What is the 9 Campaign?

This summer, we’re encouraging our supporters to join us by making a commitment to the 9 campaign!

The 9 campaign is about partnering with the Welkom Project to achieve sustainable change in the lives of SE Asian women in Belgium. We are grateful for partners who are with us for the long haul to bring about transformation in the lives of individuals and communities. However, we often experience decreased engagement during the summer months from supporters and volunteers. This is where you come in.

The 9 campaign allows you to give a small amount monthly towards The Welkom Project so we can continue to work with Thai women in Belgium. Only 9€ a month can help us make a difference in the lives of women who have experienced intimate partner violence and exploitation. Throughout the summer months, our work doesn’t stop! We are continuing to assist women who are in situations of violence or who have exited exploitation and need help establishing a new life and community.

Here are 9 facts about the Welkom Project that you may not know:

  1. The project depends on a team of volunteers and interns who work both directly with beneficiaries and in our office

  2. We visit 24 erotic massage parlors in the Brussels area on a regular basis, distributing educational materials on safety in relationships and allowing the women to discuss any difficulties they face with our trained staff and volunteers

  3. We are partnered with a cafe in Antwerp that trains women to become baristas

  4. Around 80% of the women we assist are experiencing or have been through a situation of intimate partner violence

  5. Our projects are funded almost completely through the generous donations of individuals and faith communities

  6. Many of the women we work with feel unable to access social services or legal assistance on their own, so we spend a lot of time accompanying women to appointments and providing translation and emotional support

  7. We drive around Belgium in a big blue car that can also be found in Beringen in the summer with the Buurtbar!

  8. Our project works mainly with Thai women, but we have also assisted women from the Philippines and Indonesia

  9. If you ask any staff member or volunteer what their favorite part of working with the Welkom Project is, they will likely say “getting to know women over amazing Thai food!”

You can help us keep the Welkom Project running by partnering with us through the 9 campaign!

Join the 9 Campaign

What Does it Mean to Empower Someone?

Here at Oasis, we talk a lot about empowerment. But what does it mean to empower someone?

Empowering someone means giving them the tools to make choices for themselves. Choices that are not restricted due to their gender, sexuality, socio-economic background, ethnicity, disability, or anything else. 

Empowering someone means solidarity, or standing with. It means not putting ourselves above them, but standing shoulder to shoulder in recognition of our shared humanity. 

Empowering someone means recognizing what they have to give, not only what they can receive. It means recognizing their unique talents and creating an avenue for those skills to flourish.

Empowering someone means listening to them, and not prescribing a list of what they should do to improve their circumstances. It’s trusting that they know themselves and their needs best, and helping them make the best decisions to reach their goals. 

Empowering someone means not stereotyping them based on their background, but accepting the web of culture, experiences, and personality that make them who they are. 

Empowering someone is not a simple process, but can take years of effort and care. 

Empowering someone puts the power back into the hands of people who have traditionally been oppressed and silenced. It is not the act of giving them a voice, but acknowledging the voices that have been silenced for too long. 

Empowering someone is not an individual act, but a communal one.

Empowering someone is not a single action but a long-term commitment to the well-being of another person or community. 

Empowering someone does not have to be you empowering someone else, but can include empowering yourself. 

What is one way you can empower yourself or others today?

Join us in empowering our community in Belgium by committing to the 9 campaign here. Your gift enables us to provide holistic care for women who have experienced gender based violence and exploitation, isolated elderly people, and children with a migration background.

Why Would She Stay?

Written by Abriel Schieffelers

At Oasis, we’re passionate not only about helping people, but also about changing the stereotypes and misconceptions that people have about certain groups of people. We seek to raise awareness in a way that does justice to the complexity of individual stories. 

As you know about our previous posts about human trafficking, there’s a danger in simplifying narratives and breaking people down into “good guys” and “bad guys” The same is true for the phenomenon of “mail order brides,” or what is more accurately called “trans-national marriage migration.” 

We’ve all heard stories, seen documentaries, or witnessed older, white men with young Asian or Eastern European women. Back in the day, these men would often literally “order” these women by mail or online. Today, it’s a little more complex. Many of these couples do meet online, often through dating websites instead of mail-order bride agencies. Some couples meet while the man is visiting Thailand or Russia (or whatever other country). 

