Today marks the beginning of a campaign by three towns around Brussels (Tervuren, Zaventem and Hoeilaart) in launching a unique integration project to welcome expats to the area. A press conference held today in the Administrative Centre De Zevenster, Tervuren, allowed the creators to demonstrate the utilities of their new platform, Expat op pad, and how it would help the community and expats.
The project utilises technology to simplify the process of many crucial things that could individually be difficult. Offering a website and app that is available in four languages, it aims to aid expats to have an easier time in their new home. The site acts as a central information database for all the needs an expat may have; providing information and contact details for localised services like trash disposal, schools, cultural events; Dutch language courses, social services and even offers representatives in one-to-one meetings for additional support.
Flemish minister of the periphery around Brussels, Ben Weyts, outlined the importance of this pilot project for expats. “we want to give expats a welcoming place to settle; where they aren’t so overwhelmed with the challenges of moving to a new place. We are hoping that initiatives like this encourage people to live in these areas as this shows our efforts to accommodate their needs. But we want to go a step further. On the website, we deliberately offer Dutch courses to help integrate the expats into our community, so they are no longer just expats, but locals themselves”
“The international composition of our population is undoubtedly an asset for our municipality, providing it goes hand in hand with integration and respect for the Flemish nature of Tervuren. Knowledge of Dutch, integration and participation in the local community life are the key stepping stones. They can be facilitated by a municipal administration through a strengthened reception policy that warmly welcomes newcomers and guides them through our municipality, together with a well thought out language policy. The project Expat op Pad provides an important contribution in this area,” says the Mayor of Tervuren Jan Spooren (N-VA).
Mike Chambers, creator of Facebook group “Whats happening Belgium“, thought the initiative was a great step forward “Expats have been crying out for this type of thing for years. Usually, you would have to go to various websites to get information that you need; making it quite a bother, not to mention much of the information was only in Dutch.”
Expat op Pad is supported by the non-profit organisation De Rand, the province of Flemish Brabant and the Flemish Agency for Integration and Civic Integration (Agentschap Integratie en Inburgering), and hopes that efforts like this will bridge the gap for expats in the area, allowing full integration, and to lead the way in creating expat friendly neighbourhoods for areas around Brussels and Belgium. Minister of the Flemish Periphery Ben Weyts (N-VA) supports this initiative with a project subsidy of 60,000 euros, distributed over a period of three years.
“I believe in well-directed investments in initiatives that create momentum in the peripheral municipalities surrounding Brussels. Dutch is the binding working language of the Flemish Periphery. Thanks to our pleasant melting pot with a wide range of projects like this one we can attract newcomers, and therefore also expats”, says Minister Weyts.