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“We've tasted the journey's bitterness”.. Syrian volunteers helping refugees arriving in Belgium

“We've tasted the journey's bitterness”.. Syrian volunteers helping refugees arriving in Belgium

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Life Homeless Arab Migrants

Tuesday 8 November 202212:15 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

"ذقنا مرارة الرحلة سابقاً"... متطوعون سوريون يغيثون اللاجئين في بلجيكا

Not a few years after Syrians arrived in Europe following a long arduous journey, they found themselves once again facing scenes that mimic their bitter foreign asylum and displacement, which peaked between 2015 and 2018. But today it is much more difficult for their fellow countrymen and women who are tasting the same bitter pill once again, as a result of the ongoing war and its economic consequences.

This nostalgia of displacement has awakened the humanitarian zeal in the hearts of young Syrians in Belgium.

Youssef Quwaiqa, 31, and his friends began collecting food, blankets, and clothes immune against the harsh cold of the continent, giving them to those who have recently crossed over to safe land, those who had found no safety on their way, neither from the cold nor from hunger.

The spark of the first "scare"

Youssef says, "We have tasted the bitterness of this journey in 2014, and we do not want anyone to experience its pain, so we reached out to influential young people in the Arab community in Belgium through the 'Syrians in Belgium' group on Facebook and appealed to them to start working".

A number of young people responded to the appeal that Youssef and his friends made. They began to secure the needs of the refugees on the streets, trying — in an individual initiative that did not receive support from any government party or entity — to shape public opinion, so that it would pressure the government to support these refugees.

Newly arrived refugees in Belgium sleeping on sidewalks before receiving help

Youssef, who had arrived in Belgium in 2014, tells Raseef22, "Some refugees arrive almost completely naked, and the temperature is nearly at zero degrees these days, so we are collecting blankets, clothes, and shoes, and transporting them in our own cars over to them in order to try to help them and provide them with relief."

"Some refugees arrive almost completely naked, so we are collecting blankets, clothes, and shoes, and transporting them in our own cars to aid them and provide them with relief" — Youssef Quwaiqa, a Syrian refugee who's been in Belgium since 2014

Belgium is registering a major refugee crisis, with figures today reaching record levels. The office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons has estimated the number of asylum seekers in Belgium at 22,627 since the beginning of this year, warning of the worsening of the crisis due to the lack of places for these large numbers and those that are yet expected to come.

Today, an asylum seeker in Belgium does not receive any logistical support. His request for asylum just gets accepted, after it had taken him months on his journey through the seas and forests to arrive in Belgium. This has made the situation more dire than the 2015 scenario, as a result of the government's inability to secure accommodation for most migrants today.

"Good people" camps

Every week, Youssef and his friends collect refugee data in order to know their numbers, and send it to governmental and private organizations and bodies. They also secure accommodation for newcomers by creating pathways of communication with Syrians and Arabs who have places to host a refugee.

Volunteers collect refugee data, and send it to governmental and private organizations and bodies. They also secure accommodation for refugees by reaching out to Syrians and Arabs who have places to host a refugee

As for the food, it is prepared by volunteers, most of whom are old refugees. They also provide in-kind donations from members of the Arab community in Belgium and people of other nationalities who are interested in human rights issues.

According to the statistics of the European commission, Syrian nationals ranked second after Afghans, while Palestinian nationals ranked third in terms of the number of asylum seekers in Belgium during 2022.

Volunteers working to help refugees out on the streets

Negligence and disregard for refugee conditions

Despite the great efforts made by the initiators, the demand is too great and cannot be covered by an individual youth initiative, so the initiative team organized a demonstration to stir public opinion on the issue of refugees. Youssef says, "We, in cooperation with the Labor Organization of the Flanders region, authorized a demonstration in front of the Fedasil Centre – the Belgian Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers – in Brussels. Large numbers of different nationalities gathered to denounce the negligence practiced by the government regarding helping refugees, which is certainly deliberate, with the aim of diverting the attention of refugees from Belgium and make them not come to it."

Despite the great efforts made by the initiators, the demand is too great and simply cannot be covered, so the initiative team organized a demonstration to stir public opinion on the issue of refugees

Brussels ignores the voices of the hundreds who sleep on its sidewalks, just like it had previously ignored UN warnings of the current catastrophe before it took place. Its stances have been met with sharp criticism, adding a new page to the volumes of double standards on dealing with refugees. How can it not, with history testifying how this country rushed a few months ago to offer solutions and exceptions to those coming from Ukraine, while today it practices such delaying tactics towards refugees from other countries.

The palpable disappointment among those sleeping out in the open is described by volunteer Zahid Ghida, 32, a Belgian of Syrian origin, as shameful and appalling, because of the abuse and racism these children of war have received.

Zahid, who arrived in Belgium in 2016, says, "Anxiety and fear hang over the arriving refugees, who seek help from us for a place to sleep and beg us to look for steps to speed up the procedures for acquiring residency. Some of them end up regretting choosing Belgium, expressing their disappointment over what they have seen compared to what they had hoped for and what they had pictured in their imagination about life in Europe."

"Anxiety and fear hang over the refugees, who seek help from us for a place to sleep and beg us to look for steps to speed up the procedures for acquiring residency" — Zahid, a Syrian refugee who has been in Belgium since 2016

He continues, "I joined the relief group since it became clear that the government was unable to secure housing for single people at first, but soon after that, we began seeing women and children on the streets also suffering from the cold and hunger." Zahid, who works for the Belgian organization Samo, goes on to say, "I joined the initiative through a WhatsApp group, which is the simplest thing that can be done to help these afflicted families, which we keep reassuring and tell to be patient, while making promises that their problems will be solved soon."

We work and will work for everyone

Despite the harsh living conditions for Arabs in Europe, and despite the energy crisis and inflation that has burdened everyone, these young people are trying to help the homeless and those arriving with no shelter, regardless of their race or the place they had come from. Meanwhile those who have not had the time to personally be there on the streets, have provided some of their food and their children's clothes as relief for the distressed. After these scenes conjured up memories of their own suffering to begin their life anew, they are trying to offer the refugees something that might help them and alleviate their sudden loss of hope that befell them at the gates of their dream country.

"We seek to establish an umbrella organization for us that will have its own active cadres that cooperate with other Arab and European organizations, with the aim of reaching every needy person in Belgium and elsewhere." Youssef Quwaiqa, the founder of the initiative, concludes by talking about the initiative's prospects that the crisis will continue, and may even erupt if the government does not move to "break the tide" of asylum and adopt a new approach to the relief of these war-stricken people, based on granting the right to sleep only a sidewalk or a building entrance.



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