And of course, this is not simply a phenomenon of American/European men and Asian/Eastern European women. Recently, there’s been a rise in older European and American women seeking out younger African or South American men. You can read more about that here.

The majority of women the Welkom Project works with are Thai women who have migrated to Belgium for marriage. Some of them come from well-educated backgrounds, while some of them only have a primary school education. Some of them worked in the sex industry in Thailand, others worked at office jobs. Some of them have children back home in Thailand, others don’t. For all of these women, they saw Belgium as a fresh start in their lives. 

All of the women we work with have made difficult decisions at this point in their lives. Some have prioritized sending money home to their families over staying in Thailand with their children. Others have simply sacrificed the comfort of home for the strangeness of a new life. These women also face different realities once moving to Belgium — some of them settle in to a happy marriage and are able to navigate life in a new culture and language. Others experience violence in their marriages and find themselves isolated in a strange country. As Oasis, we far too often see men who simply want to marry a Thai woman who will cook and clean for him, or even work for him while he stays at home. If she doesn’t meet these requirements, he will turn to abuse and violence to get his way. In the worst cases, we have seen Belgian men exploit their wives by forcing them to work in erotic massage parlors and take all their earnings. 

So why would these women move to Belgium in the first place? And why would they stay in the marriage once it turns abusive? There are so many factors at play here — and it’s important to understand the interplay of these factors to understand why it is so appealing for women to migrate for marriage, and so difficult for them to leave when it gets bad. 

One huge factor is economic - and often the unequal power relations between the women and men mirror those of global inequalities. Thai women believe that they will be economically stable once they marry a foreigner, and that they’ll be able to support their children and family by sending money back. 

Another factor is the idealistic view of life in Europe or America Thai women often have. They believe that they’ll be able to travel, have fancy handbags and clothes, and experience a luxurious and happy life once they migrate. In reality, however, many of the men who marry Thai women are living off disability checks or barely making ends meet, but will lie to their girlfriends to convince them to move to Europe with them. 

Finally, Thai women migrate for love. Often, these marriages have a transactional element, but there is some element of love and mutual respect in the relationship. At Oasis, we have heard many women tell us that truly love their husbands and that they believed their partner loved them and would never hurt them before they moved to Europe. 

After years of working with Thai marriage migrants, we at Oasis believe that the primary reason these women don’t leave abusive relationships is their precarious immigration status. There are, of course, cultural taboos regarding divorce, but the strongest motivator is knowing they will be kicked out of the country if they have been married to their Belgian partner for less than five years. Many women hope to “stick it out” for the five years and then divorce their partner and find a better life. In addition to the usual elements that keep women in abusive relationships, immigration status is a huge factor in why women are slow to leave dangerous marriages. 

Trans-national marriage migration is a complex issue due to the ever-present global and gender inequalities that make it easy for women to become victims of violence and exploitation. If you'd like to learn more about trans-national marriage migration, pick up the book "Global Woman" by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Hochschild or the documentary "Love on Delivery" by Sine Plambech and Janus Metz. 

There's still so much more to learn about trans-national marriage migration, the experiences of women who leave behind their families for a new life in Europe, and the challenges they face in their new relationships. At Oasis, we understand that each woman’s situation is different, so we tailor our services to their unique needs. We're committed to hearing their stories, empowering them to flourish in their new home, and raising awareness about this issue, and we want you to join us in doing this. 

The 9 Campaign helps us provide necessary services to women who have migrated to Belgium and have experienced abuse. You can commit to giving 9€ a month and make a difference in the lives of these women and their children! We are grateful for everyone who has partnered with us through financial donations, volunteering, or simply praying for and encouraging us in this work. Thank you!

5 Practical Ways to Take a Stand Against Gender Based Violence

This post was written by Abriel Schieffelers, Communications & Training Manager for Oasis Belgium.

March 8th is International Women’s Day! Here at Oasis, we’re passionate about raising awareness about the inequality women experience around the world every day.


