Brussels has a new palace. The “Palais des Droits” is located on Rue des Palais. It is basically a large office building from the 1930s.
It was built by renowned architect Michel Polak and is protected Brussels heritage. The building housed the former federal finance and tax department in Brussels, was later also let, but has been vacant since 2017.
Today it is inhabited by 700 homeless people, mostly Burundian and Afghan asylum seekers. We call them sans-papiers, “without papers”. In reality, however, they are all in possession of a document “Appendix 26,” an application for international protection, which entitles them to shelter, provided by the government.
The government does not act on this right. Many a Appendix 26’er is sleeping on the streets. What happened? They take up their own initiative and move into this empty building. On the windows they write “Palais des Droits.
All this is disturbing, but it is being reported. It is covered, posted, lamented and contested. The Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders are involved. There are helpers and benefactors.
No state. No city. They are fed from the outside, but inside, it is the residents who self-organize. Every day teams of residents rise up to plan, organize, clean, collect trash, work to improve their own living situations.
Every day that the Palais des Droits does not go up in flames is a miracle, a manifesto. Of course it is an Anti-Paleis, defined by what it is not. It is at once a necessity and a projection, a defiant cry. It is a fist, a middle finger, a dream.
Palais des Droits. Palace of Rights!
The optimism this name exudes cuts to the core. Unexpectedly positive because they simultaneously emphasize what it is and what it is not. The name is their way of saying two things at once.
Every day that the “palace of rights” exists and the palace residents are not treated as rightful human beings is a disgrace to the government.
First, we have been given a right, but without consequence. We have a right to a roof, a shelter from the cold, safety. Every time that Palais des Droits is mentioned in the media, every day that the “palace of rights” exists and the palace residents are not treated as rightful human beings, is a disgrace to the government.
Second: We are no longer defined by what we do not have, but by what is, who we are. We are avec-papiers, Appendix 26’ers, humans of right, lawful human beings.
Thomas Rasker, architect, neighbor, citizen