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Ukrainians struggle to find housing as reality bites in Belgium

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By Maria Psara
Ukrainian refugee in Europe.
Ukrainian refugee in Europe.   -   Copyright  يورونيوز

They left the war behind, but problems keep coming for Ukrainians seeking refuge in Belgium. 

Most of them spent their first months in the country being hosted by either family, friends or other volunteers keen to help. 

But some are now struggling. Lots of them want to rent their own place and recover as normal a life as they can. However, it is not easy.

Irina Slota is one of them. She had to leave her house in Bucha near Kyiv in less than half an hour.

She is grateful for the family that has been hosting her for three months though she understands that it is time to give them their privacy back and also recover her independence.

But renting an apartment seems an impossible mission. She has been trying for five weeks now.

"When I am calling agencies, they ask me who am I and where I come from?" she told Euronews. "And when they hear that I'm Ukrainian and I'm a temporary protected person without a contract at this moment, they don't want to have us."

Irina is one of the thousands of refugees that could benefit from the Temporary Protection Directive, a 2001 law that was activated for the first time almost four months ago.

Under the directive, Ukrainian refugees are granted the right to access residence permits, work, and receive education and healthcare. It will last a year and could be extended. 

The protection is not an asylum status but gives refugees the time to settle and restart their lives before applying for refugee status.

Belgian authorities are aware of the difficulty for families to host unknown people for a long time.

"One month is fine, two months is more complicated. In the third month, it becomes difficult and so we have to find new hosts or other accommodation solutions more like refugee centres which are not what Ukrainians want. Ukrainians want normal housing. They don't want a refugee centre", said Pierre Verbeeren, coordinator for Ukrainian refugees at the government of Brussels.

Around 50,000 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Belgium in the last few months. 

The European Union has paid more than €3.5 billion in advance payments to member countries to help them manage the arrival of Ukrainians.