According to the UN, on the basis of data from 2005 to 2016 from 87 countries, “19 percent of women between 15 and 49 years of age said they had experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in the 12 months prior to the survey.” There are many forms of gender-based violence, including partner abuse, female genital mutilation, and forced marriage.

Unfortunately, we live in a society that often sees these abuses as the norm. These practices are embedded in patriarchal ideas of the power roles between men and women, and won’t end until we begin to communally resist these gendered structures. One statistic we always share with new volunteers is that it takes on average 7 attempts for a woman to finally leave an abusive relationship. It's only with the long-term care and practical assistance of a dedicated support system that battered women are finally able to free themselves of a violent relationship. Our team at Oasis wants to provide that support system to women who need it, but we can't do it alone.

Here’s some ways you can join us to shine a light on gender-based violence.

  1. Join "the 9 campaign” | There’s no better place to begin advocacy with than at home. Through giving only €9 a month, you can play an active role in fighting gender-based violence here in Belgium. All of the donations we receive go directly to our project and are used in practical ways, for example to produce and print educational materials in Thai and English on how to stay safe in an abusive relationship or to allow us to accompany women to appointments where we provide translation and support. Join the campaign here.

  2. Educate yourself | Documentaries like “Half the Sky” and “A Path Appears” by journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn provide a glimpse into different forms of gender-based violence around the world. The award-winning journalists travel around the globe to meet activists working on the ground to change communities and to hear stories of women who have overcome. If you are more of a book person, check out the books the documentaries were based on here and here

  3. Buy Secondhand | Buying secondhand clothing not only reduces your carbon footprint, but it’s a great way of challenging the consumer culture we live in that perpetuates unjust labor practices, particularly in the textile industry. Women are working around the world in slave-like conditions in factories that make your favorite brands. In addition to working many hours for little pay in dangerous conditions, women are often subject to sexual assault and harassment in their workplaces.

  4. Volunteer | Our partners at KoffieKlap in Antwerp are looking for volunteers for their cafe, which gives women valuable job skills after they have exited situations of exploitation. The Welkom Project is always looking for volunteers in the Brussels area to plan events, visit women we support, or fundraise. If you have time and a desire to get involved, we will find a place for you! 

  5. Join the conversation | Gender-based violence exists in every society, and it’s time to start conversations about it in our circles of influence. If you are part of a faith community, consider making it a priority to create safe spaces for women to report situations of harassment or violence. We recommend this resource to churches as a good starting point, and this resource for educating primary school children about healthy relationships. 

We are dedicating this month to raising awareness about gender based violence here in Belgium and around the world. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter to stay updated!

Domestic Violence: The Experience of South-East Asian Women in Europe

This blog post was written by Hanna Ayisi, an intern with the Welkom Project.

On February 5th, Oasis Belgium hosted a mind-changing program at the European Parliament. The event, entitled “Domestic Violence: The Experience of South-East Asian Women in Europe”, aimed at raising awareness on what Oasis has been working on in the past years.

The program initiated with the display of a video, which summarised the general patterns and narratives of migrant women who eventually ended up in a context of domestic abuse.  More specifically, we saw how these women genuinely believed in the opportunity of a new life with the person they loved and were supposed to be loved by. For this reason, they willingly decided to leave their career, family, and stability in their country of origin, in order to follow the man of their dreams. But unfortunately, their expectations often result in total disappointment. I know this might sound as the script for a perfect dramatic movie, but sadly it is what Oasis Belgium deals with on a daily basis. In fact, the “Welkom Project” offers legal, administrative and social/emotional support in particular to Thai women who find themselves in the above described situation and it is at times really heart-breaking to hear the experiences of these ladies.

Personally, I considered the event to be eye-opening because the target was not a particular category of woman. Rather, it underlined how regardless of cultural, social and economic background of a person, anyone can fall into the cycle of violence.

