Migrant hunger strike could bring down Belgian government

Ministers could resign en masse if one of the protesters dies

A hunger strike by hundreds of undocumented migrants is threatening to bring down Belgium’s government.

Two months into the strike, some migrants are refusing water and UN representatives say several are “between life and death”.

The UN is urging Belgium’s government to defuse the crisis by pledging not to deport the migrants.

It says Morocco and Algeria, from where most of the migrants came, are stable countries and that the protesters are therefore ineligible for asylum.

But the ruling coalition could fall apart after Socialist Party ministers said they would resign if any protester died.

Economy Minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne gave the warning directly to Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, Belgian newspaper Le Soir reported.

“A tragedy is imminent,” the heads of the Socialist and Green parties said.

Two UN special rapporteurs wrote an open letter to Belgium’s Migration Minister, Sammy Mahdi, urging him to grant temporary residence permits.

“The information we have received is alarming and several of the hunger strikers are between life and death,” they said.

Red Cross health workers were called in to assess the situation at three protest sites, which include a church and a university.

Mr Mahdi said “nobody wants a tragedy” to happen and that he was following the situation closely.

He said he had suggested to the hunger strikers that they submit residency requests individually rather than seeking a collective right to stay in Belgium.

The strike began on May 23. Estimates of the number of people involved range from 200 to 400.

Some of the protesters are too weak to stand, it was reported.

About 150,000 undocumented migrants are thought to live in Belgium, some of whom fear seeking legal status in case they are deported.

Updated: July 20th 2021, 1:20 PM
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