The Belgium government has implemented a set of exceptional measures to address several situations during lockdown, but it has not taken any decision regarding undocumented people, unlike other EU countries.
Belgian institutions claim they want undocumented people to have good lives, but still fail to issue residence permits
For the Belgium League of Human Rights (LDH), this lack of measures regarding this vulnerable group of people is surprising. Indeed, due to the current pandemic context, people without residence permits cannot move, work or access social basic social rights, which makes it hard for them to survive and live in decent conditions. Fifty undocumented people denounced this situation in a flash appeal held on 20 April in Brussels, in compliance with the health regulations in force during lockdown.
Belgian institutions, such as the Aliens Office and the labor courts, have long stated that individuals who cannot leave the national territory, for reasons beyond their control, should be able to live in decent conditions. For people to be able to live decently, they should be issued a residence permit allowing them to work and access social services and health care.
Because of the pandemic, undocumented people cannot leave Belgian territory. Confined to their house or to informal settlements and squats, many of these women, children and men sometimes live in one home, in precarious and poor health conditions. As they are undocumented, they have no means of surviving because they are not allowed to work, even though many of them could actually work in sectors experiencing shortages.
The whole population should be protected, not just people with papers
LDH, as well as the Belgium Coordination For Undocumented People, urges the government to regularize undocumented people as soon as possible.
Firstly, it is essential to regularize these people to allow them to live in conditions in which their human dignity is preserved. Secondly, many of them live in precarious situations (due to the strong roots they have built in Belgium, to the insecurity in their home country or to other humanitarian reasons) that it is no longer conceivable for them to go back to their country of origin.
Our government must no longer ignore these people who live in our country without papers and without rights, and who cannot leave our country or travel because of the lockdown measures.
This is about the well-being of the people involved. This is about public health, about protecting the whole population, as everyone must fight against the pandemic in a spirit of solidarity, without ignoring those living in precarious conditions because they are undocumented. Everyone must be able to access healthcare and coronavirus tests.
Belgium can learn from other countries' examples
Italy, Spain and Portugal are currently working on regularization measures. Italy is about to regularize 600,000 people. Spain has implemented a waiting register system that provides migrants and asylum seekers with minimum rights in order to access housing, tests and care. As for Portugal, it has decided to regularize migrants who have requested residence permits.
The risk that such regularization would attract more migrants is a fallacious argument that some usually use to refuse to consider regularizing “undocumented” people. Such an argument is not even topical in these times of lockdown when borders and airspaces are closed. In fact, the closing of borders gives the opportunity to the government to “to wipe the slate clean” and allow these people to live a decent life by regularizing their administrative situation.
LDH is joining the call for support that was launched on social medias by undocumented people and that many citizens have already joined in order to make clear that Belgium, too, can regularize undocumented migrants.