To go beyond the welcome

Having had the opportunity to live and work in various countries in the Middle East, in Africa and in Europe, I have always remained mindful of human and social concerns…

It is what motivated me to get in touch with the Josefa Foundation and collaborate with them, after friends told me about this project in which they themselves were involved.

According to what I learned and what I can share with asylum seekers or refugees in Belgium, the Foundation’s project can be a real opportunity for some of them to participate actively in a dynamic integration process.

This integration is possible mainly by the participation and involvement of each person in the daily life of the Josefa House and Project.

When a person applies for asylum in Belgium, they have the right to be housed in a centre appointed by Fedasil, and receive certain benefits and support. Then begins a waiting period, lasting anywhere between a few weeks and several months, interspersed with appointments and interviews with the administrations in charge of asylum applications. When the person is granted the status of refugee or subsidiary protection, they have to leave the reception centre within two months. Even if their stay at the reception centre presented difficulties and was especially long and fraught with uncertainty, the fact that they are leaving the centre represents a new challenge. In Belgium, a whole series of rights (and obligations) are linked to your residential address. Thus, the search for a place of residence becomes the top priority.

The possibility for some refugees to join the Josefa Project and House, even for a limited time, will allow them to reach this all-important stage of securing their first address in Belgium, because they can then reside at the House and start the next phase of the administrative process.

But the Josefa project offers more than just an address: a participatory integration project in a society that is very different from the one they knew.

Very often, refugees will also want to increase their income by finding a job. It is important for the job to be legal, with all its rights and obligations. Otherwise, they will enter the "black" market which will certainly give them an income, but will lead them to an impasse since it will not only put them at the mercy of their employer, but it will be very difficult for them to advance and break free from their predicament. For the refugees who have no minimal knowledge of the languages of our country, working "illegally" is often the only possible work they can get. Knowledge of one of the national languages allows refugees to get a job, access training, or acquire skills which they can use when they return to their country of origin.

A place of residence, a job, language learning and academic courses: these are all elements of the integration process in a new country. As the Josefa Project and its House are spaces where everyone can meet, discuss and take action, they offer refugees a chance, a place and time to "relax" and establish links between these elements. Refugees can better learn how their new host society operates, and what challenges and opportunities await them.

The artistic and cultural activities made available by the Project and the House open other horizons for refugees. These activities are often overlooked in the usual integration courses, in favour of other ones that are perceived as being more practical. And yet, art, culture, social affairs are an integral part of any society.

By all these aspects, the Josefa Project is more than a short-term welcoming place: it is the possibility of regaining control of one’s life, in spite of the fact of having been forced to leave one’s country.