23 asylum seekers are for more than 66 days in hunger strike. What they demand is a permission of stay for one year and the right to work. Maggie De Block, the secretary responsible for asylum and migration, has declared that there is no future for these people in Belgium. Meanwhile their health situation is worsening each hour. The doctor visiting them almost daily wrote a letter to Maggie De Block. Here you can read the letter.
Mrs Secretary of State,
While cycling my way home, returning from the hunger strikers at the VUB, I was wondering how extremely difficult your task must be, how I wouldn’t want to walk in your shoes. You have to make decisions that destroy people’s lives and shatter their long cherished dreams. You have to follow the rules, not your heart.
That’s why I prefer to do the medical follow-up and guidance of the hunger strikers, with little means and after regular working hours, even though it means being confronted each day with patients who’s health rapidly deteriorates. But it also means working with people who want to achieve something in their lives, and go to great lengths to get there.
I don’t know how many people without residential permits you meet at your practice in Merksem, but in our one at Schaarbeek, we see them on a daily bases. Exploited by their employer, working long hours for little pay. From that small wage they have to pay the landlord a high amount for renting a tiny little room, with one joint toilet in the hallway. They don’t want a certificate for incapacity to work, cause a day no work is a day no pay.
As your colleague doctor I should send you an official report, an enumeration of falling BMI’s, heartbeats and blood pressures, of rising percentages of weight loss, of vertigo and asthenia. I could make you a list of all small and big health issues that occur, which are precisely noted in their medical files. About how a small wound gets infected rather immediately and because of their lack of resistance, becomes an abscess that has to be drained. About the sores and the dental problems from drinking too much sweetened tea. But you, being a doctor, are familiar with those problems. And I feel reluctant to tell you all this.
In fact, I would like you to visit the hunger strikers at the VUB. Not to help with their medical care, but to give them an explanation. Because they don’t understand it and I am no longer able to explain it to them. They can’t understand how you, being a doctor and a woman, can’t show more understanding and interest in their case. They are only asking for a permit to work here legally, to be able to contribute to society. Some of them surged the sea in tiny boats to get here, with only a few dates to feed them. Others took the dangerous route through the Balkan States, coming from Turkey.
But if I ask them today, what the hardest part was of their journey, they all confirm: this hunger strike!
Still they keep going on…
I ask you, Mrs Secretary of State, come and see for yourself, come and talk to them, come and tell them why it’s wrong for them to dream themselves a better and dignified live.
They all, and so would I, would appreciate that very much.
Dr. Rita Vanobberghen is a doctor who does research about the hunger strikers at the VUB.
Translated from Dutch to English by Ann Blanckaert