Brussels: thinking refugees #6

Is Brussels unique in its growing gap between those who help migrants by offering homestays, and those who’d lock them up or send them back. Or is it just another European city and country struggling to deal with the migrant crisis? Matt Hardy from Engage London takes an overview

Telling graffiti on the Military School in central Brussels which is now being used to house refugees. Photo inspired by workshops during the Engage Europe summer school at IHECS (c) Engage London/Matt Hardy

Brussels is the capital of Belgium, the home of European Politics and the famous Manneken Pis fountain. It’s also home to a refugee crisis, rising homelessness and a growing divide between rich and poor.

A cornerstone of the EU rule book is that an asylum seeker should seek protection from the first EU country they arrive at, and not travel onwards — a phenomenon known as “secondary movement”. (Financial Times)

But who and how should be helping? In Brussels, the home city of European politics, locals are currently breaking the law to help undocumented migrants. Thanks to Facebook – Platforme Citoyen (which has 47,000 members) every evening at the Parc Maximilien, near the Gare du Nord station, up to 400 migrants gather wait for the hundreds of Belgians who will offer them an overnight home stay. They do this to outwit officials after mass arrests of undocumented people sleeping in the park. It’s been happening since the Calais jungle in France, where 6,000 migrants lived, was shut down. Most of these asylum seekers don’t want to stay in Belgium, their goal is to reach the UK.

This film from Aljazeera explains more.

https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/brussels-refugee-bnb-180103082106214.html

In Brussels this citizen initiative may change as soon as a new detention centre is built as the right wing coalition government’s plan is for these migrants to be housed there.

Nearly 500 miles east of Brussels is Berlin, the capital city of Germany. Germany is home to a conservative coalition government, led by Angela Merkel, which is currently on the verge of reshaping the European viewpoint on refugees.  On the same day that the Engage London team, which included two former child refugees, left Brussels, Merkel was at the European Parliament arguing the case for sending asylum seekers back to their entry point into Europe, shifting the political crisis south.

Whose responsibility?
Already the southern European countries of the continent such as Italy and Spain are on the receiving end of the countless refugee boats that are entering Europe from north Africa.

The inhabitants of the boats? Those fleeing persecution, war and those searching for a better life from their war-torn and/or intolerant nations such as Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, South Sudan and Ethiopia.

Countries on the Mediterranean sea are beginning to close their boarders to such ships, believing that countries further inland aren’t doing their share of offering asylum.

And they are right. Recently Merkel and her prop-up coalition (Christian Democratic Union with the smaller Christian Social Union)announced a new migrant plan that includes transit zones (detention centres in all but name) in southern Germany, designed to deport “ineligible asylum seekers”. These are the very sort of centres the European Commission condemned Donald Trump for opening in the US which deliberately split babies and children from their parents and family members.

New direction
Detention centres in Germany will forcerefugees to go elsewhere. A panicked Austria (which took in many refugees during the Bosnian conflict of 1992-95) already has plans to close their borders to stop the refugees from settling in the land-locked state. This would go against the free movement of people policy valued so highly by the European Commission, and they are unlikely to be the last country to put in place such measures.

The culmination of these decisions? The refugees will head for France, Belgium and Britain because other countries are closed.

It’s clearly more complex than what’s outlined above. But the point is clear; Germany, Austria and Italy have already put measures in place to deter migrants. Will Belgium do the same? Brussels is a city of hope and prosperity to some, and the final destination for others but to everyone, it’s a city that needs to do more to protect its growing diverse population.

  • See the Facebook page, Citizen Hosting Platform (Platforme Citoyen) which has  https://www.facebook.com/plateformerefugiesbxl/ and follow the hashtag #HelpIsNoCrime
  • Keep up to date with Matt Hardy via twitter @matthardyjourno and @thepoliticosuk

Engage London has approx 27 members – a lucky eight were able to attend the Brussels summer school at IHECS from 24-28 June. They were Pilion Trust’s Rahim Amin, Favour Ekengwu, Naomi Gahie, Charlie Tshibangu and City’s journalism undergrads Matt Hardy, Alun Macer-Wright, Diana Serenli, Meagan Walker. Big thanks to Engage Europe for creating this opportunity.

 

The Facebook group that enables Belgians to offer homestays to migrants.

Brussels: gallery from Engage Europe summer school #2

Engage London sent eight young people to the Engage Europe media summer school in Brussels, hosted by the programme co-ordinator, IHECS. Here’s the story in eight portraits

1 We’ve arrived in Belgium for summer school (25-28 June 2018)

Brussels Midi – Charlie, Naomi, Nicola, Savvas, Diana, Favour, Meagan, Matt, Rahim (and one more to join us, Alun) (c) Engage London

2 Here’s where we are staying, Hostel Bruegel, close to Sablon

Engage Europe participants meet up – here are students and staff from Spain, Germany and London (UK). There were also staff and students from Cluj-Napol in Romania. (c) Engage London

