EU Resettlement Network

Belgium

    Source: ICMC Europe, Welcome to Europe! A comprehensive guide to resettlement, 2013

    The Welcome to Europe Belgium country chapter is available here for download.

    Resettlement quota & actors

    Start of ad-hoc or pilot programme: 2009

    Most recent quota: 100 persons for 2014

    Main national actors: Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons (CGRA), Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (FEDASIL), Immigration Office in Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Public Welfare Centres (CPAS/OCMW); Caritas International and Convivial

    Resettlement numbers

    Year Accepted Arrivals Nationality ⇒ Country of Asylum of largest groups
    2014   100 persons

    Syrians (75)⇒ Turkey, Jordan 

    Congolese (25) ⇒ Great Lakes Region (Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi or Tanzania)

      2013       24 cases 100 persons

    Congolese⇒Burundi

    Burundians⇒Tanzania

      2012 No programme
      2011   25   25 Eritreans, Congolese⇒Tanzania
      2010 No programme
      2009   47   47 Iraqis, Palestinians⇒Iraqi/Syrian border, Syria, Jordan

     

    UNHCR submission categories considered for resettlement

    x Legal and physical protection needs

    X Survivors of violence and torture

    Medical needs

    X Women and Girls at risk

    Family reunification

    X Children and adolescents at risk

    Lack of foreseeable alternative solutions

    UNHCR Priority levels accepted (with sub-quota where applicable)

    Emergency max. 7 days between submission and resettlement

    X Urgent  within 6 weeks between submission and resettlement

    X Normal  within 12 months between submission and resettlement

    Belgium's resettlement programme

    Legal Basis & Background

    The 'Law on entry, stay, settlement and removal of foreign nationals' of 15 December 1980 (amended 2006) forms the legal basis for all national asylum and migration affairs in Belgium.  There is no specific legal provision for resettlement.

    Belgium considered resettlement for many years, and engaged in two ad-hoc resettlement initiatives in 2009 and 2011.  In 2009, Belgium received 47 Iraqis and Palestinians ex-Iraq from Syria and Jordan as a response to the November 2008 EU Council Conclusions calling for EU countries to resettle displaced Iraqis.  In 2011, Belgium responded to the UNHCR Global Solidarity Initiative by resettling 25 refugees of various nationalities ex-Libya from Shousha refugee camp in Tunisia.

    In May 2012, the Belgian government announced that 100 resettled refugees would be received into the country within the framework of the Joint European Resettlement Programme for 2013, marking an evolution from ad-hoc resettlement operations to a more structured approach.  Resettlement stakeholders in Belgium hope that this will ultimately result in a permanent annual quota for resettlement.

    Resettlement criteria

    Basic criteria: A refugee must be recognised as such according to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

    Criteria related to integration: None

    Identification & Selection

    Belgium has two contrasting experiences with the selection of refugees for resettlement through the ad-hoc resettlement exercises of 2009 and 2011.  In 2009, the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons (CGRA) carried out a selection missions to the Al Tanf refugee camp on the Iraq-Syria border, and to urban populations in Syria and Jordan.  In 2011, instability in Shousha refugee camp prevented on-site selection interviews, and CGRA therefore selected refugees on a dossier basis.

    In both cases, the CGRA made a proposal for selection of resettled refugees to the State Secretary for Migration and Asylum.  After approving those selected, the Minister instructed the Immigration Department to issue travel documents for them.

    For 2013, around 80 of the 100 person quota will be selected via interviews conducted during selection missions, and the remaining 20 on a dossier basis. Processing time from submission to departure for refugees selected during selection mission is 2-3 months.  Urgent cases are processed for departure within 6 weeks from initial submission, while normal priority cases accepted on a dossier basis are processed within 2 months. Belgium has not yet received emergency cases.

    Refugee Status, Permanent Residency & Citizenship

    Belgian legislation does not permit asylum to be granted outside of the national territory, and resettled refugees must therefore apply for refugee status upon arrival into the country.  The CGRA aims to expedite this process so that resettled refugees are granted formal refugee status as soon as possible after their arrival in Belgium. Refugees resettled from Shousha camp in 2011, for example, were granted refugee status within 2 days of arriving into Belgium.  When applying for refugee status, a refugee will receive a document (Annex 26) stating that an asylum application has been lodged. Within 8 working days, the municipality of his/her main residence will issue an ‘attestation d’immatriculation’ type A, which is valid for residence until refugee status is granted.  As other refugees in Belgium, resettled refugees receive a permanent residence permit on grant of refugee status.

    From 1st January 2013, new legislation reforming the Belgian Nationality Code means that persons wishing to apply for naturalisation can do so after a period of 5 years legal residency.  Applicants must also demonstrate A2 level proficiency in one of the national Belgian languages (Dutch, French or German), and evidence their social integration and economic participation.

    Family reunification

    Besides married partners, children under 18 and parents of children under 18, other family members who are eligible for family reunification include:

    • Registered partners (including same-sex partners).
    • Children over 18 suffering from a mental or physical disability.

    The applying family member must evidence a stable, regular and sufficient income, appropriate accommodation and medical insurance. These requirements are waived for refugees making applications within one year of the grant of refugee status and where the family link already existed prior to the refugee’s arrival in Belgium.

    Resettlement in Practice

    Linking phases

    How is information transferred between selection and reception of refugees in order to prepare for their arrival?

