Over 400 undocumented workers, mainly from Morocco and Algeria, are staging a mass hunger strike in Belgium to pressure authorities into granting them the right to remain in the country.
The strikers have been camped out for six weeks at several locations in the capital Brussels, including in a church and a university canteen, and academics are calling for an urgent solution as fears over their health grow.
The demonstrators, backed up by a local supporters, are calling on the government to grant all of them the right stay in Belgium after years of working in the country without papers.
“Despite all our skills and the fact that we are here to work, not to just to collect money, the answer remains the same, to ‘go home’ It is incomprehensible,” one Algerian protester Abdeslam, 42, told AFP, refusing to give his surname.
The hunger strike – launched in May after four months of talks with immigration authorities broke down – has now drawn the involvement of the heads of the six biggest French-language universities in Belgium.
In a joint statement on Tuesday the rectors called on the authorities to “use all the legal means in their power” to find solutions, while “urging” the protesters to put an end to their action.
The head of Universite Libre de Bruxelles, where some demonstrators are located, said she was “particularly alarmed by the state of health of the hunger strikers” and feared they may face “irreversible consequences.”
Belgian authorities argue that Morocco and Algeria are stable countries and the workers therefore cannot claim asylum. They remain adamant that they will not grant the whole group a collective right to remain.
A spokesperson for the secretary of state for asylum and migration called on the participants to end “this very dangerous action.”
“There are migration rules in all European countries. We cannot regularize everyone,” the spokesperson told AFP.