Belgium: Afghan refugees on hunger strike in Brussels

At the beginning of July 1,100 asylum seekers from Afghanistan were ordered to leave the country. The government wants to send them back, because, they claim, “the war is finished”. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dissuades people from visiting Afghanistan because the situation there remains “unstable and dangerous”. The situation is even that unstable that the Belgian government is sending troops to reinforce the ‘internationaal peace forces’ in the country. The hypocrisy of the Belgian government becomes fully clear when we see how the European Union, and therefore also Belgium, exercises pressure on Iran and Pakistan not to send back the Afghan refugees in their countries. This is because, the EU says, there is nothing for them in Afghanistan where chaos still dominates. Does the Belgian government believe that the poorest countries must carry “all the misery of the world”?

Since the end of July some 300 Afghan refugees have been occupying a church in Ixelles, Brussels, to protest against the Belgian government’s attempt to deport asylum seekers from Afghanistan. The Belgian government says it wants to send them back to help “rebuild Afghanistan”. On Sunday 3 August, some 14 fascists of the Brussels and Walloon group ‘Nation’, held a protest outside the church. They repeated this on Sunday 10 August, with a bigger mobilisation: 19 of them attended. Anti-fascists were present on both occasions, with 30-40 people, including many members and supporters of the CWI. Last Saturday, 500 local people and supporters demonstrated in support of the Afghan refugees. Below is an English translation of a CWI leaflet which was distributed on this protest. CWI online.

Afghan refugees on hunger strike in Brussels

Respect the right of asylum

Since two weeks about 300 Afghans are on hungerstrike and have occupied the Holy Cross chuch in Ixelles. They are demanding, that as a group, they can officially stay in Belgium. The government says a collective solution is not possible. However, they were able to produce a collective command to leave the country! The government wants to put pressure on the hunger strikers to search for individual solutions which would make it easier to divide the refugees and expell them in smaller groups. The government is using divide and rule policies. The goverment, led by Verhofstadt, wants to force the unemployed to take ‘courses’ and to accept any job. They want the unemployed to look for individual solutions. Meanwhile the government refuses to discuss other collective solutions, such as a shorter working week without loss of pay. The government promised to create 200,000 new jobs in the coming four years, but in the meanwhile they have no problem with the loss of 10,000 jobs in the national railway company and the possibility of a similar number of job losses in the national post company. In this situation the asylum seekers are an easy scapegoat.

We think that the fight of the refugees is a part of the fight of the workers and unemployed against the anti-social policies of the government. The Afghan refugees need the support of broader layers of the population to be able to get their justified demands. The setting up of a committee of neighbours who support the refugees is a first step in that direction. LSP/MAS supports this initiative and wants to contribute in broadening the solidarity.

Stop the fascists

Last Sunday a group of fascists demonstrated in front of the Holy Cross church. They accused the Afghan refugees of “blasphemy” and demanded the immediate deportation of the refugees. People from these fascist groupings have been involved in physical violence in the past. The group maintains close contacts with the French grouping of which Maxime Brunerie was a member (Brunerie was the person who tried to assassinate the French president, Chirac, last year). The group demands the reintroduction of the death penalty, the prohibition of abortion, and an obligation for everyone over 10 years old to give their digital finger prints to the police.

We do not think these fascists can be allowed to demonstrate without counter action. We do not agree with the arguement that taking action should be avoided because it may provide them with publicity. It is because of the presence of anti-fascists that they were not able to come near the church last week and could not spread their propaganda in the market place in front of the church. We cannot allow the far right the possibility to build their organisation on the basis of public activitites. Each time they come on the streets, we must isolate this core of fascists from the rest of the population.

However we appeal to everyone to avoid any direct confrontation with the fascists or the police.

The fascists announced they would demonstrate again on Sunday 10 August between 10.30 and 10.45 am in front of the church. LSP/MAS and Internationaal Verzet/ Résistance Internationale call for a counter-demonstration at the same time in the Flagey Square in front of the church. We do not agree with the prohibition of all meetings on the square, as has been issued by the mayor of Ixelles because this prohibition puts the supporters of the refugees on the same level as the fascists.

Français: Respectez le droit d’asile

Nederlands: Solidariteitsactie met Afghaanse hongerstakers

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August 2003