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Migrant workers halt two-month hunger strike in Belgium

Hundreds of undocumented workers, mainly from Morocco and Algeria, on Wednesday suspended a two-month hunger strike to demand Belgian authorities let them remain in the country.

The strikers had been camped out for weeks at several locations in Brussels, including in a church and a university canteen, after months of talks with immigration authorities broke down.

But after authorities suggested some of the around 450 would be able to claim “exceptional circumstances” to remain, the protest was suspended, according to the strike organising committee.

Fears had been growing for the health of the protesters, and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo welcomed the decision to stop the hunger strike as “the only right decision”.

The Greens and Socialists, pillars of the coalition, had threatened days earlier to withdraw their ministers — at the risk of bringing down the government — if any of the hunger strikers died.

The workers, many of whom had been working for years in Belgium without formal papers, had won support from local groups, including the heads of the six biggest French-language universities in Belgium.

“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’,” one Algerian protester Abdeslam, 42, told AFP earlier.

Belgian authorities had argued that Morocco and Algeria were stable countries and the workers could not claim asylum.