Migrant protesters suspend hunger strike in tentative deal with Belgian government
Hundreds have been camping out at a historic church in Brussels, seeking formal residency status after living for years in the country.
A group of migrants and refugees on Wednesday said they had suspended their hunger strike after an 11th hour deal with Belgium’s coalition government, which had been at risk of falling apart over the protest.
Hundreds of protesters have been on a hunger strike for nearly two months, seeking formal residency status after living in Belgium for years, and camping out at the historic St. John the Baptist Church at the Béguinage in the center of Brussels. On Monday, green and left-leaning parties threatened to pull out of the ruling coalition if one of the strikers died.
One of the group’s representatives on Wednesday said the migrants had reached an agreement with the government and had decided to end their thirst strike as well as “suspend, for now, the hunger strike” as they wait to see if the government honors its promises.
Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration Sammy Mahdi confirmed he had reached an agreement with the protesters. Neither Mahdi nor the protesters explained what exactly the agreement entailed and whether the government had promised the protesters residency rights.
But Belgian media reported on a face-saving deal under which the government would speed up regularization procedures for the migrants who have participated in the protests, but insisting this would be done on a case-by-case basis, rather than an automatic residency permit for the entire group as demanded by the protestors.
In a press release, Mahdi said the government had succeeded in convincing the migrants that “the existing [regularization] procedures are humane” and had also promised to “continue to work on the structural improvement of existing legal migration channels.”
De Standaard reported that the government would expedite requests “for individual regularizations, on humanitarian grounds and — for the most vulnerable people — on medical grounds.”