Two views of Europe: from a refugee and from a local


Have you ever taken a summer holiday on a Greek island? A Christmas-time trip to Budapest?  These kinds of leisure visits are common for people in Brussels to take, and share their experiences with others upon their return. For asylum-seekers, often their time in Greece or Hungary is a lot different.

When we visited Mini Europe last weekend with SB Espoir, the youth that we work with who live at the accommodations centres in Brussels illustrated this juxtaposition: the western volunteer who upon seeing the Big Ben replica talked about her time visiting London, and the young refugee talking about the police in Hungary that beat him at the border.

The young refugees opened up to us about their journey telling us about their often negative experiences with police, at the border and other situations. Despite their negative interaction with this country, they separated the government and the politics from the individuals living in those countries. One of our volunteers is Hungarian and while passing the exhibition of Budapest, two of the youth shared this experience with the police–a practice that has been widely documented and therefore not a surprise to our Hungarian volunteer. She was surprised, however, that the young refugees were so open to sharing this story with her and the other volunteers. And that despite their traumatic experience, that in that instance they were self-reflective and did not express any negativity towards Hungarian people.

Being Greek, I often have some youth telling me about their time in Greece, often sharing some words that they learned, places they visited, or food they tasted. We share stories of places to hang out, the many places to get good and cheap souvlaki, but even still, I suspect they share with me the good moments, and leave the bad ones out of the conversation. At the end of the day, their time there was under a circumstance that only they are able to fully understand.

It is rational for a person to have animosity against a group that abused and treated them inhumanely; not feeling this animosity is a testament to the maturity and character of these young refugees.

What I hope the youth gained from visiting Mini Europe with us is not only that they were able to enjoy a rare sunny day in Brussels but also that they were able to see the countries they passed through in a different way.

If you would like to get involved with SB OverSeas and the SB Espoir project with asylum-seekers in Belgium, send an email to and visit our website for more information