The platform for Belgium's international community

Search form

menu menu
  • Daily & Weekly newsletters
  • Buy & download The Bulletin
  • Comment on our articles

Sans-papiers occupy former office building, migration secretary unamused

17:43 24/08/2021

State secretary for migration Sammy Mahdi (pictured) has harsh words for the undocumented migrants who took over the old KBC headquarters in Molenbeek last week. “Just at a time when we are trying to save women’s rights activists from the Taliban, it’s petty for people who are here illegally and need no protection to carry out activities like this.”

Mahdi has been at odds with the sans-papiers since they started a hunger strike in June. The migrants – many of whom have been in Belgium for more than a decade – were demanding a collective regularisation of residency rights. Mahdi refused, and the strike eventually ended with a promise to consider or reconsider all of their cases individually.

The immigration department organised a ‘neutral zone’ around the Beguinage church in the centre of Brussels to assist those who took part in the hunger strike with their cases, but undocumented migrants began showing up in droves. The neutral zone was shut down to the public, though anyone who took part in the hunger strike can still access immigration services there.

‘Occupation zone neutre’

The sans-papiers who took over the former KBC building on Avenue du Port – meant to become apartments and a hotel – are calling the action ‘Occupation zone neutre’. They sent a message to the government via social media.

“Is putting your life in danger a new criterion for being regularised?” read the message. “There can be no social peace if undocumented migrants are not legally registered. For years we have been promised structural solutions, but we have only been met with contempt. The government's policy is based on repression, insecurity and criminalisation of people without residency status. We refuse to die a quiet death.” They go on to call regularisation “a benefit to the public and political common sense”.

I don’t think so, responded secretary Mahdi. “Occupying a church and staging a hunger strike had no effect on residency policy, so the occupation of a former office building will not change anything either,” he said. “Every case will be judged on the basis of our regularisation policy.”

Belgium will “not tolerate” such actions, he continued. “There are a number of procedures to be followed to receive residency rights, and these must be fulfilled.”

Photo: It’s been quite a summer for migration secretary Sammy Mahdi  
©Hadrien Dure/BELGA


Written by Lisa Bradshaw