Hundreds of undocumented immigrants who have been on a hunger strike in Brussels for the past two months to demand residency rights have started refusing water, putting their lives in jeopardy and putting the Belgian government in jeopardy.
Around 400 migrants, many of whom have been in Belgium for years, have become malnourished as a result of their refusal to eat since May 23, and three-quarters of them have decided to cease receiving water or saline drips as of Friday.
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the medical charity that has been caring for them at two universities and a chapel, has warned that they could die within days. Many people had lost hope and were contemplating suicide, according to the report.
Prime Minister Alexander de Croo has refused to exclude the hunger strikers from standard asylum and immigration processes.
However, the Socialists and the Greens, two of the coalition’s seven parties, feel he is too rigid and legalistic. They claim that if someone dies, the coalition will disband, leaving the government unable to function.
The migrants are mostly from South Asia and North Africa, and some have been in Belgium for more than a decade.
Although they have managed to make a living, they have suffered disproportionately from the coronavirus lockdowns that have forced many cafes, restaurants and other businesses to close, and been unable to claim relief payments because of their undocumented status.
Sammy Mahdi, a junior minister for asylum and migration, has appointed a mediator, and designated a place where migrants can go to get information about their rights and how to obtain official status.
“We’re not going to conduct a separate policy for people who go on strike or occupy premises,” Mahdi said.
“There are 150,000 undocumented migrants in our country and it wouldn’t be right to treat 400 people differently.”