BRUSSELS -- Eighty Afghan asylum seekers have been left homeless and unsure of their future after being forcefully evicted from a derelict house in the center of Brussels by Belgian police.
The police action took place early on June 16 as members of the group of men, women, and children were staging a hunger strike to raise awareness of their plight.
Helene Crokart, a Belgian lawyer who is representing the group, tells RFE/RL that Belgium's immigration policies have effectively left the Afghans penniless, homeless, and with no place to turn.
She says that the Afghans were told they couldn't receive refugee status or subsidiary protection, but at the same time, "the Belgian state told them it is not possible to send them back to their country because it is too dangerous. So for the moment they are just like this, in the street."
A federal judge ruled on June 16 that the abandoned office building in which the group had been living for the past few months be closed. The local municipality had granted them use of the building, located a few hundred meters away from most lavish shopping street in Brussels and only 15 minutes from the EU government district.
Neighbors had been providing the Afghans with food and water.
The group had been living there in squalor, with little or no heat and sleeping on mattresses that lined the building's creaky floors from wall to wall. They depended on neighbors for food and water, and four members of the group have been hospitalized with illnesses.
When several police officers arrived on June 16 to forcibly evict the group, clashes broke out and a small protest ensued, disrupting one of the main roads in the city. That night, the group found temporary shelter, but their future remains unclear because the Belgian state is under no legal obligation to provide them with housing.
"They just tried to put us on the street and they did not tell us to go anywhere because we don't have an address, we don't have houses, we don't any other place to go," says one of the asylum seekers, who gave his name only as Hamid. "So they just told us to get out of the house and they don't care where we are going so they just put us on the street."
The space occupied by the Afghans, before they were eveicted
'They Don't Believe Me'
Hamid has recently become something of a spokesman for the entire group, and today was holding negotiations with the Belgian Immigration Office in the hope of having the group members' asylum applications reconsidered. Both the Belgian Immigration Office and the police refused comment on the case.
It's likely to be a long process. Hamid says that his asylum application has already been rejected three times because the authorities do not believe his documents are authentic.
"I presented them an Afghan passport and Afghan ID and probably more than 30 pictures and also my school results -- everything from Afghanistan. Also my brothers' and sister's IDs," Hamid says.
"But they still said that they [do] not believe in Afghan documents -- they might [be] forged and false. 'We do not believe in your pictures, they might be photoshopped.' And the information I have given them about the region.
Hamid says he was interviewed for "16 hours" total, during which he was asked "so many questions that you cannot count them. About [the] region, about local warlords, about local famous people, and I have given all those answers correctly and they say that I studied about this region."
No Place To Call Home
Hamid arrived in Belgium illegally in 2007 after smugglers randomly dropped him off in the country. He says he escaped his native Afghan region of Ghazni after the Taliban there forced him to work for them. He travelled by truck, car, ship, and foot, winding his way through Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey, until he finally reached the European Union.
Others in the group have similar stories. They share a common bond in that they are all living outside the law and in fear of what would happen to them should they be forced to return to Afghanistan.
Afghan asylum seekers being taken away by Belgian police -- without a country of origin to return them to, Belgian officials have left the Afghans in legal limbo.
A legal representative of the group says that the Belgian authorities claim that there is no proof that the Afghans came directly from Afghanistan, and that they suspect they might have resided in Iran or Pakistan before coming to the EU.
If their country of origin cannot be determined, they cannot be deported there, leaving the authorities with no options for action and the asylum seekers with no place to stay.
Hamid, however, remains defiant, and vows that the group will continue the hunger strike begun on May 31 in order to force the Belgian authorities to act.
"We cannot tolerate and we don't have the energy to stay any longer in this condition and this situation," Hamid says. "We just chose [to take] one of the two options: either to die or to get out of this situation."