A couple in Belgium is facing repairs of around €36,000 after they volunteered to welcome refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine into their home. They claim the Roma family they took in destroyed their property and left them footing the bill.
The couple, Sven and Evy, had recently upsized to a larger home. They retained their previous property in the city of Ninove to use as an office and decided to use other former homes to house Ukrainian refugees.
After contacting Belgium’s Public Center for Social Assistance (CPAS), they were asked if they could pick up a Ukrainian woman and her two children whose father had been killed in Ukraine.
“Then we got another call asking if we had a problem with the woman being pregnant. When we arrived, a pregnant woman with three children and her husband were waiting for us. During a half-hour conversation, we were told where they came from and the route they had taken. Then we went back with them,” the couple told Belgian news outlet, 7sur7.
The couple quickly noticed that all was not as it seemed. “This was no ordinary Ukrainian family,” they said.
It soon transpired that the family was of a Roma background, members of the minority traveling community that resides in Ukraine and neighboring countries.
“CPAS told us that they were Roma gypsies,” the couple said. “For example, the members of this family did not know how to use a washing machine, a dryer, an oven… All these devices were unknown to them. The mother was washing the clothes in our tub,” they added.
After several weeks of residing in the property, the family had caused substantial damage, allowing mold to set in, breaking furniture, and scribbling on the walls.
“Mildew appeared all over the windows, the walls were covered with inscriptions, the wood was torn from the frame of the bed, the doors and cabinets were damaged.
“But that’s not all: All the chairs in the kitchen were broken, the molding was torn off the stairs, there were holes in the floor, our children’s toys were broken, even their piggy bank was opened,” the couple told the Belgian news outlet.
Sven and Evy reported early signs of damage to CPAS and were told to either send the refugees back or stop bothering them. They continued to host them.
“The wife asked for a job for her husband. We had found three places where he could work, but he didn’t want to. He found an excuse every time,” the couple explained.
It later transpired the Roma family had allowed another family of Ukrainian refugees to live in the house.
“Another woman, her husband, and three children were staying with us. They were subletting. At one point, more than 11 people were in the house,” they revealed, adding that the Roma family were “constantly” asking them for money which the family used to purchase a car, “even though we knew the man didn’t have a driver’s license.”
After finally having enough of the nightmare, the couple contacted CPAS and requested they relocate the family. It took more than two months for this process to be completed, and after reviewing the house upon their departure, “it was a real mess.”
CPAS had informed Sven and Evy they would receive compensation for the damage, but they were later told they would not receive a cent.
“We have forwarded all the damages to CPAS. The total cost was €36,000, and that doesn’t even include everything.
“CPAS then told us that we would not receive any compensation. We were advised to sue the family in question through the Peace Court. We are going to do it, but the family lives on an integration income. How are they going to pay for this?” they asked.
In response, CPAS insisted they had done all they could for the couple during the Roma family’s stay. Veerle Cosyns, chairman of the Special Committee for Social Services (BCSD), said social services had “made a lot of extra effort” to support the couple.
“We saw quite quickly that the family did not correspond to a standard Ukrainian family. The children had never been to school, they did not know what electricity was; it was a Roma family. We had offered to take care of the family or, if the couple wanted to continue to take care of them, that they come to see us twice a week and the family once a week. There were also two people who spoke Ukrainian to translate,” Cosyns said.
He claimed that the couple didn’t have a contract in place with the family and are therefore unable to receive the compensation asked for.
“We can’t compensate for the damage because we don’t have a contract with the family. And even though I’m sorry for the couple, I can’t spend the tax money of the people of Ninove without a legal basis. This is why it is preferable to go to the Peace Court so that there is a court decision.
“Moreover, all host families received an information brochure, and information evenings were organized,” he added.
“We have informed people well. Our task was mainly to provide group care. We have done everything we could in terms of support with the people and resources we had in times of crisis,” Cosyns said.
The Belgian couple is now considering legal action against CPAS to recover the damages, but they face an uphill battle.
“We have the feeling that CPAS has seriously failed,” they added.