A unique and innovative co-housing project in Antwerp

Curant is an abbreviation for Co-housing and case management for Unaccompanied young adult Refugees in ANTwerp. It was an innovative and unique co-housing project in Antwerp. The project started in November 2017 and ended in October 2019. Curant was partly funded by the Urban Innovative Actions initiative from the European Commission.

The goal of this project was to improve the integration of officially recognised refugees. The refugees who were part of this project were often unaccompanied. This means they arrived in Belgium without their parents. Unaccompanied minors are entitled to support from a guardian and welcome classes for foreign newcomers (OKAN). As this ends once they reach adulthood, it is likely they will leave school without any qualifications.

The municipality of Antwerp aimed to help these young refugees with integrating into society by offering a guidance project. The project consisted of one young, officially recognised, refugee living with a Flemish adolescent. They would be living together for at least one year. During this time, the Flemish adolescent taught the refugee about the Flemish and Belgium culture, society and language. As the refugee was living with a peer and receiving aid of extensive support, the refugee was able to integrate easier and faster.

The first apartments were provided by the municipality of Antwerp and were ready to be lived in at the beginning of 2017. Antwerp supported a total of 135 young refugees over a period of three years. As it is a demanding process, the City of Antwerp was collaborating with a range of partners:

  • Solentra provided psychological support to the refugees and their buddy;
  • Vormingplus searched for and screened volunteers;
  • Atlas took care of integration and Dutch courses;
  • VDAB provided the young refugees with an appropriate follow-up plan for post-secondary education;
  • JES VZW accompanied the young refugees along their course of education or work;
  • The Centre for Migration and Intercultural Studies (CeMIS), at the University of Antwerp, measured the impact of the co-housing and the follow-up trajectories in relation to integration.

After the project finished, a research was done to measure whether the project helped supporting young unaccompanied newcomers’ social and structural integration into Belgian society. The results showed the project helped the refugees in finding employment or starting an education. It also helped them to build a social network. On the other hand, there were some learning points:

  • Cohousing does not work for everybody;
  • All the participants need to be open to the cohousing principles, and share basic values and expectations;
  • Professional support is essential in this case, as it helped the relation between the refugee and the Flemish adolescents to grow, and understand each other better.

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