Martha came a long way to reach the doorstep of Startpunt. Bringing two large trolley suitcases alongside her two little children, one strapped to her back and one in a baby carriage, made every movement difficult. After more than 7000 km, filled with hardships for a single woman, she reached the imposing office tower of the Immigration Office in the North area of Brussels. Unfortunately for her and many others in the same situation, arriving after 12 PM will make it impossible to ask for asylum or, as it is now defined, international protection. This right is therefore suspended until the next day.
`Where do we go now?` she asked one of the volunteers when she found out the news that she has to postpone her life and survive without any rights until the next morning. Imagine walking the streets of Brussels with that much luggage and not knowing the directions to any help center for homeless. Even tourists can get lost easily on these roads!
Luckily for Martha there were people willing to help her, especially at Startpunt. Accompanying the woman with her children and all bags to a reception house for homeless on the other side of the city has proved to be hard but not impossible.
Samusocial, the charitable organization for homeless in Brussels, don’t open their free phone service before 4 PM. By then, Martha would have already been waiting for almost 3 hours with her children, not knowing where exactly to spend the night. So quick action was required! Using a Strada map, the volunteer found a reception home for women with children. They planned the shortest route to there and began walking. Unfortunately, without any sign of something being actually at the address, a new location was searched. This time, the destination was too far to reach by foot until sunset. So the volunteer bought metro tickets to shorten the trip and they all went to the other side of the city.
Along the journey, Martha sometimes stopped and asked with sigh `Can we just stop here? Isn’t something nearby? I am too tired to continue.` With thousands of kilometers already travelled, she just wanted to rest for a while. Once reached the reception home near the South Train Station, social care personnel working there came out to help, even though it was not yet the official hour for receiving new people. They bent the rule because they are humans and want to help one another.
You cannot expect for people to postpone their life because of a short-schedule working day. Especially if they travelled a long way, fleeing danger and persecution. Martha was lucky that she found Startpunt and the benevolent volunteers there, but what about all the other people who are not that lucky?
Normally, after someone has applied for international protection the person can be allocated a place in a reception center, run by Fedasil (the Federal Agency for the reception of asylum seekers) or one of their partners. Asylum seekers are entitled to this place during the whole procedure. The reception center is an open location; people can move around freely, enter and leave the center at will unless there are specific rules that apply. In the center they can receive more information about the process, find out where to get psychological, social and medical assistance, also learn how the center works and get help finding a lawyer.