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National Workshop on Undocumented Children in Belgium

On 17th April 2012 more than sixty professionals and members of civil and political society who work with undocumented children in Belgium, came together for PICUM and Plate-Forme Mineurs en Exil’s joint workshop on the protection of children in an irregular migrant situation in Belgium. The workshop brought together practitioners from both the Francophone and Flemish communities in Belgium.

Michele Le Voy, Director of PICUM, and Anne-Françoise Beguin, Coordinator for Plate-Forme Mineurs en Exil, welcomed participants to the Belgian national workshop.  Lilana Keith, PICUM Project Officer provided participants with the European context, before the day’s discussion launched into the situation on the Belgian national level.

The Opening panel, chaired by Maud Dominicy, Child Rights Officer from UNICEF Belgium, included first-hand accounts from Tine Debosscher of Kruispunt Migratie-Integratie, on the realities children in an irregular migration situation face in their daily lives in Belgium. Selma Benkhelifa, a lawyer from PROGRESS Lawyers Network, complemented this experience-led account with an overview and explanation of what rights undocumented children have in Belgian law, and how these rights can be exercised in practice.

With Patrick Schuhmann of Direction générale de l’Enseignement obligatoire chairing the plenary session, Lizzi de Wilde of Omnimundo Urban Primary school, Marion Beeckmans of the Direction générale de l’Enseignement Obligatoire, Veerle Evenepoel of Medimmigrant and Mônica Pereira of Abraço encouraged a lively and provocative discussion on the practical barriers that exist for children in an irregular migration situation to access education, health care, and housing in Belgium.  The strategy behind, the logistical implementation of, and the practical barriers to, accessing the “classe passerelle” was a concept of particular interest and discussion amongst participants.

In addition to the panel’s perspectives, the afternoon working groups (on education, health care and housing) benefitted from the first-hand testimonies of two mothers of undocumented children.  The mothers explained in their own words, what difficulties they were confronted by in trying to enrol their children in schools, and find adequate housing for their families.  These emotive testimonies fuelled constructive strategy-building discussions, which were finally brought together in a closing plenary session by Karen Van de Clercq, Rachel Laget and Sophia Mockrane.

The workshop was one of seven national workshops being held within the framework of the “Building Strategies to Improve the Protection of Undocumented Children” project. The next workshop will be held on 3 May in Paris, France.

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