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The journey from being a refugee to a volunteer in Brussels

Natalie Kontoulis og Hadi Abdul Hadi. Fotograf: Lisa O'Leary
The Tandem project is an initiative that matches NGOs with refugees and asylum-seekers that want to do a 2 week-voluntary placement in Brussels

Hadi Abdul Hadi was in his 3rd year of law studies at the University of Aleppo when the war broke out in Syria. He was 22 years old and was forced to leave his job, studies and family behind. ‘I took the decision of coming to Europe in 2015. It was a long way through Turkey’, remembers Hadi. ‘We had a lot of barriers and we had to cross borders from country to country through a smuggler’, recalls this young Syrian who now lives in Brussels.

 

Natalie Kontoulis is the Advocacy Officer of ‘End Female Genital Mutilation’, a European network based in Brussels. Female Genital Mutilation is a practise that can affect certain asylum seeker communities in Europe, so they organised a conference aimed at the refugee population. A friend of Natalie's told her about Tandem, who then matched Natalie with Hadi, who had registered with Tandem days before. Hadi’s legal background and experience as a refugee proved very helpful in organising the conference. For Hadi, even if 2 weeks felt ‘too short’, it was a valuable experience; as he puts it ‘I had the opportunity to take a look into how a European office works and how they organise meetings’.

 

Hadi is now 26 years old and lives in the Belgian capital with his father, where he has refugee status and a residence permit for 5 years in Belgium. ‘When you escape from war you will catch any hand that is given to you. They destroyed everything at my home’ he remembers.  He is doing courses in French and plans to complete his law studies in Belgium, ‘I hope to graduate, became a lawyer and start a new life’ he states confidently.

 

The aim of the Tandem initiative is to help refugees and asylum seekers start a new life in Brussels. It was launched on 20 June 2016, on World Refugee Day. Since then, 36 host organisations have registered and 34 refugees have volunteered in this initiative organised by staff of European NGOs.

 

Host organisations provide a daily allowance of EUR 25 per day and insurance. Tandem collaborates with the Flemish Agency for Volunteering in Brussels to ensure all legal issues are clarified and that volunteering cannot be done for commercial businesses or private individuals.

 

Vanligvis varer intervjuet for å få flyktningstatus i 4 timer. Det tok bare Wali Ahmad Yar 15 minutter for å få dette da han ble intervjuet. Den 23 år gamle afghanske journalisten hadde utgitt en rapport som avslørte korrupsjon i den afghanske regjeringen. "Jeg hadde aldri tenkt på å flykte fra Afghanistan, men med det samme jeg publiserte rapporten ble det spenninger med regjeringen og Taliban, og jeg måtte flykte." Han fikk visum og forlot sin by, Ghaznī, og dro til Brussel i 2015.


To år senere, nå i alderen 25, fullfører han en mastergrad i statsvitenskap ved Universitetet Libre de Bruxelles og deltar på et 2-ukers frivillig oppdrag gjennom Tandem i Centre for European Policy Studies Nadzeya Laurentsyeva, en forsker på CEPS, bestemte seg for å delta i Tandem fordi de evaluerte arbeidet til en NGO i München som hjelper asylsøkere med å komme i kontakt med potensielle arbeidsgivere. Rollen til Wali har vært veldig «nyttig i forhold til å intervjue folk fra Afghanistan og Pakistan på deres morsmål over telefon for å fylle ut undersøkelsen»


Den unge afghanen er jevnlig i kontakt med andre flyktninger, ikke bare i Belgia, men også i andre EU-land. «Vi snakker alltid om våre problemer, så dette kan være veldig nyttig for mitt arbeid her» slår Wali fast. Tandem har vært nøkkelen til å hjelpe Wali til å finne en vei innenfor internasjonale institusjoner, fordi han tidligere ikke hadde noen kontakter og alle hans søknader om praksisplass ble avvist.


Nadzeya skisserer at «målet med Tandem er å bringe mennesker sammen. Det er ikke så vanskelig å ansette en flyktning». Faktisk har Walis kompetanse vist seg å være så verdifull, at hun er trygg på at «det kan være en mulighet for Wali å bli lenger som praktikant. Det virker mulig».

Usually the interview to gain refugee status lasts 4 hours. It only took Wali Ahmad Yar 15 minutes to gain this in his interview. The 23-year old Afghan journalist had published a report exposing corruption in the Afghan government. ‘I had never thought of fleeing Afghanistan, but once I published the report, things became controversial with the government and the Taliban and I had to flee’. He got a visa and left his city, Ghaznī, for Brussels, where he arrived in 2015.

Two years later, now aged 25, he is finishing a Master in Political Science at the University Libre de Bruxelles and is doing the 2-week volunteer placement through Tandem in the Centre for European Policy Studies. Nadzeya Laurentsyeva, a Research Fellow of CEPS, decided to take part in Tandem because they were evaluating the work of an NGO in Munich that helps asylum seekers get in contact with possible employers. The role of Wali has been very ‘helpful interviewing people from Afghanistan and Pakistan in their native language by phone to fill in the survey’.

The young Afghan is regularly in contact with other refugees, not only in Belgium but other EU countries. ‘We are always talking about our problems, so this could be really helpful for my work here’ Wali states. Tandem has been key in helping Wali ‘find a way within international institutions’, because previously he had no contacts and all his internship applications had been rejected.

Nadzeya outlines that ‘the goal of Tandem is to let people meet. It is not so difficult to employ a refugee’. In fact, the insights of Wali  have proven so valuable, that she is confident that ‘there might be an opportunity for Wali to stay longer as an intern. It seems possible’.

Published: Mon, 16/10/2017 - 22:16


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