On June 23rd 2015, Fedasil, the Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons (CGRS), SHARE and Caritas International organised a meeting on the Belgium resettlement programme for Syrian and Congolese refugees. The meeting was hosted in Brussels, and attended by representatives from several Public Social Welfare Centres (PSWCs) throughout Belgium, Convivial the non-governmental organisation, which is next to Caritas, involved in regional reception programmes, as well as local authorities and UNHCR.
Background and purpose of the meeting
The background to the meeting was the decision of the Belgian government to double the initially foreseen resettlement quota and admit 300 places in 2015, of which 225 were reserved for Syrian refugees, due to arrive between September and December 2015. Building on the experience gained in the reception of Syrian and Congolese refugees during the previous year, the meeting aimed to exchange information and practice between all organisations involved in the programme, and to identify challenges for future arrivals. The regular Belgian resettlement programme has started with two pilot projects in 2009 and 2011, comprised consideration of 50 persons during this first years and 100 resettlement places in 2013 and 2014 (25 Congolese and 75 Syrians).
Belgium Resettlement Stakeholder Conference, June 23rd 2015, Brussels (Picture by Fedasil - "All rights reserved")
Topics and interventions
Fedasil and the CGRS gave an introduction to the Belgian programme and global resettlement needs – click here to access the presentation given by CGRS (in Dutch) and here for the presentation by Fedasil (in French). The CGRS, which selects refugees for resettlement, explained the plight of the selected persons, notably Congolese refugees in Burundi, and Syrians in Lebanon. Three selection missions have been planned for 2015, to Muyinga, Burundi (25/01 – 04/02) and Beirut, Lebanon (22/03 – 01/04 and September 2015). UNHCR gave an overview of the past and present situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon since the beginning of the crisis in 2011 – click here to view the presentation (in French). With regard to reception and integration of Syrians in Belgium, Fedasil emphasised the important role of the PSWCs and NGOs Caritas and Convivial who provide long-term integration support to refugees once they have left the reception centres. Two Syrian refugees who were resettled in 2014, gave an account of the assistance they received and of their first experiences in Belgium.
The afternoon programme was facilitated by SHARE and Caritas International – who launched the latest SHARE video on the life of SHARE Resettlement Ambassador Filmon, who was present himself to open the screening, and shared his experiences during the filming in Antwerp together with Caritas and SHARE. Originally from Eritrea, Filmon and his wife spent time in Ethiopia, Sudan and Libya, before being resettled to Antwerp, Belgium from Shousha camp in Tunisia in 2011. Filmon currently works as a driver for people with restricted mobility in Antwerp and its surrounding areas, and has completed training as a car mechanic. Click here to view the SHARE presentation and here for the video ‘Belgium a land of opportunities’ – resettlement in the city of Antwerp.
The video was followed by a presentation delivered by the Dutch Council of Refugees (DCfR) on the important role of volunteers in resettlement. The DCfR engages 6.800 volunteers, represented in 305 municipalities, the organisation has developed and implemented a policy for their extensive work with volunteers. Click here to access the presentation (in Dutch). Signs and symptoms of trauma and mental health problems among refugees and migrants were outlined in a presentation by Solentra (The centre of Solidarity for Trauma) – click here to view the presentation (in French).
During the afternoon seminar, participants were divided into groups to discuss the two topics of the presentations and exchange local experiences in engaging volunteers in resettlement and recognising signs of mental health problems among refugees. During feedback rounds, participant speakers conveyed the message that volunteers may play a crucial role in preventing social isolation leading to mental health issues as they assist language acquisition, may offer psycho-social support and form a bridge between refugees and the host population.