National/Regional Experiences

Overview Immigrants in Belgium 

                                                                    ALEIDIS DEVILLÉ

In this document I describe the types of immigrants in our country. I put a glance on the asylum seekers, labour migrants, family reuniters, undocumented migrants and trailer park residents. These various groups show typical features. To start with, we look at the asylum seekers. Refugee and asylum seeker are two different concepts, although are often mistaken. When asylum seekers arrive in Belgium, they pass through a waiting period. Asylum seekers must go through an asylum procedure. As long as they are in this procedure, they have a right to shelter. There are both collective and individual care structures. They are waiting for a decision. In the meantime, asylum seekers are able to follow Dutch lessons or other training and children must go to school. The decision can be positive or negative. In case of a positive decision, either the refugee status or subsidiary protection is granted. The foreigner will have the right to stay in Belgium. However, in case of a negative decision, protection is refused. The foreigner must leave Belgium and return to his homeland. 

Between 1946 and 1976, our country faced with flows of immigration from southern Europe (Greece, Italy, Spain), but also from Morocco, Turkey and Algeria. Labourers, the so-called working migrants, migrated to Belgium to work in the mine. In the 1950s, the Belgian industry is looking for labourers in Italy, Spain and Greece. In times of oil crisis and car free Sundays an immigration stop was announced in 1974, which is still in effect. Now there are mainly second and third generation migrant workers in Belgium.

Next group are the family reuniters. Persons who have a residence permit and are allowed to stay in Belgium, can submit a request to be reunited with their spouse and/or children living abroad. There are a number of conditions to be allowed to do family reunification.

Undocumented migrants are foreigners who, according to the law, are no longer allowed to stay in Belgium. They represent a very heterogeneous group. Some important subgroups are: overstayers, outlaws, commuters, clandestines and unexpulsibles . Illegal stay in Belgium is punishable. Often the person without a legal residency permit gets an order to leave the country. I also make a distinction between trafficking and smuggling in human beings.

Finally, we have the trailer park residents. These people are often popularly called Gypsies. Trailer park residents usually live with their families on a trailer park site. You can classify them into four groups: the Voyagers, Manoesjen, Roms and Roma. Since the fall of the Wall in Berlin, the limited social protection fell off. Many Roma live in poverty, mostly in separate neighbourhoods. In addition, they are openly discriminated in their country of origin. In Belgium there is a Roma policy, both on the Flemish and local level.

We can say that super diversity is the hallmark of the today s immigrants. Migration flows after 1991 have led to a huge increase in the variety of nationalities, motives and manifestations. In addition to increasing ethno-cultural diversity, the main feature of super diversity is the increasing diversity within diversity. In our country there is now a multitude of countries of origin, cultures, traditions, languages, social positions... In addition to more different countries of origin, the variety of motivations for migration is increasing as well, both between and within communities: labour migration, family reunification, asylum applications... Super diversity also means a growing diversity in socio-economic positions. Today we meet people with a migration background anywhere on the social scale. Although the risk of poverty is high among migrants, in many communities an emerging middle class is growing.

Furthermore I check up through which roads immigrants in Belgium can take lessons or supplementary education. In theory, any minor residing in Belgium, is obliged to go to school, also children of undocumented migrants or minor foreign speaking newcomers. Each participant has access to a civic integration course. Certain groups are obliged to do so. The integration of minor non-Dutch-speaking newcomers mainly consists of following lessons at school. Several schools have welcome classes where the minors get in touch with the Dutch language. 

In case of non-compulsory education, I deal with the valorization of the diploma, higher education, adult education, language courses and part-time education. When someone immigrates to Belgium and has obtained a diploma of secondary or higher education in his country of origin, he can request an equalization of his degree with a Belgian (Flemish) diploma. In practice, this appears not so easy. If immigrants with previous foreign higher education want to continue or raise up their higher education in Belgium, there are a number of conditions to be met. Colleges and universities set diploma and language requirements. Adult education, also known as evening classes, has a range of courses at different levels. Immigrants have the opportunity to take a language course. Finally, there is the part-time education that young people can attend to. I put the emphasis on the personal development path (PDP). This is a system for particularly vulnerable young people who are in problematic situations.

I select 2 good practices in Belgium: training center Foyer and training center Arktos. I do this on the basis of the IPOP project. This project was born out of a collaboration between different organizations. A positive link between a youngster and his supervisor is of crucial importance for a project to be successful. The project was implemented with a view to this positive link: What would be required? What are the conditions for a good personal development? How to tackle this?


Concrete advice for working with youngsters who have lost any interest in school matters (intractable youngsters)

Aleidis Devillé

In this document we provide some tips for supervisors or aid workers, which can help when working with intractable youngsters and their parents, based on Belgium s good practice (Foyer in Brussels). First we clarify the concept intractable youngsters.