In fact, the debate, which was conducted by the MEP Ana Maria Gomes, began on this note. There were various interesting concerns that were tackled during the discussion, for example, a discussion on the incomplete data available to the public on the number of Thai women present in the country and their experiences of violence. Eventually Ms. Bhuvaborirak, from the Thai Embassy, gave some figures on Thai citizen being married with Belgian, which ranged around 4.000 people and of these reported cases of human trafficking are 45 people. Nevertheless, some of the representatives of the NGOs, present at the meeting, raised the concern of how these numbers are not fully encompassing of the reality of things. They noted that: “No data no provision”. I agree with what this NGO representative said, because without concrete figures, it becomes hard to bring to the attention of the relevant authorities what is really occurring in order to prevent and protect these ladies from the condition of abuse.

Overall, this event was a highly intellectual and informative moment involving exchanges of opinion and experience between different organizations and entities of their experience in the issue and it also emphasized collaboration and affirmation of the willingness to fight and prevent domestic violence from occurring.  

Buurtbar Alpha-cursus en Digibabbel

This blog post was written by Freddy, a volunteer for the Buurtbar project.

Ik werk als vrijwilliger bij de Buurtbar. Miet had me gevraagd om de alpha-cursus door te geven. Ik heb een eerste reeks van 10 alpha - studies doorgegeven. Daarbij heb ik het boek van Gumbel als basis gebruikt, maar zoals het een goede leraar betaamt, heb ik dat naar mijn evangelische hand gezet. We hadden een fijn gastgezin en er was één kandidaat. Ik was het als gepensioneerd leerkracht PEGO gewend om les te geven aan één of enkele leerlingen. Haar interesse en vragen maakten elke les tot een verrijkend gebeuren voor alle betrokkenen. Miet, de coördinator zorgde voor de organisatie, de ontvangst en de maaltijden. Alles samen zorgde dat ervoor dat er een alpha-band groeide. De ontmoeting op een koffiebar-moment in Beverlo en het interview voor de radio versterkten het alpha-gevoel. Het was maar logisch dat we het toneelstuk gingen bekijken waarin haar man in meespeelde.We wilden allemaal graag verder en zo groeide uit de alpha-cursus een alpha-huiskring die bij Miet, de coördinator thuis doorging. We zouden het Johannes-evangelie doorgaan vanuit het verlangen dat de Heer door ons samen-spreken zijn Woord zou verduidelijken. Eerder een Bijbel-babbel dan een Bijbel-studie.

En dan vroeg Miet om eens te helpen met een Digibabbel. Ze moest zelf weg en er waren te weinig medewerkers. Ik moest gewoon maar wat toezien. Dat leek me doenbaar. Er kwamen een tiental mensen met mooie toestelletjes, die allemaal vol eigen vragen zaten. En al vlug werden er allerlei vragen op me afgevuurd. Hoe kan ik dit? En hoe kan ik dat? Wat Miet niet wist is, dat ik zelf niet eens een slimme telefoon heb. Mijn telefoon is zo ouderwets dom dat hij enkel kan bellen en een berichtje sturen. Ik moest dus telkens verwijzen naar de deskundige studenten die hun vragen zouden beantwoorden. Dat was voor een gepensioneerde leerkracht nogal frustrerend. Maar Miet heeft me gered. Ik mocht de deelnemers die ondertussen in enkele groepjes waren verdeeld koffie of water brengen. Met een verstoorde en toch ietwat vriendelijke blik, gaven de deelnemers aan wat ze wilden drinken. Ik mocht dan ook op het einde nog vragen om de evaluatie-papieren in te vullen. De meesten lieten meteen weten dat ze het goed vonden. De enige opmerking zei een man lachend: ‘de service mocht wat beter zijn.’ Daarbij merkte hij op dat dit een grapje was en dat ik er de volgende keer weer bij mocht zijn. ‘Oef’, ‘geslaagd als dienaar.’ Ik was best tevreden dat ik dienstbaar mocht zijn. Dat is toch de essentie van christen-zijn, niet? Ik had de deelnemers ondertussen ook wel de folders van de Buurtbar meegegeven.


Understanding Mental Illness

This article was written by Bess Brookes, a longtime supporter of Oasis Belgium. If you would like to contribute to the Oasis blog on a relevant topic, we would love to hear from you!

