Resettlement in Belgium: portrait of a Congolese family

By Ann-Charlotte Bersipont (Le Soir)

Under the Joint EU resettlement programme, Belgium committed to resettling 100 refugees in 2013. The target groups of refugees identified for resettlement reflected those prioritised by both the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the European Union.

Based on these priorities, Belgium decided to resettle 40 Burundian refugees staying in camps in Tanzania, 40 Congolese refugees staying in camps in Burundi, and 20 vulnerable refugees originating from different regions of the world (women and children at risk or persons who survived acts of violence or torture). In July 2013, six Burundian families arrived of which four (20 persons) are since being cared for by Caritas International's (CI) integration cell. At the end of 2013, a further eight Congolese families assisted by CI arrived, comprising of 36 persons. Finally, four people identified as "vulnerable"  and selected on a dossier basis arrived in Belgium and are being assisted by CI. The following is a portrait of one of these Congolese families that resettled to Belgium in 2013.

Timizia arrived two months ago: "surprised by the cold"
*Timiza,* a 30 year old Congolese woman, arrived in Belgium in mid-November 2013. She was part of a group of 40 Congolese who were selected from a refugee camp in Burundi. For six weeks, Timizia lived in a Fedasil collective centre in Sint-Truiden, while recently, the Lede Public Social Services Centre (PSSC) provided her family with their own accommodation. The house is still very bare and we can tell that she has just moved in. Stuffed toys are sitting on the windowsill. In the kitchen, where the radiator is on full blast, a paper is stuck to the wall with a few useful phone numbers: the police, the electrician...

The atmosphere is quiet: at the time of the interview, Timizia's four children (aged from three to ten years of age) are at school. The interview starts, thanks to Rosalie, a translator, since Timizia does not yet speak a word of French or Dutch. She starts by recalling the twelve long years she spent in a camp in Burundi. She had to flee her native land because of the war. "Life was really tough in the camp,” she points out, “even if we could get out in the country, we lived in a crude way in small houses. We made our beds ourselves with a tree plank, and that hurt very bad. We got food, but very often, when we were told there were ten kilos, there were really only seven."

Then one fine day, she holds an interview with the aim of (maybe) starting her life over in Belgium. Timizia remembers the announcement of selectees as a "tombola". And there, she hears her name. "I told myself that it was a real opportunity for me, even if many did not get it." She recalls spending her first night in a centre in Belgium. "I was especially surprised by the cold », she comments. First experience: electricity. "There was a blackout the first night when she arrived in her house and she thought it was her fault," points out Julie, of Caritas International.

Given the time Timizia spent living in a refugee camp, a few Western commodities were completely unknown to her: the washing machine, the mixer or even heating. NGO members and PSSC social workers helped her get used to these and a new way of life.

Timizia is waiting to start her Dutch classes, but for the time being, she is still on a waiting list. She also hopes to soon find work, "I have no wish to stay here to be bored, especially in such a big house," she smiles.

What is hardest right now? Her children crying since they want their father. The latter left Timizia for another woman when they were in Burundi. But she is optimistic for the future: "It is a huge opportunity for me to be here and I am convinced everything will go well."

*Name and identifying details have been changed to protect confidentiality.

Also visit the Caritas International website for more information.

Pictures: ©Pauline Willot