Wednesday

28th Jul 2021

'We are not slaves': Brussels' migrant hunger-strike

  • Ahmed, an undocumented migrant, says he's been working for 10 years in Belgium (Photo: Alice Latta)

Undocumented migrants are refusing water as part of a wider strike at a baroque church and university campus in Brussels.

"We are people, we need to be treated with humanity and not like slaves," 53-year old electrician Ahmed, pictured above, told EUobserver over the weekend.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Demonstrations of support of the migrants in Brussels (Photo: Alice Latta)

Ahmed asked not to have his last name published. He is not among those refusing water.

But a handful have stitched their lips together. Most have been refusing food since 23 May, amid an on-going standoff with the federal government.

Some 475 undocumented migrants, from mostly south Asia and north Africa, are demanding a clear path to legal residency, with many having lived and worked in Belgium for years.

Among them is Ahmed who is from Morocco. He says he has been working in Belgium for almost 10 years, doing 16-hour shifts for €50.

"We have been subjected to arrests and disproportionate violence," he said, of the Belgium police.

The issue, at the Free Universities in Brussels (VUB and ULB) and Beguinage church, has attracted the attention of 90 European Parliament left-leaning and liberal MEPs.

They are requesting those on strike gain legal status by the state.

"The hunger strike weakens them considerably, suicide attempts have taken place in recent days and some people have sewn their lips together in protest," they said, in a joint letter last week to Belgium's prime minister and state secretary for asylum and migration.

"As members of the European Parliament, we ask you to accept their requests for regularisation through residence and work permits," they said.

But Belgium's state secretary for asylum and migration, Sammy Mahdi appears unconvinced.

He told the BBC World News over the weekend that people cannot come to Belgium and expect to get a legal status.

"You cannot just believe that by being here for a few years, you have the automatic permission of staying here," he said.

Mahdi said the rules will not change, regardless of the hunger strike.

"The rules will remain the ones we are developing right now," he said.

Feature

Covid-hit homeless find Xmas relief at Brussels food centre

The Kamiano food distribution centre in Brussels is expecting 20 people every half hour on Christmas Day. For many, Kamiano is also more than that - a support system for those made homeless or impoverished.

Opinion

Separating migrant families at EU borders must stop

Hundreds of documented cases of pushbacks of migrants and asylum seekers tell the story of a European Union whose member states seem to resort to increasingly degrading and inhuman practices in the management of its external borders.

Frontex chief accused of possible rights 'cover up'

A group of MEPs delivered their final report into the EU's border agency Frontex. After a four-month probe, they found it had failed to take its responsibility to protect fundamental rights at Europe's external borders.

Syria refugees prefer Libya sea-crossing to 'dangerous' Greece

A group of Syrians fleeing their country say that Greece has become too dangerous and expensive as an option to enter the EU, in order to claim asylum. They have instead opted for Libya and the highly-risky Mediterranean sea-crossing.

On board with SOS Méditerranée

NGO sea-rescue mission exposes reality of EU 'values'

The NGO search-and-rescue vessel Ocean Viking was the only civilian ship at sea. In the span of just four days, it saved nearly 600 people - often in a race with an aggressive Libyan coast guard.

Feature

The exploited Sikh labourers babysitting Italy's buffalos

The migrant workers are exploited (by landlords and dairy-businessmen) like slaves. They work up to 14-hours per day, every single day non-stop without any leave, for barely €400 per month. If they get injured, their bosses hide these incidents.

On board with SOS Méditerranée

Libyan police lieutenant: 'Coast guard are smugglers'

The Libyan coast guard actively works with smugglers and are run by a militia, an ex-Libyan lieutenant police officer. The EU is buying the guard three new P150 high speed patrol boats.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. EU hits vaccination target, as Delta variant now dominates
  2. European arms 'displaced over a million people', research finds
  3. Brexit: what is the 'Lugano Convention' and does it matter?
  4. US maintains summer travel ban on EU tourists
  5. Does democracy need troublemakers?
  6. Separating migrant families at EU borders must stop
  7. Germany mulls restrictions for unvaccinated as cases soar
  8. 'Prison island' birthplace of EU reborn as think-tank venue

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us