A Brussels church at the heart of a migrant rights protest

By Clara Gámez

Brussels, Mar 13 (efe-epa).- The centuries-old Church of St. John the Baptist at the Béguinage in Brussels has hosted nearly 200 undocumented migrants since January and, for the fourth time in two decades, has become a hub for protests in favor of their regularization.

The church, built in the 17th century, was the cradle of protests in 1998, 2008 and 2009 and now, amid the worst health crisis in recent history, it has opened its gates to men, women and children looking for shelter and a space to demand labor rights and demonstrate social exclusion.

Speaking to Efe, Hussein, a coordinator for the migrant campaign group USPR described the church’s Father Daniel as “an activist who has always supported the struggle of refugees and the undocumented.”

After years of gatherings, rallies and meetings with officials, the undocumented migrant campaigners changed their strategy to occupy symbolic public spaces, such as the church. Police are unable to evict them from the premises.

People have lived at the church for months and some say they have worked in Belgium for decades without paperwork. They demand their situation be legalized.

Banners draped on the columns inside the church are emblazoned with messages such as “Not having my papers is death,” “Without papers, without rights, crushed by the law,” “There is no space to dream” and “God is with us.”

They were written by Halima, from Morocco, who decided to move to Belgium to help her ailing parents and who says she has been working since arriving in the country.

“We do not want to remain as ghost citizens. How long are we going to live ‘in black’? How long are we going to work ‘in black’? Until when?” she said.

She demands her labor situation to be legalized; “we cannot just sit in the street and ask people who pass by for money.”

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