LARGE SUPPORT FOR 'DECLARATION OF GHENT'| 4 March 2022
International freedom of movement has been hailed for almost 30 years as one of the fundamental values of the European Union. For many citizens of the EU, the freedom to travel feels like more than just a given: it is also an absolute necessity. With a passport that opens doors to 134 countries, Belgian citizens have the greatest ease of international movement of just about anyone in the world.
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Belgium signed in 1948, every human being has the right to work, the right to leave their country and the right to change nationality. In reality, people from outside the EU come up against an endless series of militarised and bureaucratic borders if they try to exercise those rights in or on the way to Belgium.
European policy, in which Belgium participates, has cost the lives of more than 23,000 people in the Mediterranean Sea since 2014. That figure does not include the people who did not survive an equally dangerous journey across the Sahara, due to a lack of figures. Those who do survive the trip end up in camps where human rights are systematically abused or find themselves entangled in procedures lasting years to be recognised as full citizens.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine changes the state of the continent forever. 500.000 Ukrainians already fled, millions may follow. They now share the same fate as refugees fleeing from outside of Europe. But the reaction of European member states, welcoming them with open arms, shows that another migration policy is possible.
Not having the right papers means being forced to work without documents. It also means that you cannot build up pension rights and that you have no protection from illness or incapacity for work, which means there is a great likelihood of poor working conditions and exploitation. It creates a reservoir of dirt-cheap labour for rogue employers: the undocumented people’s legal status means they have no alternative. Of the campaigners who occupied the Béguinage Church in Brussels in spring 2021, 57 worked in bakeries for 5 euros per hour. More than 100 toiled on building sites for 4 euros per hour. European Commission buildings in Brussels, the new Kunst-Wet/Arts-Loi metro station and even a police station are just some of the buildings that unacknowledged hands helped to build. Many people are pointing accusing fingers at Qatar, the host of the upcoming football World Cup, but cheap labour is shamelessly exploited in Belgium as well.
This policy of turning a blind eye, excluding, locking up and deporting costs the Belgian taxpayer tens of millions of euros per year. Regularising non-acknowledged fellow citizens, on the other hand, would bring in 65 million euros per month(!) in extra social security contributions. We have been hearing declarations of intent for a clearer regularisation policy for years. Promises of a more humane reception. But today we are going beyond these words.
The signatories no longer want to hear from policymakers how terrible the camps in Southern Europe are. They no longer want to hear that Belgium is a welcoming country.
Solidarity from the bottom up, which is continually undermined by the legal frameworks that criminalise it, is not enough. It is time for co-liberation. We resist the mechanisms of ‘divide-and-conquer’ to build a new, inclusive ‘we’ that all of us belong to, irrespective of our origins or previous legal status. All of us can benefit from this unity. Regularisation offers a perspective of safe and dignified work and guarantees equal rights for those who do not yet have documents. It will enable us to maintain the strength of our social security system and create allies in the struggle for fair working conditions. Regularisation also means an end to wasting community money on the criminalisation of people through false solutions such as closed centres and deportations, making us accomplices to human rights abuses. We can invest that money where it is really needed, in healthcare, education, a sustainable transition and so many other things that will benefit all of us.
That is why we are demanding freedom together from the legal frameworks that have divided us for decades. Because political courage has nothing to do with clutching stubbornly at rigid frameworks made for a different purpose in a different time. Political courage is the courage to keep on questioning those frameworks, to reinvent them and if necessary to give them up.
The signatories want to change the law by making it clearer and more humane. They demand:
1. An end to random treatment: clear criteria must be introduced for the regularisation process that take into account the impossibility of return to the country of origin, long-term attachment to Belgium and certain forms of vulnerability.
2. The appointment of an independent regularisation commission, made up of people involved in the sector, to whom applicants can appeal. They will scrutinise the final decision in the event of appeals after a rejection by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
3. The possibility of submitting the application for regularisation in Belgium, instead of at a Belgian diplomatic mission or consular post abroad as required at present.
4. Stopping the criminalisation of people that the State does not recognise as citizens. Regularisation may not be refused on the grounds of undocumented work or infringements related to the migration route.
5. Regularisation based on a personalised project: migration is wealth. That is why we propose a regularisation process based on a personal project. The person will be supported by an advisor who will monitor them during the development of their project.
Support our proposed law! Sign as an individual and/or organisation and share the campaign with your network of friends, family, colleagues and fellow activists. Write Belgian history: www.inmyname.be