Thousands have taken to the streets of Brussels, the heart of the European Union, in protest at the Belgian government’s refugee policy, calling on authorities to adopt a more “humane” approach in dealing with “those without papers.”
Some 10,000 protesters attended the rally on Sunday at Brussels’ Maximilien Park in close proximity to Belgium’s Immigration Department, where those seeking refugee status have been sleeping in camps since 2015.
The demonstration was organized by the activist group ‘Citizen’s Platform for Refugee Support’ and dubbed ‘Human Wave for Solidarity and Humanity.’
Some demonstrators beat on drums, chanting slogans in solidarity with refugees who have sought asylum in the European Union.
Other protesters were holding signs demanding the resignation of Belgium’s Asylum and Migration State Secretary Theo Francken, while some were holding placards that read, “Solidarity for everybody. Voice of those without papers.”
Francken is a member of the right-wing New Flemish Alliance, which pursues an anti-refugee agenda. He made headlines last year by refusing humanitarian visas to a family of Syrian refugees.
“I think that they (the administration) do not take into account the misery of these people…we can welcome some when there is no future for people in (their) country, when they escape from war and misery,” said one of the demonstrators, Myriam Gabriel, a former school teacher.
In 2015, Europe was overwhelmed by a huge influx of refugees fleeing conflict zones in the Middle East and North Africa.
Human rights groups say EU leaders in general, and the Belgian government in particular, have failed to fulfill their legal obligations to address the plight of refugees.
The Belgian government has been especially unsympathetic towards asylum seekers and has instead focused on a campaign of raids and arrests against the refugees stranded in Maximilien Park and Gard du Nord station.
Last month, the Citizen’s Platform for Refugee Support managed to draw nearly 3,000 people in less than 48 hours to create a human chain between the areas in protest at a planned police raid there.