3 Last team member to join us

Alun Macer-Wright makes the first day’s plenary at IHECS, a journalism/media uni in Belgium, just in time to join the Engage Europe workshops with students and young people from Romania, Spain, Germany, Belgium and the UK. IHECS journalism school is close to the famous Manneken Pis (c) Engage London

4 IHECS journalism school is in the centre of Brussels

IHECS (this pic will be changed to the full group portrait when it is sent on from Engage Europe) (c) Engage London

5 Trip to the European Parliament (Engage Europe is co-funded by the Erasmus Programme of the EU)

First time visit to the European Parliament for five Engage London students – Charlie, Favour Alun, Diana and Naomi – who met Julie Ward, MEP for North West England (c) Engage London

6 A taster from just one of the workshops linking civil society with uni skills – this one involved portrait photography #baghead #ostcollective

In the back streets of Brussels summer school workshop had turned a garage into a photo studio to connect academia with civil society and mix up the formal portrait using skills of #octcollective. Here are Pilion Trust CEO Savvas Panas and Islington Faces’ Nicola Baird in disguise (c) Engage London

7 After sharing our summer school work there were certificates and a party

Scenes from the photo booth at the IHECS hosted party at Loft 58 – Romanians, British, Spanish, German and Belgian students all know how to party. (c) Engage London/Matt Hardy

8 Goodbye lunch

Delicious lunch at Les Cercle des Voyageurs near IHECS, in Brussels (c) Engage London

Engage London has approx 27 members – a lucky eight were able to attend the Brussels summer school at IHECS from 24-28 June. They were Pilion Trust’s Rahim Amin, Favour Ekengwu, Naomi Gahie, Charlie Tshibangu and City’s journalism undergrads Matt Hardy, Alun Macer-Wright, Diana Serenli, Meagan Walker. Big thanks to Engage Europe for creating this opportunity.

Brussels: World Cup round up #1

Round up of watching the Russia 2018 World Cup in Brussels after the inspiring media workshops at the Engage Europe summer school in Belgium. Report by Engage London’s Charlie Tshibangu (England fan) written on the Eurostar back to London just before the Belgium v England game…

Manneken Pis in central Brussels is dressed in the Belgian football strip ready for the England v Belgium game. The statue has his clothes changed twice a day but is naked by night. (c) Engage London

Watching the matches in a bar in Brussels is a great atmosphere, you get to experience the rollercoaster emotions football gives you with a mix of fans such as Portuguese, German, as well as the Belgian fans (while drinking the famous Belgian beer or two!).

Being a football fan myself and watching all the games in Brussels, it made me get to know and look at the city in a different light. They really embraced their team, plastering the city with posters of players and hanging their flags everywhere you looked… which for me was great.

I asked every Belgian person I came across about their thoughts on the big Belgium V England draw scheduled for Thursday 28 June. Surprisingly a few were less optimistic about their squad and their chances of winning against us. Unfortunately for us, and fortunately for them, they ended up beating us 1-0 by a brilliant goal from Adnan Januzaj.

CAPTION: Football is huge in Brussels – here Morocco fans celebrate a draw (2:2 with Spain). Film by Engage London/Matt Hardy

The 2018 Russia World Cup has been eventful so far, two weeks in and there has already been a couple of heartbreaks. The latest disappointment being Germany, the former 2014 World Cup Champions have crashed out of the group stages.

Germany’s first blow came when they lost their opening game 0-1 when they took on an energetic Mexican side, with the young Mexican Lozano nicknamed ‘Chucky’ grabbing the win. When time came to redeem themselves in their second game against Sweden the Germans answered the critics by adding a much needed 3 points to their account when they beat the Swedes 2-1 with Toni Kroos scoring a 90th minute free-kick at the very last seconds of a frustrating game, the goal without a doubt making its way in top 3 position in best goal of the competition.

Moving forward from their 2-1 win, they took on South Korea who were branded this week as one of the worst teams of the competition having failed to win a single game in their campaign.

Germany as expected created a number of chances failing to score a single goal which would later come back to haunt them as South Korea took their chance in on the 90th minute scoring on corner kick. Germany’s demise continued when the world number 1 goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was caught outside his goal which led to a easy tap in by the Tottenham Hotspur striker Heung-Min Son making the final results 0-2 to South Korea.

The Koreans triumph over the Champions, caused them to be eliminated. It’s the earliest exit for Germany since the competition began in 1938. Some might say this could be one of the most shocking moments of the World Cup since Brazil’s humiliating 7-1 defeat back in 2014.

Other teams whose journeys were cut short are Panama, Tunisia, Iceland, Senegal and Nigeria.

Nigeria was the most unfortunate of the bunch after letting their qualification ticket slip when Argentina’s centre back Marcos Rojo’s volley from an 80th minute corner kick.

For everyone it’s a rollercoaster of emotions.

  • Engage London has approx 27 members – a lucky eight were able to attend the Brussels summer school at IHECS from 24-28 June. They were Pilion Trust’s Rahim Amin, Favour Ekengwu, Naomi Gahie, Charlie Tshibangu and City’s Matt Hardy, Alun Macer-Wright, Diana Serenli, Meagan Walker. Big thanks to Engage Europe for creating this opportunity.