« Here is the curve of the culture shock », explains Else, an integration coach from Caritas International, while showing a diagram that summarizes the emotions felt after resettlement. She opens the workshop on the exchange of experiences in Belgium.
« The purpose is to make the participants aware of this emotional factor », specifies Else. « Things won’t always be easy. Another aspect of this workshop is the exchange: they see that they are not the only ones facing difficulties. »
First exercise: name one thing that they like here in Belgium and one they dislike. « I feel angry », starts one participant. « My family still lives in Syria and I am alone here. I miss them. » Another carries on: « For me, it’s easier because some members of my family are here. But my wife really misses hers. In our culture, family is very important. » A third person, a more confident man, dares to ask: « In the United Kingdom, families are reunified much faster. Why isn’t this the case in Belgium? » Else intervenes to explain that the legislation on family reunification is not uniform in the European Union.
On the positive side, many Syrians mention safety: « there is no need to hide from the bombs and be afraid all the time ». Or: « People are nice here. » « My neighbour helped me find a job », says another. But quickly the discussion goes back to difficulties: the cost of living is very expensive, there is so little contact with the Belgian community, and the traditions are so different… « My daughter does not want to go to the swimming pool with her class », tells a father obviously lost in this new situation. « She refuses to wear a swimsuit. I don’t get it, why can ‘t she wear a burkini?» Else intervenes again and shows understanding. « It is important that she can talk about this in class, at school, but also at home. She must not be let alone with her emotions. »
Further in the workshop, they learn about the tools and tricks for finding accommodation: How to search? Which accommodation is affordable? How to introduce yourself to a landlord? … The resettlement program is organized as follows: the Syrian beneficiaries are first taken care of by a Belgian social welfare center for a period of six months, they then have to find accommodation on their own. Caritas International is there to support and assist them during the entire process