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Royal couple make properties available to Ukrainian refugees

Queen Mathilde and King Philippe of Belgium pictured during a royal visit to the former elderly care home Sebrechts, where Ukranian refugees are given an emergency place to stay for a few days, in Brussels, Wednesday 09 March 2022. (BELGA PHOTO DIRK WAEM)
05:54 17/03/2022

Belgium’s King Philip and Queen Mathilde have decided to make two homes available for Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion, it was officially confirmed on Wednesday.

According to the announcement, the couple will provide two homes which can accommodate three refugee families. These are dwellings located in properties belonging to the Royal Donation, the trust that manages royal real estate available to the state.

"This is housing whose original purpose was to be made available to social agencies to accommodate people on low incomes, a mission that corresponds well to what we want to achieve with the royal donation," explained Jan Smets, president of the Royal Donation. However, "given the refugee crisis, we will make these houses available for emergency reception."

"These are single-family homes that will be available at the beginning of April, the time to furnish them and do small jobs," Smets added.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine and the arrival in Belgium of Ukrainians fleeing their country, the royal couple has already met refugees in Brussels.

Last week, Philippe and Mathilde accompanied the Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration Sami Mahdi to Molenbeek, to the former Sebrechts care home which has been transformed into an emergency reception place for refugees.

On Wednesday afternoon, King Philip visited the Registration Centre for Ukrainian Refugees at Heysel, where he met families who have fled the war.

This reception of refugees by the royal couple comes as more than three million Ukrainians have fled their country due to the Russian invasion, according to figures recorded by the UNHCR (UN). Every day, about 2000 arrive in Belgium.

Vincent Dujardin, a historian specialising in the royal family, said the king is "giving a strong signal to the Belgian people to be welcoming." It is "putting your money where your mouth is" and "leading by example." 

This is not the first time that a Belgian sovereign has decided to host refugees. At the end of 2009, King Albert II and Queen Paola announced that they wanted to make available to the homeless an apartment of the Donation located on the Ciergnon royal estate, near Rochefort.

The former gendarmerie barracks located on the Ciergnon estate was redeveloped in February 2010 to house a family of four Afghans, including two children. At the time, there was also talk of developing a second apartment in Ciergnon.

More recently, following the bad weather and floods of the summer of 2021, the Royal Donation had also made housing available to the victims. "We had urgently made available, after renovation, some houses at the disposal of social agencies in the Ardennes, in the region of Houyet and Rochefort, for the reception of disaster victims," recalled Jan Smets.

Written by Nick Amies