Belgian Families Hosting Ukrainian Refugees Complain of Exhaustion, Social Worker Says

Belgian families are facing strain and exhaustion in their efforts to accommodate refugees from Ukraine, due to financial issues, tensions in everyday life and language barriers, Andre Maton, a social worker in the city of Charleroi, told Sputnik.

According to the social worker, all newcomers first arrive at the general reception center where they receive a stay permit that is valid until March 4, 2023, and can be renewed. Those without any contacts in the country are sent to public social services centers in municipalities and then dispatched to families willing to take them in. A refugee also receives about €1,300 ($1,388) a month plus €300 per child. They are also offered to sign a standard agreement with a host which stipulates that the refugee would give up 20% of the money income to cover food and housing costs.

"It is often more than what the host family has to live on. And tensions arise when the refugees refuse to give up some of the money they receive for the costs they incur. Some hosting families consider it abnormal that refugees 'make savings on their backs,'" Maton said.

He added that some host families also complain of not having received "what they asked for."

"One family asks for a mother with two children, and must receive 3 adults. It is obviously not the same thing. Sometimes, it is also necessary to drive one of the refugees to the hospital regularly or to take care of their administrative procedures. Making yourself available is not always easy. Hosting families tell us they are exhausted," Maton said.

The social worker also expressed concern that living together with three or more in often very small accommodations will create interpersonal problems. He also said the government refuses to set a limit on arrivals, which does not pose any problems at the moment, though the saturation point could be reached soon. Per Maton, Belgium has almost 40,000 Ukrainian refugees but the country has announced that it could take in 200,000, if necessary. Almost two-thirds are women or young girls, and nearly four out of ten are minors. Maton confirms that the children are educated in Belgian schools, noting the need to overcome the language barrier.

"Hosting families tell us that they hoped that the refugees would quickly manage to find work or occupy themselves, but the language barrier proves to be often insurmountable. It is almost impossible for them to find a job. I also fear the rising cost of living with rapidly rising inflation, the sheer exhaustion of hosting families: translating on the telephone helps a lot but it is difficult to have sustained conversations. Many refugees are also thinking of returning to Ukraine, except of course those who come from combat zones. It's not easy in the long run," Maton said.

On February 24, Russia began a military operation in Ukraine, responding to calls for help from the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. According to the UN refugee agency, almost 3 million refugees from Ukraine are registered for temporary protection or similar schemes in Europe since the start of hostilities.

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