Summer camp for young people on the run: ‘I am finally getting back in touch with people’

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‘I couldn’t hug my best friend or visit anyone anymore. It was difficult for me. ‘ The COVID-19 pandemic makes life difficult for young people on the run. Refugee work Vlaanderen vzw organized a summer camp for them together with partners Tumult vzw and Cera. ‘We want to give young refugees a voice and help build their network.’

TDuring the summer camp as part of the Ananas project, some forty young people between 16 and 25 years old spent a holiday by the sea in early August. ‘Pineapple comes from’ ana ‘and’ nas ‘, or contracted’ I am the people ‘in Arabic’, know Anne De Bock, project employee Youth on the Refuge at Refugee Work Flanders vzw. ‘A pineapple is a fruit that grows in difficult circumstances. She doesn’t need much water. ‘ This growth is what the project of Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen, Tumult vzw and Cera wants to achieve with young people.

‘We noticed during the first coronagolf that many young people had nothing to look forward to. ‘

De Bock immediately makes it clear to us that we have to stay in the open air, with the mouth mask on. ‘At the moment there are 1,786 unaccompanied minors in Belgium,’ says De Bock. ‘At our camp there are young people who stay in Belgium without family, and young people who have come to our country with their families. The summer holidays are not such a pleasant period for most young people on the run. We noticed during the first coronagolf also that many young people had nothing to look forward to, ‘says De Bock.

‘That’s why we organized a summer camp so that they still have a good time this year. We also wanted to organize other activities this summer, but unfortunately they could not take place due to the flare-up of the virus. A girl at the camp said she didn’t feel alone for the first time. Like many young people on the run, she felt that she couldn’t talk to anyone about her situation. ‘

Lonely in the shelter

“The social worker at the shelter told me that the calls for international protection were being postponed,” said the 23-year-old Wesam* from Palestine. ‘I was disappointed when I heard the news. I’ve been waiting a year for the decision whether I can stay in Belgium or not. ‘

One day a friend came to my room at the shelter. A while later he was tested positive. I had to be quarantined for two weeks, ‘he says. ‘I could no longer go to Dutch lessons and I also lost my job as a supplier.’

“I was bored,” Wesam sighs. ‘There were no more activities in the reception center. We were also no longer allowed to play football. The social workers thought it was too dangerous. ‘

‘At this camp I finally get back in touch with people after three weeks inside.’

Fortunately, that has now changed. ‘I have been allowed to return from quarantine since 4 August. And at this camp I finally get back in touch with people, after three weeks inside, ‘says Wesam, relieved. “We swim in the sea and we enjoy each other’s company.”

That’s for the twenty-year-old Rana* from Iraq the reason for participating in the camp. ‘At first I wasn’t sure why I should participate. But then I realized that I would meet nice people and that I could improve my Dutch in this way. Now everyone in my shelter is jealous, ”she laughs.

During the first coronagolf everything fell away for Rana. ‘Normally I go to the gym every day. I could no longer hug my best friend or visit anyone. It was difficult for me. ‘

© Bert Blondeel

Rana arrived in Belgium with her family two years ago. She currently lives alone in another shelter. “I ran away from my family because they follow traditional norms too strictly,” she says about her situation. ‘They don’t want me to hang out with guys. I now live in Belgium. Here it is normal to interact with people of a different gender at school or at work. I argued a lot with my parents and I didn’t feel safe anymore. ‘

Not only sun, sea and sand are important at the camp. ‘We are building a network. For example, the young people already know people they can turn to when they need help, ‘explains De Bock. ‘We work with escorts who have fled themselves. We think it is important that young people have a role model that they can mirror themselves to. ‘

‘People often talk about refugees and little with themselves.’

‘We try to give a voice to young people on the move. People often talk about refugees and little with them, ‘reports Anne De Bock. ‘We enter into a dialogue with the media, policy and the young people themselves. For example, we have already met the Flemish Minister of Youth Benjamin Dalle (CD&V), ‘says De Bock. ‘We will continue that dialogue this autumn.’

Hope has two daughters

© Bert Blondeel

One of the supervisors is Wali Sediqi (23). At the age of thirteen he ended up in Belgium after a long journey to Europe from Afghanistan. “Do you know the saying that hope has two daughters?” He asks. ‘Anger because you had to leave your country. Courage because you can imagine a bright future and that you can change the situation. ‘

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“Golden guidance is worth a lot,” says Sediqi. ‘Along the way you met people you cannot always trust. And when you arrive it is not easy to find your way. You have to be lucky to meet the right people. ‘

‘Now I guide newcomers to start up their own company. I have been in the same situation as the young people. But I can help them and I can show that it is possible to make your dreams come true, ‘Sediqi smiles.

Mona Salman from Iraq ensures that all young people at the camp drink enough water at these high temperatures. As a trainee counselor she can use her experiences as a refugee. Next year she will start the last year of a study in social work. ‘This year I did an internship at Fedasil. When the corona virus was also a threat in Europe, I was forced to stop there from my university of applied sciences. The chance of becoming infected was too great when working with refugees. ‘

She contacted the Flemish Council for Refugees and is now catching up with them for her remaining internship hours. ‘They introduced me to summer camp. Now I can start my final year without incurring any delay, ‘she says enthusiastically.

“I hope to be able to help refugees in the future.”

When she still lived in Iraq, Salman was a journalist for a well-known newspaper. ‘I can’t work in Belgium because my Dutch is not good enough.’ After twelve years in our country, she decided to think about her own future. ‘I was at home taking care of my daughter. I did not think it necessary to learn Dutch. I was able to communicate fluently in English with everyone. ‘ But now she sees it differently. “I hope to be able to help refugees in the future,” she says.

* Wesam and Rana are aliases. They wanted to testify anonymously.

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