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Opening emergency libraries in shelters​

Today, in the Ukrainian cultural center Promote Ukraine, while their parents are attending a French course, Ukrainian children are reading, playing, and drawing. Some choose a picture book to read under a teepee while others are playing a board game. Meanwhile, another group of children is doing crafts and painting. For a few hours, they enjoy a moment of peace and ‘normality’ away from the agitation of war and the stress of their daily lives. 

Since the beginning of the conflict, several million Ukrainians had to flee their country. In regards to this context, BSF has been committed to establishing emergency, reception, and integration solutions.

One of those initiatives is the creation and installation of emergency libraries in shelters and accommodation centers for refugees in Belgium. These libraries will be a place of calmness with access to information and a first step towards discovering Belgium. 


After several weeks of work and an analysis of the centers, the first micro-libraries have opened their doors: the Pachéco center, the Ukrainian cultural center Promote Ukraine, and the Visitation Monastery. 

The implementation of such a project has requested many steps. First of all, it was necessary to identify possible locations for the libraries. These locations had to be able to reach a wide audience. Shelter and accommodation facilities for Ukrainian refugees started to be set up during the summer of 2022, each with particularities and frequented by a unique population. Among these locations, we selected those that best suited the purpose of our libraries, where adults and children would enjoy a moment of calmness, learning, and fun. 

In order to offer an inclusive and adequate library, the selection of contents was a decisive step in the creation process. Numerous contacts were made with Ukrainian NGOs and associations. Additionally, a survey was conducted to determine the most engaging resources.

Among the three libraries currently installed, the majority of books are aimed at young children, including for example books on science, books on Belgium, and illustrated books. 

The final step of this project was the importance of creating a pleasant and welcoming atmosphere. We chose to decorate with carpets, cushions, teepees, and posters. 

These libraries are not only psycho-social spaces where one can escape and find some serenity. They also promote the learning of French – a need that is usually essential to facilitate integration in a country with a different language and alphabet. Beyond access to secure information and educational content, it is a place to play, have fun, learn and meet others during an afternoon. Our libraries promise access to essential but unfortunately increasingly rare activities for all displaced populations. 

BSF’s action does not stop with the creation of these three emergency libraries. Very soon, a new library will open its doors in the Léopold Center and others will follow.

We would like to thank Van Cleef & Arpels without whom these libraries would never have been possible. We would also like to thank the Ukrainian Embassy in Belgium and the École des Loisirs – Pastel for the books donated. 


If you wish to support us, please make a donation to the account of the Friends of Libraries Without Borders at the King Baudouin Foundation. It will be automatically transferred to us and you will benefit from a tax deduction! 

Find out more about some of the locations of our libraries:

 Promote Ukraine: Ukrainian cultural center that has supported Ukrainian refugees since the beginning of the war and offers language courses (French, Dutch, and English) as well as many other activities, such as events, singing, art, painting, drawing classes and psychological support for Ukrainian adults and children

Pachéco Center: Health Orientation center opened in May 2022 on the initiative of Cocom with the support of the Clinique St-Jean and the Brussels Platform for Mental Health. This center offers direct access to first-line medical help, psychological assistance, screening for infectious diseases, vaccinations as well as more practical information about the procedures for applying for international protection and the health, security, and social welfare system.

Monastery of the Sisters of Visitation : « The Order of Malta Belgium, mobilised very early on in the Ukrainian crisis. It opened on 1 June as a reception center for Ukrainian refugees in the former monastery of the Visitation’s Sisters in the heart of a magnificent park in Kraainem ». Many activities are organised there, including French classes, gardening, as well as numerous sports, and creative and artistic activities for children and adults, such as football, painting, and craft workshops, among others.