Deadlock over asylums as protests escalate

8th May 2006, Comments 0 comments

8 May 2006, BRUSSELS — Interior Minister Patrick Dewael has refused to give ground despite the escalating protests by illegal immigrants demanding official residency in Belgium.

8 May 2006

BRUSSELS — Interior Minister Patrick Dewael has refused to give ground despite the escalating protests by illegal immigrants demanding official residency in Belgium.

The protests involve a demonstration in La Louvière, a church sit-in protest in Kortrijk and a hunger strike at the asylum seeker centre Klein Kasteeltje or Petit-Château in Brussels.

"We don't want the law to change, but want it applied more efficiently and quicker so that people without [official] papers don't have to live for years in uncertainty," Ghent bishop Luc Van Looy said on Sunday.

The Sint-Antonius church in Ghent is one of three Flemish churches that are being occupied by illegal immigrants. The others are the Sint-Michiels church in Kortrijk and the Egidius community monastery in Antwerpen.

In Ghent, the names of 4,363 illegal immigrants who are demanding official residency have been recorded.

Church sit-ins are also being staged in Wallonia and Brussels, where hunger strikers have also at times stopped drinking as concerns for the health of protestors grew.

But Interior Minister Patrick Dewael has refused to yield ground. In fact, in an interview on current affairs show 'De Zevende Dag' on Sunday, he appeared to harden his stance.

He said the majority of foreigners currently staging protests cannot expect to gain official residency.

"Most of them simply don't come into consideration for asylum or regularisation. Often, they have not lodged an application, initiated no procedure or were a given negative assessment years ago," the Liberal VLD minister said.
 
Dewael also stressed that a hunger strike is unacceptable black mail, newspaper 'De Standaard' reported on Monday.

A spokesman from the Egidius community Jan De Volder said in mid-February: "I understand the desperation of the hunger strikers, but we don’t allow that sort of protest in our church".

But De Volder — who is also involved in the Hope for Papers protest group — has since said Dewael must also be consistent.

He said the minister recently gave ground to some hunger strikers, giving the impression that those who protest the hardest will have their demands met.

"All politicians must take their responsibility and show political courage. In two weeks time, the new asylums law will be debated in the Parliament. We think the tightening and acceleration of the [asylums] procedure is good," De Volder said.

If the new legislation is introduced hand-in-hand with a flexible measure to give residency for people who have lived for years and are already integrated, De Volder said the nation can start with a clean slate and improved procedures.
  
However, Christian Democrat CD&V parliamentary leader Pieter De Crem was critical of both the minister and churches.

De Crem said the church sit-ins were the outpouring of criticism against the government for its ineffective repatriation policy in the past five years.

"But every institute in this country, also the church, must know that there is a law that regulates residency in Belgium and that must be applied," he said.

[Copyright Expatica News 2006]

Subject: Belgian news

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