André’s Story

Caritas International André’s Story
30/08/2016

REFUGEE CAMPS IN BELGIUM, IT'S UNUSUAL

In the Liège region, three property owners of camping sites in the countryside agreed to accept refugees as tenants. At the three sites, more than 705 people are expected to be housed. Faced with the current crisis of reception, indifference is not in order! Many volunteers knocked at the door of Caritas International to offer their help. This is the case of André. This young retiree volunteers part-time at the campsite Spa d’Or and has become one of the central actors.

“Retirement is the time of the chosen,” as André likes to say. His time, particularly, he chose to give to Caritas, and more precisely to lend a hand to the team that takes charge of the reception of asylum seekers. “I let Caritas know that I had availability and Mr. Cornet contacted me again. He told me: “We are urgently opening campsites near Theux. Without a second thought, André embarks on the adventure.

For this rational man, to become a volunteer today is a matter of coherence. “I am a Christian and I think that I must help the refugees. In addition, in my life I have worked in many emergencies. For example, I was asked to investigate the genocide in Rwanda. One of my daughters is a victim. In our society, phenomena of migration such as we know today excites the fears of certain people. On the other hand, the thing that is different is not always a natural process, but it is so rewarding. ”

André arrives at the campsite on a Tuesday. He is far from being the only one that is new to this experience. Florence Lobert, Head of ‘Welcome Service’ briefed the entire team. To the surprise of André, everyone is freshly arrived. “At first I was a little worried. But I have to say it’s going well. “Certainly, the team encountered pitfalls in the early days, but things are gradually getting organized. André remembers: “The first night was quite catastrophic: we had to distribute all the medicine to each person – the prescriptions had been delivered by the shovel, the pharmacist had delivered everything in bulk, without any dosage, indication, or anything to help us – it was obviously very complicated. Fortunately, since then, a team of five volunteer nurses has come to lend us a hand.”

André makes himself available half-time. “I think two and a half days is reasonable. These are 12-hour days, it’s very tiring and it will be necessary to stay on this track “. In this way, it is clear that the days are very full: to meet the primary needs by going to eat (“I must say that I have never made such big meals in my life!”) , with the help of volunteer teachers, all children of school age, or those still preparing for the arrival of the next refugees: “Depending on arrivals (often announced in the afternoon for the evening), caravans or tents are equipped with rudimentary sets: what is needed for cooking, a toothbrush, a towel, etc.; if there are fewer arrivals than expected, all the equipment has to be put away, otherwise it will disappear very quickly,” he adds with a smile on his lips.

The tasks are numerous, but above all varied: “for a few days I have been taking care of a young person whose laptop has been stolen. More than just a simple object, his laptop contained his photos, his memories, and his contacts that were stolen from him. I feel that like anyone else, he has the right to file a complaint. I went to the police with him and a former Syrian lawyer who worked in Paris and speaks French who played the role of the interpreter. “Some manage stocks, for example, an energy-consuming and time-consuming task: “they start at 8am and end at 10pm. They are very valuable.“ Others tend to the shuttles between the campsite and the different appointments of the people welcomed here.

André has heard many life stories since being here. “One day I went to drive a young man to another campsite. He told me a bit about his history, and especially his very difficult passage through Hungary. How awful! “. But most of all, our volunteers are affected by the living conditions in which most people must live. “I had to install children and pregnant women in tents in the middle of autumn. And above all, seeing refugee camps in Belgium is still uncommon. I never imagined seeing this one day in my life.”

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