Brussels express talks to Jens Mueller, President and cofounder of the organisation Refugees are not alone (Rana).
Why did you set up Rana?
The story started in 2015, when refugees used to arrive to Brussels.
At that time, I was working at the European Parliament. While we were talking about the issue with colleagues, the idea to provide the refugees with a support came out. We could not accept the fact that people were sleeping on the street.
Although we had no time to logistically support those people, we really wished to do something. After some weeks, together with Belgian friends and relatives, we collected EUR 20,000. This money allowed us to pay some furniture and hotel rooms for some refugees.
That was the beginning of the story.
What are your aims?
Although the starting point was about supporting the refugees in a short-term perspective, the needs have changed. First of all, some organisations are actively involved in the reception of people. Secondly, fewer refugees arrive today, but those who have come need to get involved in the Belgian society, which could be difficult. Our point is to provide them with a long-term support programme.
One or two volunteers basically support a refugee or a family, to advise them on administration, school, health etc. The volunteer, who knows Belgium and is able to speak Dutch, French or English, also can translate lease contracts or work contracts.
It is not as dramatic as taking someone off the street like our short-term perspective, but it is absolutely fundamental to make the daily life easier. We also set up events, so that the refugees and the long-term Brussels residents can meet up. It induces social interactions.
And when refugees need to pay for medicines, train or other stuffs, we sometimes financially support them.
How many volunteers are involved in Rana?
We’re a bit more than 100 today, with about 30 very active volunteers. Some coordinators are working everyday, and other people provide us with their expertise or skills on a temporary basis. Although it started with EP employees, we today work both with “Eurocrats” and other people. And several refugees, who were supported before, are now pleased to help those who have just arrived.
What are you goals in the future?
We aim to have a long-term structure. This is why we have set up the organisation (‘Asbl’). But this is not enough. To offer stability to the organisation, it would be great to make it a bit professional. That will definitely help those who arrive to have a proper life here.
It is going well now, but we aim at getting bigger later.
What is your partnership with Hêbê?
As you know, Hêbê is a Brussels-based organisation, which aims to gather those who want to be involved in sport activities or leisure here. It enables to meet up with people, in case you have just arrived to Belgium. We have had the chance to meet up via friends. Our work is quite similar, as the main point is about integration and social interactions. We’re all expats here, no matter which country we come from or how big are our bank accounts.
Hêbê has then proposed to sort of sponsor our organisation. Some runners will take the KM 20 race later this month and they have set up a crowd funding campaign to support us in this framework.