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Foundation Jean-François Peterbroeck
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Living and growing despite the trauma of exile

Art therapy programmes for asylum seekers in Belgium

2019 till 2021


In Europe, hence in Belgium, the issue of migration has been frequently in the news for several years now. The insecurity in the Middle East and the war in Syria have thrown many people onto the roads in an attempt to flee situations that have become unbearable. Although most have taken refuge in neighbouring countries, there have also been migratory flows towards Europe.
In accordance with the Geneva Convention, Belgium – like other European countries – welcomes some of these exiled people on its soil. They apply for asylum which – if accepted – will give them the status of “refugee”.
Experiencing exile means leaving a place of reference, experiencing separation and mourning, undergoing the traumatic ordeals of the journey (in addition to those that led to exile), and feeling like a stranger in the host country. Many newcomers therefore present psychological difficulties : anxiety, depression, guilt, loneliness, loss of cultural reference points, loss of social status and difficulties in finding one’s place and projecting oneself into the future. Certain categories of people, such as unaccompanied minors, present an additional risk of fragility.
It is important that these people with psychological difficulties are supported so that they can find respite and stability.


The RED PENCIL project is aimed at any asylum seeker with psychological difficulties.
Over a period of 3 years, the project hopes to reach around 500 beneficiaries, including
– 30% of MENA (Unaccompanied Foreign Minors)
– 10% of children accompanied by their parents
– 30% isolated young adults (between 18 and 22 years old)
– 30% adults.


In Belgium, RED PENCIL organizes art therapy workshops in centers for asylum seekers to help them overcome their emotional difficulties, (re)build their resilience and project themselves into the future.

To do this, RED PENCIL collaborates with organisations that run the various centers for asylum seekers, i.e. Fedasil, the Red Cross and Caritas International.
Over a period of 3 years, RED PENCIL hopes to organise around 40 workshop cycles for the benefit of 500 newcomers.
Art therapy is particularly suitable for newcomers, as expression through art helps to build bridges across language and cultural barriers. It is also an appropriate method for people who have experienced trauma as trauma is often a non-verbal experience that is felt throughout the body and engraved in tactile, visual and auditory ways. For most affected people, it is easier to express emotions related to traumatic experiences through a sensory activity such as art therapy. Gradually, the person is able to verbalise their experience and thus integrate it into their story.


Since 2017, the Red Pencil has organised 19 art therapy cycles in 15 different Fedasil centers.


S. – an unaccompanied minor

Drew a pine tree as he likes coconuts. He mentioned that the roots represent his parents and the trunk his life path, the lines of the bark the obstacles. He commented that he trusts that if he follows the advices and values his parents gave him, then he will be able to pick up the fruits, joy and success.
Read the full testimony


I've discovered that whatever the problems or obstacles are, there is always hope ; that I have to let it go, to not lock myself in a painful past, to look at the right side of life ; that there is energy in me and strenght to overcome issues.
Read the full testimony

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