Asylum seekers destroyed a part of a Brussels detention centre in a fire on Sunday, also threatening to hang themselves in a dramatic rooftop protest, Belgian authorities said.
A wing of a secure facility at Steenokkerzeel, near the main Brussels airport, was destroyed by the fire, mayor Karel Servranckx said.
“A wing that was set on fire is uninhabitable,” he told media. He said families with children would be kept at untouched parts of the facility, but that “we are trying to evacuate those people who climbed onto the roof.
“We don’t yet know how many people will need to be re-housed,” he added.
A number of demonstrators had scaled the roof and attempted to escape over barricades, Belga news agency said.
Others threatened to hang themselves with bedding from their cell windows.
After fire officers intervened, police reinforcements were also called to seal off the area.
Around 40 sympathisers drove a cortege to the centre’s entrance on Sunday, after days of complaints about detention conditions and the physical and psychological treatment of those held.
Some of those held began a hunger strike on Wednesday, with the case of an 18-year-old Egyptian held in solitary confinement, who protesters said was beaten by four guards, at the centre of their ire.
One of the protest organisers, Axel Wauters, said “politicians are quick to condemn violence from (deposed Egyptian president Hosni) Mubarak’s regime, but close their eyes at violence deployed by Belgian guards on an Egyptian youth”.