Mental health is an important topic for any charity or NGO, and particularly so for organizations like Oasis who work with isolated elderly people and migrants who are experiencing trauma, isolation, and discrimination. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health struggles permeate across barriers of age, nationality, and life experiences. Listening to the stories of others is an important first step in helping them take steps towards healing.

There can be times in life when you feel truly alone.  Even in a context of strong personal relationships, a vibrant social life, a nurturing Christian Church, a meaningful work life, you can still feel truly alone.

These alone moments can happen when you’re ill and need medical treatment; no one else, however much they love you, can volunteer to take your place.  You must take the appropriate medicine or have the painful operation!  It is your body and your experience.   Facing illness of any kind can be so lonely, particularly if you are in a strange country with an unfamiliar medical system.  Clinging on to your faith in the middle of such circumstances can seem almost impossible – especially if you feel isolated within your own Church community, pushed to one side because your illness is not quite “acceptable” in some way.

Perhaps that illness is clinical depression.  Someone suffering from this can experiences enormous social isolation – and, if a Christian, loneliness within their church community too.  This is partly due to the nature of the condition itself but also the potential withdrawal of others in the face of something they don’t understand.

My own journey with clinical depression began around 25 years ago.  There was a huge stigma associated with this illness in England then, even more so than today – people were frequently characterised as weak and unable to cope with normal life.  Doctors put vague descriptions such as “stress” or “exhaustion” on medical notes needed for work, because having something like “depression” on your personnel record could seriously hamper your career. 

In my case, the doctor prescribed some medication and said that he would refer me to a counsellor at the local Mental Health Unit for some talking-therapy.  I can’t describe the impact of those words Mental Health Unit………... The day came for the first appointment and I somehow drove myself to the correct address.  I vividly remember stopping in the car-park and staring at the sign on the side of the building, feeling that I was in some sort of awful film-version of my life – that none of it could be real…….

But, of course, I couldn’t get well by staying inside the car.  I had to get out and walk through the doors of the building and face whatever lay ahead (I still had vague Victorian-type pictures of mental asylums going round in my mind - of people sitting rocking in corners or handcuffed in chains screaming….).  As it turned out, I was treated with the utmost humanity and the waiting room was full of………..people like me!! 

However, outside the confines of a Mental Health Unit or similar, Christians can feel tremendously guilty about suffering from depression, given all the “hope” and “joy” that they are supposed to have.  Someone with clinical depression has to come to terms with a radical change to their self-image.  They no longer feel like the person they thought they were and it is difficult to convey this “loss of identity” to their fellow-believers. 

But surely depressed Christians receive a huge amount of support and encouragement from their local churches?  Unfortunately, I know that this often is not the case. One of the saddest things I have heard in the last few years is a missionary confiding to me that she couldn’t tell her fellow Christian workers that she was on antidepressants because it was “not the sort of medicine that Christians should need”.  Why are some medicines welcomed as part of God’s healing plan while others are shameful?  In my U.K. church all those years ago, my problem was either ignored completely or I received useless advice such as “the only way to deal with depression is to pray more”, without any understanding that depression can severely disrupt your ability to function normally in all areas of your life, including spiritually.

You might think this is a very strange thing to say.  Doesn’t everyone have direct access to God, whatever their state of health, through the life and work of Jesus?  Where exactly is the problem?  The root, I think, lies in some of the characteristics of clinical depression as an illness:  the way in which a sufferer is disabled, especially the innate sense of isolation, of being cut-off from your fellow human beings and often from God. Of course, there is no fundamental change in the relationship between you and the divine; the issue is one of perception and lack of any kind of energy – even the energy to actively rest in Him.  Many people report the feeling of a glass screen between them and the rest of the world – they are totally aware of reality but unable to interact with it normally.   Decision-making can be all but impossible.  Added to this, there are severe difficulties when coping in social situations (e.g Church services) and the fact that the activity of composing and producing speech is exhausting.  It follows that the most ardent believer might be incapable of praying spontaneously in their “normal verbal way”, yet lack the concentration needed to spend time in silent contemplation or be able to decide to do something else (or nothing!).  And all this without your fellow Christians understanding anything that is happening to you and so being able to share any part of the burden.  This works in both directions – a group of friends might be reaching out and genuinely trying to support you but you can’t “feel” or recognise this because of your illness – this can lead to frustrations on both sides and a huge amount of patience and grace is needed.

