Levan -  Workshop for manufacturing plastic metal windows and doors

After graduating from University, Levan and his family became victims of political persecution. His family grew concerned about his safety and as he was young and impulsive they decided together to send him abroad for a while. Levan choose to migrate to Belgium because he had some relatives and friends living there. Upon arrival in Belgium, he didn’t have to apply for reception assistance given that he could count on his friends to help him with accommodation.

Along the way he found it however very difficult to live in a foreign country without any legal documents and not being able to make a decent income to provide for himself. Without the necessary legal documents he could only do some underpaid and unsafe odd jobs but there were no real perspectives for a stable job and income. Discouraged by this, everyday life in Belgium became more and more difficult for him.

Late 2011, new elections were coming up in Georgia, and with them came the hope that his situation would change and that he would be able to return safely home. He decided to go back to his homeland only after elections, to make sure the political context was different and changes were underway.

Levan applied for the Voluntary Return and Reintegration program via a local NGO in Antwerp. After having discussed several future business possibilities with an IOM reintegration counselor, he expressed his wish to depart. Very soon he was met by happy family members at the Tbilisi International Airport.

Settled back in Georgia, Levan decided to use the reintegration assistance to set up a small business to become self-sufficient. His experience in Belgium, depending on his friends without having any income, strongly changed Levan’s view on life. He wanted to own a business and not to be employed, and therefore dependent from someone. His family already owned a workshop for manufacturing plastic metal windows and doors in one of the regions, so Levan decided to expand the family business to Tbilisi and build on his father’s expertise in this field.

After two years Levan opened two additional branch workshops. He currently owns 3 workshops in Tbilisi and one workshop in Khashuri. Based on the experience he gained in this field he also became an importer of different European brands of plastic metal which he uses in his shops and sells to loyal customers looking for plastic metal. Up to 20 people are employed by Levan and his manufacture owns 4 cars for transportation of produced windows and doors.

He happily married in 2015 and the family recently expanded with the birth of a baby boy three months ago.

During his free time, Levan writes poems. He even published a collection of poetry a couple of years ago. He even joined forces with a very famous local composer and producer in Georgia and writes poems matching the composer’s melodies and songs.

Eka – Accommodation and education

Eka successfully passed her exams for the Tbilisi State University where she was enrolled in the humanitarian faculty. She even won the President’s scholarship, but those happy days were overshadowed by health concerns as he was diagnosed with lung and respiratory problems.

Her friend, who was diagnosed with the same problem, lived in Belgium and advised her to come to Belgium where she would help her with the necessary referrals for an adequate treatment of her conditions. “Come to Belgium and you will be treated here and your life will be wonderful again”. These hopeful words contributed to taking the most difficult decision in her life. She promised herself, that she would get well again and get on with her studies.

Her uncle who was planning to travel abroad helped her with the preparation of necessary documents for her travel to Belgium. As her health situation was deteriorating, she decided to take one year leave off of university and left for Belgium as a last resort for mending her medical condition.

Upon arrival, she stayed with her friend for a few days and then she went to one of the government’s reception centers for asylum seekers. As soon as she had an X-Ray of the lungs, she was taken to the hospital where she stayed for 6 months. Based on her diagnosis, she needed a 2 year treatment in order to get better. After having stayed in the hospital for 6 months as an in-patient, she returned to the reception center (shelter).

At that time she only weighed 45 kilos and was having problems with food intake in the shelter, as she needed special food. Fortunately Eka could count on the support from another Georgian resident in the shelter: “God has sent me a Georgian girl, who was my savior and took pity on me when she saw how thin I was.” She accounts that they each received only 7 euros per day and that this girl used to buy food for her from her personal daily allowance which they then cooked in their little room in the shelter. “As I gained weight and started feeling better, I then signed up for French language classes to pick up where I’d left off…”

Eka’s main aim was recovery and she could already see some results, life was getting better again. Upon her friends’ request she contacted a lawyer and with his help she left the shelter and rented a small apartment in the city of Antwerp. She didn’t want to waste time and registered almost immediately for Flemish language classes.

