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Brussels announces 'breakthrough' on migrants' hunger strike

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By Euronews  with AP
An ambulance is called for one of the migrants on hunger strike at the ULB Francophone university in Brussels on June 29, 2021
An ambulance is called for one of the migrants on hunger strike at the ULB Francophone university in Brussels on June 29, 2021   -   Copyright  Francisco Seco/AP

Several migrants on hunger strike were brought out of a Brussels church on Wednesday as a potential breakthrough deal was announced.

Some 475 undocumented migrants, mostly from South Asia and North Africa, launched a hunger strike on May 23 this year demanding a way to obtain legal residency.

Many of the group, who are based at the Church of St. John the Baptist church at the Béguinage and rooms in two Brussels universities, have lived and worked in Belgium for years.

About 50 of them were taken to hospital after ending their hunger strike, NGO Médecins du Monde (MdM) said on Thursday.

"Some of them have had to be taken into intensive care due to kidney problems," MdM Belgium director Michel Genet, said.

The number of hospitalisations was expected to change during the day after doctors visited the strike's two sites.

The situation escalated last Friday after a number of the participants also began to refuse water. On Wednesday, the Belgian government announced it had outlined a deal with the group.

Egbert Lachaer, chairman of Prime Minister Alexander De Croo’s Liberal party, Egbert Lachaert, said that based on what had been agreed, those concerned would have their cases looked at individually in a neutral zone, “without group pressure and without putting lives at risk”.

Several migrants were wheeled out of the church after the deal was announced, and were met with applause and singing from activists. Some of those present said they were ending their action after receiving "assurances" from the government.

Migration State Secretary Sammy Mahdi previously argued that the strikers each needed to fill out individual residency requests, and count not be collectively granted the right to remain. On Wednesday, he tweeted: “Relieved... For me, this was not a fight against people but for a correct policy. Let's hope no one has any lasting injuries because of this."

The United Nations estimates that 150,000 migrants are living without authorization in Belgium. Many of those wanting to have their status legalized are thought to be deterred from applying, for fear that they will be deported.