Given the complexities of different illnesses (unless we have personal experience or appropriate medical training) what kind of supportive community can we practically hope to be when faced with fellow Christians suffering from depression?  Although I can list many ways in which Church life can be difficult in this respect, it is the following which have given me encouragement over the years

·       People who take the time to listen and accept that clinical depression is an illness, even if one they don’t understand,

·       People who realise that “standard spiritual advice” is pretty useless if you are not well enough to follow it. 

·       People who give practical help with cooking, cleaning and child-minding, without which my family would not have got through some of the darkest times.

·       People who have courage to stand alongside in the darkness and continually whisper a message of hope

 We as a church community can help people enormously in their struggle to hold on to their faith in times of depression– by unconditional acceptance of people as they are and, by an understanding that at times such people may be completely dependent on our spiritual help.   In evangelical protestant circles, we are so accustomed to the idea of our own personal faith and an individual practice of prayer that we can fail to say the obvious: “Don’t worry if you can’t pray – just rest, and I’ll pray for you”.

Above all, I think, the Christian community is there to hold out a continuous message of hope both expounded in Sunday by Sunday teaching (even if someone isn’t well enough to grasp it at the time) and concretised in practical concern.   For me, the scarred resurrection body of Christ is a continually helpful symbol and takes away our need for pretence in our Christian lives.  We struggle through, and are scarred by, these experiences, whether sufferer or church community.  But, ultimately, there is resurrection and those of us who suffer from clinical depression need our church community to remind us of that.

Merry Christmas!

It’s Christmas time here at Oasis! We’re busy preparing gifts for the children involved in our projects and organizing a Christmas brocante at a local school so parents can buy discounted toys for their children. Sometimes it seems like the work never stops, but our staff and volunteers will take a much needed break to spend time with their families next week.

This year, we’re grateful for all the lives we’ve been able to impact for the better because of the generous hearts and hands of donors and volunteers. We couldn’t do any of this without you!

Please consider donating to Oasis Belgium this holiday season so we can continue to serve isolated elderly people, women who have experienced violence, and children with a migration background in Belgium.

Here’s the impact of your gift:

€20 will provide coffee and a visit from a volunteer for 4 elderly people

€50 will provide the costs of hotlines in two languages for women in crisis for a month

€100 will provide educational materials on their rights for women in exploitative work or relationship situations for one month

€150 will provide accompaniment to services and language interpretation for a woman in crisis from a staff member or volunteer for a week


If you or someone you know is interested in volunteering your time in the new year, please contact us here!

Finding Healing Through Yoga

This blog post was written by Abriel Schieffelers, Empower Project & Communications Manager

In recent blog posts, we’ve discussed the trauma of migration, poverty, and discrimination. These are all traumas we witness in the women we work with, and they show up in the day to day lives of these women.

Trauma changes our bodies, our responses to everyday stressors and stimuli, and our relationships to ourselves and others. People who have experienced trauma often view the world as a dark and evil place, where everyone is out to get them and they can’t trust anyone. If they have been living in situations of poverty and deprivation, they are constantly focused on survival. 

For women who have experienced intimate partner violence, trauma often takes root in their relationships and in their bodies. Many women are physically and emotionally numb after years of abuse, a coping mechanism they used to protect themselves from the abuse. Many women who have been abused have a negative relationship with their bodies, as it was the epicenter of the violence done against again. Indeed, survivors of trauma often develop autoimmune disorders or chronic pain as a result of their body being on “high alert,” and ready for fight or flight for so long, often even after the threat of harm is long gone. 

How do we address trauma that is rooted so deeply in the body?

Traditional talk therapy is of course helpful in addressing the damage that has been done, but many women are unable to put words to their experience and may experience cultural barriers that prevent them from being able to process their experience verbally.

There has been a lot of research done that has shown that body-based therapy, such as yoga, can be helpful for directly addressing the symptoms of PTSD and trauma that survivors experience. These symptoms can include flashbacks, dissociation, trouble sleeping, and more. 