Eka is very positive about her stay in Antwerp: “It is an incredibly pretty and warm town, I was reborn here. In Antwerp I got to “know” Belgium...”  Her monthly allowance was enough to pay for the apartment, basic utilities and food.

Although Eka was happy to be in Belgium, she started considering returning and finishing her studies when she got the final results of her medical treatment and this came to an end. Through different sources she had heard many times of the voluntary return and reintegration assistance program and she decided to contact her social worker to get more information and counseling on the possibilities within the program. She finally returned to Georgia in the summer of 2014, excited to go back home; healthy, with new goals, new energy, new knowledge and a lot of life experience.

Upon return, as she did not have a place to live, she temporarily stayed with a friend, but after contacting the IOM colleagues in Tbilisi, she could start benefitting of the reintegration assistance allowing her to rent a small apartment. Re-enrolling for her studies at the University, she decided to spend another part of assistance to cover the costs of an academic year. As she started to find some routine, she realized she needed a job to cover daily expenses, so one of her friends fixed her up with a temporary job as a web designer. For her to do this job, Eka decided to invest the remaining part of her reintegration assistance funds in corresponding training in web design and photography as well as in basic equipment. This was a real precondition for her future employment. She successfully completed her photography course and bought a professional camera, a solid investment through which she managed to find a first job in less than 6 months.

More good news came along as Eka’s aunt bought an apartment in Tbilisi and invited her to live together, which meant she didn’t have to pay rent anymore. She started to work some smaller jobs and today she’s working in the call center of a bank in Tbilisi. Her work schedule allows her to attend classes at the University and she has been obtaining very satisfying results, passing exams with excellence. Next year, if all goes well, she will be graduating! To this day she also maintains contact with friends in Belgium, sending them updates on her life back in Georgia.

Alek - Taxi business and medical treatment

Before emigrating, Alek lived with his parents and sister and was preparing his upcoming marriage when suddenly he discovered that he was suffering from Hepatitis C. At that time – it is only since the beginning of 2015 that Georgia set up a special and free treatment program for Hepatitis C– there were no government free programs to treat this medical condition. Feeling hopeless and discouraged, Alek felt like he had only two choices: to stay in his country and suffer from this illness or to go abroad for treatment.

Finally he made up his mind, he left his family and his girlfriend and went to Europe, where he got an initial specialized treatment. After about two years in Europe and having recovered he decided to come back to Georgia, as his girlfriend was waiting for him. Alek finally returned through the Voluntary Return and Reintegration program from Belgium to Georgia in December 2014.

Back in Georgia, early 2015, Alek was enrolled for several months in a methadone treatment program for additional follow-up and steadily, as his health was improving, dosages were decreased until he was finally able to leave the program. In February 2015, he also underwent surgery on his thyroid glands, as a part of the medical treatment he could benefit through reintegration assistance.

Having tended to his medical concerns in the first place and feeling healthier again, Alek decided to become self-sufficient and to buy a second-hand vehicle to increase his future employment opportunities. He started a private taxi business, was able to set aside some money earned driving around Tbilisi and borrowed some extra funds allowing him to buy 7000 square meters of land in the Abasha district (Samegrelo region) to start a hazelnut production business. Acknowledging that he is very lucky to be able to count on strong support from a network of family and friends, in addition to the assistance provided, he has high hopes for a durable and successful reintegration and future back in his home country. Having a taxi business and a hazelnut production company as his two main sources of income, he’s confident to make it work.

In September 2015, after having postponed his wedding for two years, Alek got married to his girlfriend and the happy couple is now hoping to expand the family with the arrival of a child very soon. Building a future for himself and his family, Alek also acquired a small parcel of land in Tbilisi where he cultivates fruits and vegetables and where he eventually hopes to build a new house for his growing family in a near future.