BELGIUM: Salesian Missionaries Provide Education and Hope to Young Refugees
(MissionNewswire) In countries around the globe, Salesian missionaries are assisting close to 400,000 refugees and internally displaced persons whose lives have been affected by war, persecution, famine and natural disasters such as floods, droughts and earthquakes. Salesian programs provide refugees much needed education and technical skills training, workforce development, health care and nutrition.
Since the end of 2014, Europe has been experiencing a maritime refugee crisis of historic proportions, according to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. In 2015 alone, more than 300,000 refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean Sea on their way to Europe. At the end of 2014, 59.5 million people worldwide, the highest level on record, were forcibly displaced as a result of persecution, conflict and human rights violations. Of those documented, 19.5 million were refugees.
In 2014, European Union countries hosted a relatively small share of refugees. At the end of 2014, the world’s top refugee host was Turkey followed by Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia and Jordan. Lebanon hosted by far the largest number of refugees by population. By the first six months of 2015, 137,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Europe by sea under profoundly difficult and unsafe conditions as compared to the 75,000 that arrived during the same time period the previous year. The numbers have continued to rise since that time.
In Belgium, like in many countries across Europe, Salesian missionaries have been assisting these refugees with programs and helping them to integrate into their new communities. For more than a year, the Don Bosco Institute of Tournai has been hosting five young boys and providing them education, shelter and ongoing support.
“The boys are attending courses in all subjects including French and English language, mathematics, science, religion, physical education, drawing and music,” says Professor Flore Dubois who conducts a French course for foreign students. “There is a spirit of cooperation among them. If someone does not understand an exercise, another helps. The older ones are motivated by the desire for a job. For most of them, their priority is to be allowed to stay in Belgium when they are of age.”
There are challenges though for young refugees settling in to new programs and new routines. The director of the Don Bosco School, Annie Michel, points out the difficulties encountered by these youth and Salesian staff.
“Our two classes are largely composed of Afghans and Syrians, and it’s not easy for these young people to integrate into our rules,” says Michel. “I learned that children in their countries obey school rules, but from the age of 12 to 18, teachers are no longer involved. It is important to work hard on training, to integrate their code and avoid misunderstandings. Despite the difficulties, these young people have an amazing thirst for learning.”
Saïdi, who is at the Don Bosco School is a 14-year-old Afghan. He escaped from the Taliban in Kabul and was welcomed for six months at the Don Bosco work in Hornu. Initially he had difficulty accepting the rules and schedules and wanted to change the structure. But when he knew it would not be possible, he changed his attitude and now thinks of the program as his home. But for many like Saïdi, he will have to find another program after he turns 16 because he will age out of the Salesian school. Salesian missionaries are working with other Salesian programs and local programs in Belgian communities in the hopes of helping youth make an easier transition once they reach their later teens and need to seek assistance elsewhere.