For the second time in less than a month, hundreds of Afghan asylum seekers and their supporters held a three-day protest march in Belgium.
The 70-km march started on January 11 in Brussels and ended in Ghent. The aim was to publicise the situation of Belgium's Afghan asylum seekers, and put pressure on the Belgian government to provide protection and legal residency.
After the first march, Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo expressed some sympathy for their situation. But Maggie De Block, the secretary of state for asylum and migration and for social integration, has taken a tougher line. During the march, the protesters stopped in front of her home and left her a symbolic bus ticket to Kabul, Afghanistan's capital.
Many of the participants had been denied asylum despite the fact that Afghanistan is still insecure. Some Afghans have even been deported. The group of Afghan asylum-seekers, some of whom have lived in Belgium for years, began protesting last year after some of them were denied asylum. Two hundred of them, including women and children, have been occupying a church in the center of Brussels for the past four months - where they have access to only two toilets.
Belgium has had a military presence in Afghanistan since 2003, as part of the NATO operations there. Around 2.7 million Afghans continue to live in exile from their home country, and some 600,000 are estimated to be internally displaced.