Mentor-Escale: a welcome for minors
Making your way in society
It all started with a chance meeting. In 1993 the manager of the company, François Casier, happened to cross paths with a young Romanian. He was alone without his parents, a refugee in Belgium, and had to find some way of making a living. For him, this was a first glimpse of the day-to-day reality of unaccompanied foreign minors (UFMs). And he decided to create a structure so that these teenagers would no longer be simply abandoned to their fate. Mentor-Escale has been taking care of them now for over 20 years.
“Once they leave reception centres, they are left to their own devices to find housing, register at school and at the CPAS,” explains Bénédicte Adnet, executive director of Mentor-Escale. “That’s where we come in. Our aim is to help them develop their independence progressively and equip them with the means to make their way in Belgian society.” The association works on two main themes: individual personalised support and group activities.
Approximately 130 UFMs are currently benefiting from individual support. “We start out by looking at their resources and skills and explaining to them what the educational alternatives are,” continues Bénédicte Adnet. “This type of initial guidance reduces the odds of them dropping out later.” But it doesn’t end there. Mentor-Escale also provides psychological support, French tuition, administrative support and teaches them about apartment living, including how to save energy, among other things…
The group activities cater for about a hundred young people. They are based at both “houses” of the association, one in Brussels and the other in Namur. Bénédicte Adnet: “Our two houses are places where young people can simply call in or take part in the cultural and sporting activities on offer. We wanted to create a space where they feel safe, can meet friends, form a network… A point of contact where they feel welcome, almost like a second family. This is why we continue to welcome our young people up to the age of 26.”
Mentor-Escale has just launched a new project: placements in host families. This project encompasses the whole of Belgium. It is aimed at the youngest or most vulnerable UFMs who need an even more supportive environment. The association is also preparing a mentor programme for volunteers who are willing to dedicate their time to a young refugee without having to commit their whole family.
This cooperation with the Collibri Foundation will allow Mentor-Escale to expand its range of activities. The project aims to provide young people with professional guidance. “The idea is to form a group of young people and welcome back former UFMs, so as to explore potential job opportunities and open up their eyes to the possibilities,” adds Bénédicte Adnet. The project is currently in the finishing touches stage.