BRUSSELS – Tension over a weeks-long hunger strike by hundreds of undocumented migrants in Belgium’s capital has mounted after four of them stitched their lips shut to stress their demands for legal recognition and access to work and social services.
Aid workers say that more than 400 migrants, holed up at two universities and a church in Brussels, stopped eating on May 23 and their health is deteriorating.
“We sleep like rats,” said Kiran Adhikeri, a migrant from Nepal who worked as a chef until restaurants closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I feel headaches, stomach pain, the whole body is full of pain.”
“I am begging them (the authorities), please give us access to work, like others. I want to pay taxes, I want to raise my kid here, in this modern city,” he told Reuters.
The government has not responded to their pleas.
Junior minister for asylum and migration Sammy Mahdi has said the government will not agree to regularise the status of the 150,000 undocumented migrants living in Belgium, but was willing to hold talks with the strikers on their plight.
“Life is never a price worth paying and people have already gone to the hospital. That’s why I really want to try to convince all persons and all organisations behind it to make sure they don’t give a false hope,” Mahdi told Reuters.
“There are rules and regulations … whether it is around education, whether it is around jobs, whether it is around migration, politics needs to have rules.”