The six were among about 40 "illegal" immigrants that climbed construction cranes around Brussels early Tuesday in a growing campaign to win residency permits.
"We chose the European quarter to tell Europeans that we are against what Europe has in the works for immigrants," said Rachid Moumni, a young Belgian of Moroccan origin speaking on behalf of the six protesters.
While the Moroccans took to cranes in the heart of Brussels' European quarter, others chose cranes at the construction site of a casino in the city centre. The protesters said they were on a hunger strike and were not drinking liquids either.
"There's a European agreement that says that illegal immigrants must be deported," said Moumni.
"We're humans. Give us residency permits so that we can legally work on the construction sites where we are employed. We don't want to work like slaves," added Moumni.
Campaign groups that help illegal immigrants estimate that 100,000 foreigners reside "illegally" in Belgium, which has a population of around 10 million people.
These protests actually began earlier this month when three Iranian immigrants climbed atop a crane and began a hunger strike. Among their demands, the hunger-strikers want work permits for illegal immigrants who already have jobs in Belgium. A delegation lobbied Prime Minister Yves Leterme on their behalf. A protest backed by trade unions was organised on the ground to show solidarity with the hunger strikers.
Such hunger strikes and the like are not uncommon by "illegal" immigrants in Belgium.
"For these people, this is the only way to obtain a legal permit to stay", says a support group of the Francophone Brussels university, Université Libre de Bruxelles.
The Francophone christian democrats of CDH and the Francophone socialists of PS are taking a more moderate stand towards asylum seekers, contrary to the Flemish coalition parties.
Of these the worst has to be Vlaams Belang, a right-wing Flemish nationalist and secessionist political party. The party favors strong immigration controls in addition to a limit on the number of mosques in Flanders and the deportation of immigrants who fail to integrate. Philip Michel Frans "Filip" Dewinter, a party leader told Metro three years ago, "[Immigrants] turn themselves into self pity. They become hostile, they cause nuisance and show criminal behaviour. In Flanders the multicultural society led to a multicriminal society."
Dewinter recently attended a meeting of far right European anti-Islamist in Amsterdam. The groups attending the meeting say mosques act as catalysts for taking over neighborhoods and imposing Islamic ways of life on Europeans.
Dewinter agrees and told Radio Netherlands Worldwide at the conference, "We already have more than 6,000 mosques in Europe, which are not only a place to worship but also a symbol of radicalization, some financed by extreme groups in Saudi Arabia or Iran."
Dewinter criticized a mosque being built in Rotterdam, Netherlands: "Its minarets are six floors high. These kinds of symbols have to stop."
None of Dewinter comments should come as a surprise, of course. In June 1992 DeWinter published a program of 70 points on immigration issues, which included a call for the forced repatriation of all immigrants up to the third generation.
The reasons given for Vlaams Belang's success vary, but most researchers agree that immigration remains the party's strong point. One group of Flemish researchers state that immigration dominates contemporary right-wing platforms. According to research by political scientist Hans De Witte of Catholic University of Louvain and Bert Klandermans of the Free University of Amsterdam, Flemings who vote for Vlaams Belang do so based on their negative attitude toward immigrants.
The Migration Policy Institute says the percentage of foreigners from Turkey and Morocco — the majority of whom are Muslim — is twice as high in Flanders as in Wallonia. Individuals of Turkish or Moroccan nationality together make up 16 percent of the total foreign population in Flanders, as compared to 7.5 percent in Wallonia. In Antwerp, Vlaams Belang's stronghold, that figure rises to 20 percent.
However, it isn't just the Flemish who harbor anti-immigrant and racist sentiment. Take Geert Wilders, who was ousted by the governing Dutch Liberal Party in 2004 and then founded his own party, the Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV or Freedom Party which is strongly anti-immigrant...and anti-Islamist. Wilders has described the Koran as a, "...diabolic book rather than a fairy tale book."
Wilders, a right wing Catholic says, "Islam is not a religion, it's an ideology...the ideology of a retarded culture."
He has called for a complete standstill of any immigration, for any reasons, of Muslims to the Netherlands.
Referring to the increased population of Muslims in the Netherlands, Wilders said last year, "Take a walk down the street and see where this is going. You no longer feel like you are living in your own country. There is a battle going on and we have to defend ourselves. Before you know it there will be more mosques than churches!"
Wilders party has been critical of Vlaams Belang's pro-Israel policies.
Currently Belgium is in a political crisis. As the PoliGazette writes at its website,
"...they (Belgians) were not able to form a unity government for months because the Dutch speaking part and the French speaking part could not agree with each other on their respective role and influence on the state and country. In the end, it seemed that some kind of consensus had emerged, but this only lasted shortly; the situation has become so bad now that Prime Minister Yves Leterme offered his resignation to the King… who then proceeded to reject his (and therefore the government’s) resignation."
This basically means that the government has to continue to function, regardless of whether or not the Prime Minister and other ministers want to function."
It is within this context that the struggle of Belgium's non-European immigrants battle on.
The following is from EuroNews.
Belgium’s illegal immigrants demand right to stay
Illegal immigrants have taken their campaign to stay in Belgium into the skies above Brussels. Stepping up their protest, about 15 people climbed cranes at building sites in the Belgian capital. Hunger strikes by other protestors won them the right to stay and work in Belgium, and other immigrants want the same deal.
Mimoun Benmansour, a spokesman for the illegal immigrants, said:
“They are working on the black, because there are a lot of companies who need skilled workers. These people do not have papers, but they have the skills.”
The protesters fear that the arrival of summer and the constitutional crisis still paralysing Belgian politics will divert attention from their campaign.
Thierry Roosemont, Director General of Belgium’s Immigration Bureau, said:
“This is simply blackmail. These people are trying to highlight their protest by putting other people in danger. It is not good enough. It is not going to work, because we will apply the law, and it will not help if people act like this.”
Some of the protesters occupied cranes near the offices of the European Commission, which supports giving EU nations the right to detain illegal immigrants for up to 18 months.