Many of the women Oasis works with cannot access traditional talk therapy due to the the language or cultural barrier or due to their legal status. We understand that in the process of helping women access social services, apply for asylum, and provide for their children, we often risk re-traumatizing them by having them tell their stories over and over. We want to allow them to reclaim their bodies and their stories in a space where they have control, where they can be empowered to take time for themselves by breathing deeply, grounding themselves in the present moment, and gently re-learning to feel their bodies. 

We are excited to announce that we will soon be starting a project focused on yoga as a tool for dealing with post-trauma recovery in partnership with other Oasis hubs around the world!

The Empower project will work with women already served through the Welkom and Bienvenue projects with Thai and North African women. It will also focus on children with a migration background, many of which have also experienced violence in the family. 

If you’d like to support this project as it starts, please visit oasisbe.org/give and specify “Empower Project” in the description. If you are a yoga teacher in Brussels are are interested in volunteering your time and talents, please send an email to abriel.schieffelers@oasisbe.org

The Trauma of Migration

There is still a long way to go before our society understands, supports and de-stigmatise people with mental health problems. The church should be at the forefront of allowing people to be open and honest about depression and other mental health issues, without judgement, impatience or even questioning of the level of people’s faith. The lack of understanding and care in society at large, in the work place and in church is incomprehensible in the twenty-first century. Yet, if it is bad in wider society, our lack of understanding of depression and post-traumatic stress amongst migrants is even worse.

If you consider that a refugee has fled terror, atrocities and threats, then its understandable that they would continue to suffer from post-traumatic stress. However it isn’t only refugees, but also economic migrants, who have risked everything for a better life who struggle with trauma and depression on a large scale. One man we have supported for years told of how he had arrived on a migrant boat from North Africa, which sunk off the coast of Italy in a storm. Those who managed to swim to some rocks only survived if they had climbed high enough, as others were crushed by the boat as it was repeatedly swept onto them. He managed to survive, and has entered Europe as an economic migrant, a category that is often reviled by the press, and yet he has suffered a great deal in search of a better life. The chance of depression in this situation is very high.

Many of the women we work with have come to Europe on a marriage visa, only to find that they face violence at home and exploitation if they are recruited to work in “massage parlours”. One woman we work with has now spent years in psychiatric hospitals because of the abuse she has suffered.

These are not the only causes of mental illness that we encounter. In many ways migration is loss, and people experience grief. The western press gives the impression that it’s easy to migrate, and people do it from greed to get benefits and an easy life. Migration may be many things, but it most certainly isn’t easy. To lose your culture, the support of family and the ability to understand easily what is happening around you are major blows to a person’s mental state and can lead to depression. If you are rejected and isolated, and your high expectations of what life may be like when you arrive in the new country in comparison with the reality may make you feel like a failure, demotivate you and often make you feel suicidal. If your circumstances are such that you can’t go home (for example you now have a child with a partner in your new country and they won’t let you take the child with you), its a recipe for mental illness.

You may ask, if migration is that difficult, why on earth would they come in the first place? Perhaps by asking this question, we begin to see how hopeless the situation at home may have been, or how much pressure has been put on a young person to go and earn money abroad to help the family out of poverty, or support brothers (or more rarely sisters) through school. It also points to an ongoing myth about how much better it is in developed countries, a myth perpetuated by people smugglers.

What can be done to reduce the suffering that migrants suffer?

One way is simply to welcome them. When people find themselves surrounded by positive community, life becomes much easier to cope with.

Secondly, be interested in their culture. We all know that when you move to another country, you have to adapt to a new way of living, but that doesn’t have to mean that your home culture needs to be rejected and vilified. By being interested in an immigrant’s home culture, we actually pave the way for them to be able to cope with the adjustment to a new way of life.

Thirdly, we must understand, that when trauma and feelings of loss have happened, healing and adjustment take time. Let’s not harshly reject people as they struggle to understand their new context, let’s instead take the long view and walk kindly with them for the long-term.

Oasis Belgium works with migrant women who have experienced violence and exploitation. If you would  like to support our work (which would be wonderful!), you can do so here: https://oasisbe.com/give/