1.     What do we mean with intractable youngsters?

Intractable youngsters generally follow a professional training (in Belgiup called TSO-or BSO) or part-time education. A combination of a vulnerable social background, social exclusion and poverty makes these young people socially vulnerable. The immigrant origin often plays an important role in the school failure. (VVKSO, 2012) Some examples are Roma, children of trailer park residents, children of migrants and minor non-Dutch-speaking newcomers.

The vulnerability of these young people translates into problematic behavior at school, so that their school career is at risk. The youngsters are tired of school, play truant, spend time with young people who are in the same boat, hang around on squares. In front of the labour market, justice, housing or health care they take a weak position. As we already have cited in the previous chapter, these young people usually haven t got the right attitude and handles from their home situation to deal with these settings in an appropriate way. They feel little supported by the formal institutions. (VVKSO, 2012)

Many problems of intractable youngsters are related to communication. Communication through a school diary runs difficult. A conversation with parents at school is also often a problem. These young people also experience difficulties in dealing with authority in a positive way. Due to exclusions on different domains and at several institutions, these young people often follow a course which does not fully interest them. This can lead to school fatigue. (VVKSO, 2012)

2.     Suggestions for working with these youngsters

In the previous chapter we discussed which elements are important for professionals when they work with intractable youngsters. We give an overview.

-        Cling to: Aid workers encourage and motivate the youngsters and motivate to join the trainings. When a youngster doesn't show up, his supervisor immediately calls to ask where he is. He contacts the youngster by SMS, phone or the supervisor goes on a visit at home. The supervisor motivates the youngster by putting the emphasis on what goes well, what is positive. He works with the qualities of the youngster.

-        No high expectations: There are not immediately high expectations. One shows understanding for the difficult situation at home and together with the young person and the parents is ensured that the youngster feel at ease in the Education Center.

-        Importance of a strong relationship: Commitment towards the youngster, showing respect, being sincerely interested in the youngster (his living environment, interests, hobbies, friends ...), being able to put aside your own frame of reference and open up to the one of the youngster are important elements. It is important that supervisors extensively take time to build up this relationship built on trust.

-        Experiences of success: It s a great motivation for young people when they feel that they have done something right. The experience to have control over a particular situation works motivating.

-        Challenges: To let young people experience new and unknown things, making them discover new talents or skills. The challenge, however, should not be that great.

-        Amusing, relaxing atmosphere: In order to offer young people a place where they can relax and feel at ease, it is important to create a positive climate. One tries to ensure that a 'we- feeling' arises among the youngsters. Group dynamics takes a central place.

-        Repairing work: The aim is to give young people opportunities and chances. They may collide or fail, but they must restore by, for example, apologize for their inappropriate behavior. Offering alternatives works better than punishing the youngsters. Supervisors must clearly set limits. Young people may make mistakes, but one must indicate where it stops.

-        Give responsibility: Supervisors can give young people responsibility in the activities, as well as in their own course/path. It happens, for example, that they themselves may choose which activity they want to do. When young people do not take their responsibility, they face with its consequences. Reflect on this together with the youngster is very meaningful.

-        Safety and structure: When young people experience safety, both physically and mentally, the threshold to get to the formations is less high. The presence of structure helps them with this. Clear agreements and rules are important, for example: a clear daily schedule and timetable, structured training sessions, a fixed location...

-        Visualizing all kinds of material: Visualizing material for young people is a tool. It offers them more clarity. Examples are: photos of supervisors on the door, training schedule with drawings, rules formulated in a positive way on the wall, colorful waste bins. (IPOP, 2012; Schevelenbos, 2014)  

3.     Suggestions for working with the parents

Below we give some tips which are helpful in working with the parents of intractable youngsters. Communication with parents is usually very difficult. It is not easy to contact them or take them to the training center.

-        Immediately involve the parents: It is important to involve the parents from the beginning of the course. In this way they are engaged from the start and they have a clear image the intention and the activities of their child. One tries to make the parents interested in the process that their child has to go through and to support him in this.

-        Clear communication: There should be clear and on a regular basis be communicated with the parents. There may arise misunderstandings rather quickly.

-        Outreaching work : Go yourself to the parents, instead of waiting until they get to the training center (or school) themselves. For example, when a youngster doesn t show up on a training session for several times, it is efficient to go to the parents and have a conversation about this with them. (Schevelenbos, 2014; VVKSO, 2012)



IPOP. (2012). De doelstellingen van de basisfase.  Geraadpleegd op 16 april 2014,


Schevelenbos, K. (2014). Toelichting bij de werking van Vormingscentrum Foyer. Gesprek vond plaats op 12 februari 2014.


VVSG vzw. (2013). Woonwagenbewoners. Geraadpleegd op 8 november 2013,

Vzw LEJO. (2014). Persoonlijke ontwikkelingstrajecten. Geraadpleegd op 23 februari 2014,






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