Fedasil is the Belgian government organisation responsible for receiving asylum seekers. The organisation offers asylum seekers ‘BBBG’, or bed, bath, bread, and guidance. When they arrive at the registration centre ‘Het Klein Kasteeltje’, they apply for asylum at the Immigration Office. When someone is entitled to asylum, Fedasil assigns them a reception facility. But how does this work in practice? We asked the organisation itself.
The importance of good communication
1. How does communication work with all the different nationalities in the reception centres?
‘Our staff speak several languages. Flyers, brochures, and posters are always available in different languages. And our website for asylum seekers, “Fedasilinfo”, provides answers to the most common questions asked by asylum seekers. Interpreters are used when needed.’
2. Given the huge diversity, how do you deal with the different cultures and taboos?
Fedasil: ‘We’re a neutral organisation. For us, this means that you can be yourself as long as you don’t harm others. Cultural matters are taken into account, such as Ramadan or individual prayer. All beliefs and orientations are welcome here. There is a set of regulations that everyone must sign and comply with. There are rules that everyone must keep in mind. To a certain extent, reception centres reflect the community. Everyone has to live together and have respect for certain rules and for each other.’
How the centre works
1. How do people find you and what is the process once they enter your centre?
Fedasil: ‘In “Het Klein Kasteeltje”, they first go to the Immigration Office to submit their asylum application. Fingerprints are taken and their identity is checked. Fedasil then evaluates whether they are entitled to asylum. If they are, they are assigned to a reception centre. After a few months of waiting, the asylum seeker is invited to an interview at the Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons. This office ultimately decides the outcome based on the Geneva Convention. If the person has a legitimate reason to flee their country, they are granted refugee status. During the procedure, Fedasil provides shelter and guidance to these people.’
2. How would you describe an ordinary day in a reception centre?
Fedasil: ‘Asylum seekers are people like you and me. The only difference is that they are waiting for a life-changing decision. People in reception centres have to wait. Wait for their asylum application to be processed and decided. We try to offer them a meaningful way of spending their time and make sure they can live “as normal a life as possible” in the centres. The children must go to school, some asylum seekers go to work, take courses, or go on an outing. There is also volunteer work or language training, which is very popular. Our volunteers are often retired teachers who give courses.’
Social assistance for asylum seekers
1. What is your biggest challenge faced by a reception centre?
Fedasil: ‘At the moment, we have a reception crisis, which means that we are urgently in need of reception facilities. People have to wait a long time for the decision on their asylum application, so they have to stay in reception centres much longer than usual. This also means there are fewer places available for new asylum seekers. Many reception centres could not be used due to the floods in Wallonia. Sometimes residential containers are set up as a temporary solution to increase the available spaces.’
2. What can external people and companies do to help?
Fedasil: ‘People can make donations, such as clothing or toys for the children. You can also volunteer to help, such as giving courses or doing crafts with the children. You can become a buddy, which is a kind of mentor system. This involves building a special bond with a resident by going for walks or playing board games together. This is how you provide psychological support and help that person integrate into society. There are many ways to help and we’re grateful for every little bit you can give.’
Word of thanks
Finally, Fedasil would like to thank everyone for the many donations and support it received. Fedasil urges you not to hesitate and send a mail if you would like to become a volunteer or a buddy for someone staying in a reception centre in your neighbourhood. It could change someone’s world for the better.