In 2017, volunteers of the Citizen Support to Refugees Platform offered some 50,000 overnight stays to migrants, who thus then had appropriate shelter located across the entire country. This was indicated on Thursday by Mehdi Kassou, Accommodation Coordinator for the Platform. He explained, “Providing accommodation is both a citizen and supportive response to the migration policy in force. Above all, it is a question of providing protection for migrants, on a continuous basis, against arbitrary arrest, raids and repeated deportations.”
Mehdi Kassou indicates, “From the end of September up to the end of November, around 350 overnight stays were offered on a daily basis to these migrants. With the arrival of the cold weather, this number climbed to 400 overnight stays per day.” He notes, “Belgians’ homes remain the largest sanctuary for immigrants within the country.”
Kassou says that moreover, apart from housing, volunteers are directing migrants “towards administrative, medical and legal services. This is because there is no central database for all of this information. The citizens welcome the migrants, protect them and guide them, answering any questions they may have. Providing this support on a daily basis is both amazing and extraordinary.”
The coordinator goes on, “In 2018, we wish to consolidate this momentum, and by ensuring the sustainability having regard to regional aspects, since the federal government has not responded to our demands. If you cannot deal with the problem at federal government level, work on it on the ground.” He goes on, “Our objective is that each hosting citizen can approach their respective municipal councils, so that the migrants that such citizens house can access medical care, food parcels, or even reduced or free public transport, through the CPAS (Public Welfare Centre) system.”
The Citizen Support to Refugees Platform originated during the migrant crisis which happened in 2015. During the course of this hundreds of asylum seekers, waiting to submit their asylum application to the Immigration Office, found themselves without housing or indeed assistance. A makeshift camp was thus set up in the Maximilian Park.
Given the urgency of this, numerous volunteers were asked in particular to ensure that asylum seekers had meals, health care, academic support and legal advice. From then on the Citizen Support to Refugees Platform was born, and has since grown both in size and visibility. The Facebook page of the Citizen Platform group thus brings together more than 29,000 members, and on its main website home page, some 40,000 people. The support network also has around a hundred “food banks” across the whole of Belgium, where volunteers stock non-perishable food and supplies.