How does the integration policy for migrants work in Brussels?

About three decades ago responsibility for integration policy for migrants was transferred to the communities and regions. Since then, the policy has evolved in various directions. Brussels is a city that accommodates two kinds of integration policy in the same territory, one Dutch-speaking and one French-speaking.

Ilke Adam, who is a Research Professor at the Institute for European Studies (VUB) delivered a lecture at BOZAR named ’From integration to equality policy. A plea for a radical Brussels approach’. After one and a half decade work in Social Sciences, the Professor aims to foster more equality and create more progressive policies that finalise the so called ’deconolising the minds’.

Who is responsible?

All authorities on all levels with a specific weight on linguistic communities. ’’What we have are policies on paper, but the individual discrimination remains. Unfortunately, convictions concerning discrimination are very hard to prove,’’ she says.

Two policies for Brussels (2>1 = none)

Civic integration and language courses are compulsory in Flanders and Wallonia but Brussels is a distinct case because it accommodates both Dutch-speaking and French-speaking policies which allow people to choose their path of integration. “And because of that, very often people choose none.’’ However, there has been an agreement from the last policy change between Flemish and French communities. From 2020 newcomers will be obliged to choose either language and attend compulsory courses.


From: Pisit Heng – Unsplash

Policy definitions of ‘integration’ in Brussels

Flemish community: self-sufficiency, proportional participation, active and shared citizenship

French Community Commission: social cohesion – equal opportunities to allow active participation and recognition.

EU: Dynamic two-way process of mutual accommodation by immigrants and residents

But does it have any meaning to speak of ‘integration’ in a city where more than half the population have their roots elsewhere? The majority of residents of Brussels have immigrant origins (57%) (FL-17%, WL-18%). People from North Africa remain the highest percentage of immigrants (25%).

’’People from minorities are targeted by certain policies. Policies which do not reduce ethno-racial inequalities – they only target new immigrants of colour and the poor. But nobody asks Westerners to integrate,’’ says Prof. Adam


From: Ryoji Iwata @ryoji__iwata – Unsplash


Another outlined problem is that the Brussels-Capital Residents are denied the right to vote (region+federal)

The 1Bru1Vote Manifesto reminds that 1 in 3 Brussels-Capital residents – or 310,000 people are denied the right to vote, and are prevented from taking an active political role, because they are non-Belgian. These 220,000 European Union citizens and 90,000 citizens with other nationalities are second-class citizens in this city-region, since they are excluded from the democratic process. And yet, they are Brussels residents like everyone else – who live, work, study, pay taxes and contribute in so many ways to make Brussels-Capital a better home for everyone.

How to decrease the high ethno-racial inequality in education or at work? Policies can speak loudly – but the equality comes mainly from the personal interactions.