to see this,” he said. “I am here to listen, to inform myself, to better understand."
"Today I can talk to people,” he continued. “This allows us to prepare a dossier which, if necessary, could lead to an official communication to the Belgian government. For a country like Belgium, it is very difficult to reproach other states for violating human rights if it itself does not meet the expectations of the international community."
De Schutter stayed at the church at the Béguinage for around an hour and a half, talking to those hunger strikers still able to communicate. Others were too weak to speak, and some were taken to hospital for critical treatment during his visit.