Some Migrants Stitching Lips Together as Part of Hunger Strike to Stay in Belgium

Hundred of migrants in Belgium went on a hunger strike with some of them stitching their lips together and only accepting small amounts of liquids through straws, the Associated Press reported.

The strike started over a month ago by migrants of two universities and a Brussels church who were desperate to obtain legal residency where some say they have worked and lived for a decade.

Some estimations range the number of participants around 400 while the Migration and Asylum State Secretary Sammy Mahdi gave a figure of around 200.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Migrants Start Hunger Strike in Belgium
Undocumented migrants, some of them having started an hunger strike, have occupied the 17th-century church since the end of January to denounce their lack of rights in Belgium and to call calling for a legal status. Above, migrants rest on makeshift beds during the occupation of St. John the Baptist Church at the Béguinage, in the center of Brussels on June 20. John Thys/Getty Images

The hunger strike by hundreds of migrants living in Belgium without legal permission is putting increasing pressure on a government coalition weighing the well-being of those involved against the need to stick to immigration and asylum rules.

Mahdi has insisted he is seeking to quicken up and improve the whole application system for people seeking to stay in Belgium but refuses to budge when facing demands by the hunger strikers for their cases to be handled now.

"They say that there are 150,000 living here illegally, and the 200 people that decide to stop eating should be regularized individually? What would be the result? A week later you get 200, 2,000, 20,000 people who would do exactly the same."

"That's not the way to go about it," he told VRT network.

Belgium, like so many other wealthy European nations, has had an ambivalent relationship with migration. Since the 1960s, many have been invited to come work and help build states across the continent.

Still, few were fully accepted in society and became the brunt of an often racist backlash when economies took a dip. Many of those on hunger strike now were not part of any legal program but have worked in the gray economy in the nation of 11.5 million where they have no social protection and are often at the mercy of unscrupulous bosses.

The French-speaking Socialist and Green coalition partners have called for a more flexible approach that could give the hunger strikers a better shot at obtaining the necessary papers, as tensions heighten among the seven coalition partners that have comprised the government since October.

Their government program is not specific on how to deal with such a migrant situation.

At the same time, the scenes at the three locations in Brussels look increasingly desperate, with some people unable to stand up because they have become too weak, further increasing the sense of urgency to come up with a solution.

Migrants on Hunger Strike Belgium
More than two hundreds of migrants without official papers and who have been occupying a church and two buildings of two Brussels universities since last February, began a hunger strike on 23 May to draw the attention of Brussels authorities to their plight. Above, a man on hunger strike is helped by a comrade as he occupies with others a big room of the ULB Francophone university in Brussels, June 29. Francisco Seco/Associated Press