'Real crisis situation': Belgium gives extra support to social services

'Real crisis situation': Belgium gives extra support to social services
Ukrainian refugees at a Brussels registration centre in the early days of the Russian invasion.

The current refugee crisis driven by the conflict in Ukraine has exacerbated the pressure on social services in Belgium, resulting in the government announcing it will assist social services in providing shelter and support to refugees.

An estimated 200,000 Ukrainian refugees are expected to arrive in Belgium, of whom at least half will have to rely on the Public Centre for Social Welfare (PCSW). Last week, local authorities and the PCSW, sent a letter to Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, requesting support from the federal government.

"The social workers of the PCSW asked for support. The government hears them and understands their needs," Karine Lalieux, Minister of Social Integration, said on Friday.

Under the EU's Temporary Protection Directive, Ukrainians who flee the war and register in Belgium will be given a residence permit, the right to work and education, and social assistance.

In the letter to De Croo, the local authorities and PCSW argued that "social services reached the end of their tether" as, after two years of dealing with the brunt of the pandemic, they again are at the frontline of this crisis, and are receiving extra requests for help due to the energy crisis.

"Not only the well-known applicants knock on the doors of the PCSW, but also many people who did not have financial problems before," the letter read.

Increased support in short and long term

The federal government currently pays back 100% of the equivalent living wage, which is the amount that the PCSW also gives to the client.

The government announced on Friday that, for the first four months, social services can count on an increased rate for the living wage for all Ukrainians who flee the war and submit an application.

"The 135% living wage during the first four months is justified because we know that it is mainly in the initial months that the needs are the most urgent and important," Lalieux said.  This system, which was also implemented at the time of the arrival of Syrian refugees, will help cover the cost of the social and administrative work.

The PCSW is responsible for the search for (crisis) housing, the granting of an equivalent living wage, psycho-social counselling, the referral to other social workers in the first instance.

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However, in the long term, it will also be responsible for the psychological guidance of people with traumas, the activation of people who can work, and the follow-up of the files.

"We are not abandoning the staff after these four months: they now know that they will still be able to fall back on the support of the federal government. This for a rate of 125% for the duration of the follow-up of each file."

The PCSW also called for a more coordinated approach, quick decisions and clear communication about the measures to be taken to manage this crisis, and expressed concerns about logistics and capacity, especially personnel, however, the government has not yet addressed these concerns.

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