Ukrainian refugees “ordered to leave Brussels homes”
Ukrainian refugees in Brussels are being told to leave their homes because their hosts no longer want them there, says Alina Kokhanko-Parandii.
The 32-year-old arrived from kyiv, with her mother and baby daughter, in Brussels almost exactly three months ago.
She has since found herself working as a liaison between the Brussels government and other Ukrainians as part of the city’s broader effort to include refugees in the decision-making and problem-solving process. .
“We have a situation where people want to go on vacation and they don’t want Ukrainians to stay at home,” she told EUobserver on Monday June 20.
“They want them to leave their homes and we know there are Ukrainians on the streets,” she said, noting that some end up sleeping at the Gare du Midi in central Brussels.
Besides an acute housing crisis that will only get worse, Kokhanko-Parandii said the Belgian administration and its many municipal communes in Brussels are too slow and cumbersome.
Belgian landlords also do not want to rent apartments to Ukrainians because their temporary protected status expires in March next year.
Typical Belgian rental contracts often run for three, six or nine years. Other owners are also reluctant to receive installments from the Brussels public center for social assistance, also known as CPAS.
Ariane, a special transit point for arriving Ukrainians run by the Flemish Red Cross in the wealthiest Brussels neighborhood of Woluwe-Saint-Lambert, is said to be in dire conditions.
Some find themselves stuck in the center for weeks, unable to register in order to secure their rights, as guaranteed by the European directive on temporary protection.
Kokhanko-Parandii said some Ukrainians are also struggling to adapt.
“You come here and you just have to start over from the beginning,” she said.
Kokhanko-Parandii is not alone in her quest to solve problems.
Among others, Ekaterina Clifford, a 47-year-old Russian who has lived in Brussels for four years.
“No one expected to house families for so long, for some people it’s also just expensive,” she said.
According to city officials, a large portion of Brussels residents spend around 50% of their monthly income on rent alone.
Clifford said volunteers across Belgium were working overtime to find accommodation for Ukrainians so “they don’t end up on the streets”.
The problems, and others, have baffled the authorities who are trying to iron out all the difficulties.
Pierre Verbeeren is one of them. He is also coordinator of the Brussels government for Ukraine.
He said Brussels is currently hosting some 8,000 Ukrainian refugees, a figure that is expected to rise to around 12,000 before the end of the year.
“The main problem is housing,” he said.
The plan to solve it includes turning office space into collective housing units for refugees, an idea that could later be used to tackle an acute homelessness crisis in the city.
But Verbeeren notes that such decisions are not made without first involving the Ukrainians, an unprecedented approach in Brussels.
“The first principle is ‘nothing about Ukraine without Ukrainians,'” he said.
“We include Ukrainians and beneficiaries of temporary protection in the whole decision-making process, in all the places we discuss in Ukraine,” he said.
This includes setting up working groups dealing with areas such as private housing, education, employment and health.
The heads of cabinet of all the Brussels ministers, the chairs of the working groups, as well as the Ukrainian representatives, then all sit down together in a global task force to deal with the problems.
But he concedes that the situation remains frustrating.
“The people of Brussels who host Ukrainians are fed up with the whole administration, because it’s too complex,” he said.
“Citizen solidarity is perceived as a failure of the state for many people,” he added.
He noted that efforts are underway to create synergy between institutional support, ordinary people hosting refugees and community outreach.
“It’s something new, and it’s something difficult, and it’s not a hit yet. So let’s be clear, it’s not a hit yet,” he said.
The approach taken by the Brussels regional government aims to integrate Ukrainians without creating double standards for others also in need while providing information to as many people as possible, he said.
United Nations Refugee Agency
It is a strategy that also relies on the support of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its agent, Alphonse Munyameza, who works with Verbeeren.
“They really took the UNHCR handbook on community engagement,” he said, referring to the city’s decision to involve Ukrainians.
He said people like Ukrainian refugee Kokhanko-Parandii and Russian national Clifford had been designated as a special contact person or “spoc”.
Spocs meet with UNHCR once or twice a week to provide the agency with an overview of what is going on.
“We try to ensure that the community is not only informed, but also responsive to the needs of the people,” he said.
This article was updated on June 23 to clarify that Kokhanko-Parandii only works with the Commune Commission Communautaire.
Disclosure. The left-wing group in the European Parliament had invited EUobserver on a field visit to Brussels to discuss the refugee issue, alongside MEPs Cornelia Ernst, Malin Bjork and Anne-Sophie Pelletier