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'Afghan march' camps out for Belgium PM

Published Dec 23, 2013 10:23am
People hold signs after a march from Brussels to Mons in support of the Afghans refugees, organised by the Afghan Collective in Mons on Dec 22, 2013. — Photo by AFP
People hold signs after a march from Brussels to Mons in support of the Afghans refugees, organised by the Afghan Collective in Mons on Dec 22, 2013. — Photo by AFP

BRUSSELS: Some 200 Afghan asylum-seekers and their supporters set up camp late Sunday in Belgium's western town of Mons, demanding to see Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo to press for residency papers.

The demonstrators had marched 70 kilometres from Brussels to see Di Rupo, who is also mayor of Mons.

After learning the prime minister was on a trip abroad and would not return until Monday, they vowed to camp out in Mons's main square — decked out in Christmas decorations and vendors — until they could see him.

The Afghans had been occupying a Brussels church for four months in a protest demanding permission to legally stay in Belgium. The archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, Andre Leonard, has lent his support to their campaign.

While Di Rupo has expressed some sympathy for their plight, his state secretary for asylum, Maggie De Block, has taken a harder line, saying the Afghans' requests would be processed as for any other would-be refugee.