December 18 is International Migrants Day. An opportunity to look back on Fondation de France’s commitment to those most vulnerable, no matter where they come from.
Since 2015, the Migrant Solidarity Program has been helping exiled people—regardless of their origins, religion, or legal status—improve their housing, health and social integration. During 2021, there were 32 ongoing projects. To best address the specific needs of these populations, Fondation de France chose an interdisciplinary approach. For example, by including unaccompanied minors in its Children and Education Program, since these young people are above all children.
Thanks to its deep roots in the non-profit world and its network of partners already working with Afghan migrants (the largest community requesting asylum in France), Fondation de France and its donor-advised funds have the tools and expertise necessary to offer rapid, effective, long-term support to Afghan exiles. All the while continuing its commitment to vulnerable people who come from other parts of the world.
Recent news from Afghanistan suggests that there will be an increase in exiled populations coming from this region. How is Fondation de France mobilizing to help these migrants?
Suzanne de Bellescize: Long before the Migrant Solidarity Program, solidarity with vulnerable people, no matter where they come from, was at the heart of Fondation de France’s commitment. We strive to take action where it is needed, without trying override government prerogatives in any way. Today, the 2,850 Afghans who recently found refuge in France are assisted by government-financed organizations, and we have not received many requests (with the exception of artists, for whom we are seeking specific types of support).
However, a large number of Afghans who arrived in France before summer are not receiving government assistance. They are being helped by local nonprofits that we support. That said, we expect that in a few months, when media attention has waned, more people will arrive, destitute, and with fewer support options open to them. That’s when the actions of Fondation de France and its donor-advised funds committed to this cause will truly be necessary. That is why we are putting everything in place now, organizing and reinforcing organizations and nonprofits on the ground who are already helping Afghan exiles.
What are the priority issues and activities of the Migrant Solidarity Program?
When helping exiles, basic necessities take priority. That is to say, food, housing, health care and safety. Fondation de France acted on all of these issues in 2020 and 2021, in the context of the health crisis. Now we are going to concentrate more on the problem of social integration. In particular, this means helping people learn French, which for us is essential to building a future and integrating into society. This topic is very important, because the French classes offered by the government only start when someone has received refugee status, in other words, just when that person needs to be ready to earn a living. For this reason, Fondation de France supports non-profits that provide French classes as soon as migrants arrive in the country. Our support allows the associations to give volunteers specific language teacher training. In fact, in many of the French as a Foreign Language nonprofits that we support, most of the students are Afghans…that experience will be valuable to us in the future.
We also focus on exiles’ mental health. Migrants are confronted with dangerous journeys marked by violence and sometimes torture, as well as the pain of exile. It is unrealistic to talk about social integration if we don’t first address mental health. This issue is often overlooked by institutions because access to mental health professionals is difficult and costly, especially since it requires specially trained translators. Once again, Fondation de France makes this service possible by supporting non-profits that offer group therapy, innovative therapeutic programs, art therapy, support groups, etc. Right now we are looking at how we can aid groups that support Afghans who have been refugees in France, sometimes for years, and are currently suffering because of the situation at home and the risks to their family members who are still in Afghanistan.
Another priority: caring for unaccompanied minors. This phenomenon has increased over the last few years, and the actors on the ground are not necessarily prepared. These young people, who above all we want to acknowledge as such, need specific assistance that combines child protection and education, and is linked to long-term housing solutions, legal and psychological help, as well as access to education so they can build a viable life project.
How have Fondation de France’s actions evolved over time? Have new issues come up?
Today, after several years of activity, the primary concern is to strengthen community groups and local non-profits. Since 2015, these small entities, often isolated and sometimes in rural areas, have been the source of an impressive momentum in civic solidarity. Most function thanks to a handful of volunteers, and address multiple needs on their own: housing, food assistance, legal and administrative aide, as well as teaching French. However, this kind of volunteer work is difficult, technical and sometimes emotionally painful, and these groups often end up on the edge of burnout. To allow them to continue to act effectively and in the long-term, Fondation de France helps them to organize themselves, find a first office space, or hire their first salaried employee. Volunteer training and guidance is a real issue, including the need for support groups and psychological aid, if required.
In France, we have a group of extraordinary nonprofits with real expertise. Our job at Fondation de France is to support them and allow them to work in a network so they can pool their resources. For example, several housing collectives approached us, not for funding but to benefit from our methodological tools and sharing experiences. They need to get together and discuss their practices to find solutions to concrete questions, like how to recruit new community hosts, how to avoid volunteer exhaustion, how to react when a migrant’s asylum application has been rejected, etc. The quality of care for migrants depends in large part on the solidity and expertise of these collectives. Because at this stage, while the government has increased the number of living spaces for migrants, it is still not enough. Only one out of two asylum-seekers is housed in a government housing facility. For the moment, housing offered by individuals in their homes in the spirit of solidarity appears to be one solution for keeping the most people from sleeping on the street. Among other things, it’s a great way of easing migrants’ integration into French society. Without relieving the authorities of their responsibilities, Fondation de France feels very strongly about supporting this principle of hospitality
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