Bishops support church sit-in protests
11 May 2006, BRUSSELS — Belgian bishops have officially accepted the series of church occupations being staged by illegal immigrants across the country, stressing their sympathy for their situation on Thursday.
11 May 2006
BRUSSELS — Belgian bishops have officially accepted the series of church occupations being staged by illegal immigrants across the country, stressing their sympathy for their situation on Thursday.
The bishops said a press conference in Mechelen that they hope for a humanitarian solution to the problem and urged politicians for unselfishness.
Currently, 25 churches across Belgium are being occupied by illegal immigrants demanding an amnesty and official residency. A series of hunger strikes have also been staged, but Interior Minister Patrick Dewael has refused to yield ground.
In response, Cardinal Godfried Danneels stressed as chairman of the Belgian Bishops Conference on Thursday that in making their statement about the problem of immigrants without official papers, the bishops were treating the issue as a humanitarian problem.
He said the bishops could not and would not make a comment about the political nature of the issue.
"For many reasons, a large number of refugees are staying in our country. That poses a great social problem," Danneels said. "We are talking about people who have lived here for years and are integrated."
The bishops claim the slow processing of some of the dossiers has made the problem worse. They are thus in solidarity with the immigrants without papers who are "in need" and hope for a quick and humane solution.
The bishops also said they can understand that some of these destitute people opt for "church occupation" as a form of protest. Danneels said this was a signal to the government that serves as a temporary function.
"It cannot be interpreted either as a form of moral blackmail from the church against the politicians. It is first and foremost a human problem that appeals to the conscience of everyone. The bishops want to send that appeal and nothing more," he said.
However, the bishops said hunger strikes cannot be accepted in any situation. Danneels said that form of protest is an immoral form of pressure. The bishops also said they will not tolerate being manipulated and want to guard their freedom of speech.
Though they respect the division between Church and State, the bishops urged the government to seek a solution to the problem.
"We ask that politicians do everything possible to find a political solution to this humanitarian problem. Who is to be regularised and how, is a political question that exclusively must be answered by politicians, but it is also a human tragedy that concerns everyone," Danneels said.
[Copyright Expatica News 2006]
Subject: Belgian news