    • Briefing stakeholders after selection missions or receipt of dossiers
    • Forwarding pertinent information from Refugee Referral Form (RRF) to integration actors
    • Sharing information gathered during Cultural Orientation (CO) - where CO is arranged, FEDASIL collects social and medical information on refugees and forwards to actors in reception centres. 
    • National stakeholder meetings ahead of selection missions/receipt of dossiers

    Pre-departure

    Cultural orientation: In 2009, the Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (FEDASIL) offered a pre-departure CO programme to Iraqi and Palestinian refugees ex-Libya.   In 2011, instability and lack of security in Shousha camp meant FEDASIL was unable to offer a CO programme, although translated information leaflets on resettlement in Belgium were distributed. 

    FEDASIL planned 2 CO missions for 2013, the first of which took place in Tanzania in June.  Delivered with the support of IOM, the 3-day programme provides refugees with information about the Belgian resettlement programme.

    In 2014, a cultural orientation mission will be offered to the two groups by FEDASIL. 

    Medical Exam: IOM fit-to-fly assessments  

    Travel arrangements: IOM

    Integration in Practice

    Reception

    Representatives from FEDASIL meet refugees on their arrival and accompany them to reception centres in either Pondrôme (Wallonia - French-speaking region) or Sint Truiden (Flanders - Dutch-speaking region). Arrival groups are generally split equally between the 2 centres, where family composition allows.  The reception centres also house asylum seekers whose application is under consideration.   Resettled refugees generally spend 4-6 weeks in the centre before moving to municipalities. 

    Placement policies

    Municipality involvement in receiving resettled refugees is entirely voluntary. Placement depends on whether the local branches of the Public Welfare Centres (CPAS in Wallonia and OCMW in Flanders) can make housing available ahead of refugees arrival into Belgium or before they depart the reception centre. The NGOs Caritas and Convivial can also assist refugees to locate suitable housing through their own networks, sometimes in municipalities where refugees have relative/friends or existing networks.

    Integration Services & Support

    Length: 12-18 months (including 6 months in the reception centre)

    For refugees in the Sint Truiden reception centre in Flanders, the integration programme is developed by the authorities responsible for the wider civic integration programme in the Flemish region.  The Pondrôme centre in Wallonia runs an internally developed integration course.  Both courses cover elements of language tuition, and basic information about moving on from the reception centre and living in Belgium. 

    The NGOs Caritas International and Convivial will meet refugees in the reception centres, introducing themselves and their role in the integration process and determining what kind of assistance individual refugees and families will require.  After refugees move to municipalities, NGOs assist with interpretation and translation, administrative steps such as registration with the municipality, and accessing mainstream services such as financial assistance and medical insurance.   

    There is no specialist integration programme specifically for resettled refugees in Belgium.  Resettled refugees can access mainstream integration programmes for other refugees, migrants and newcomers to Belgium.  In Flanders, attendance at the integration programme is mandatory. All refugees (including resettled refugees) sign an integration contract in which they undertake to attend Dutch language (up to 600 hrs) and civic orientation classes, and social and employment orientation services.  Failure to follow the programme can result in a fine and possible termination of social welfare payments.  In Wallonia, integration activities including French classes and registration at the employment agency are optional.  In the bilingual region of Brussels, language and civic orientation classes are provided both in French and Dutch on a voluntary basis.  Integration policy is currently under review in both Wallonia and Brussels (for the French-speaking organisations).

    Outside of provision for integration, resettled refugees access mainstream services together with the wider population, although additional services for specific needs such as psychological counselling may be arranged through direct referral by an NGO or the CPAS/OCMW.

    Use of the European Refugee Fund (ERF)

    Pledges made to resettle under ERF specific categories for 2013

    X Persons resettled from a country or region designated for the implementation of a Regional Protection Programme

    X Women and children at risk

    Unaccompanied minors

    X Survivors of torture and violence

    Persons with serious medical needs that can only be addressed through resettlement

    Persons in need of emergency resettlement or urgent resettlement for legal or physical protection needs

    Pledges made to resettle under ERF resettlement common EU priorities for 2013

    X Congolese refugees in the Great Lakes Region - 40 refugees will be resettled in 2013 from this group

    Refugees from Iraq in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan

    Afghan refugees in Turkey, Pakistan, Iran

    Somali refugees in Ethiopia

    Burmese refugees in Bangladesh, Malaysia and Thailand

    Eritrean refugees in Eastern Sudan

    Evaluations

    The operation of the first 2009 ad-hoc programme and the experiences of refugees resettled within it are currently being researched by the Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism ('Centre pour l'égalité des chances et la lutte contre le racisme)' and the University of Ghent. The study began in 2012 and due to be carried out over a three-year period.

    Strengths & Challenges

    Strengths

    • Resettlement in partnership with UNHCR and NGOs is a relatively new phenomena in Belgium, and the 2009 and 2011 ad-hoc resettlement programmes began a new and positive process of engaging partners, developing different approaches to reception and integration and capturing and implementing learning from these experiences.  
    • The new 2013 quota programme marks a more structured approach to resettlement in Belgium, and reflects a strong commitment on the part of the Belgian government to continuing resettlement activities. 

    Challenges

    • Locating housing that meets the needs of resettled refugees, in particular larger families, can be problematic.  For the 2013 programme, at least some refugees will arrive into reception centres without housing having yet been arranged in a receiving municipality.  They will therefore need to make these arrangements after arrival with the assistance of NGOs.  
    • Municipalities themselves are not yet actively engaged in or aware of refugee resettlement.  This lack of awareness can mean complicate some administrative steps for refugees, such as registering residence with the municipality, and securing social benefits and medical insurance.  NGOs are working to engage municipalities more fully so as to overcome these difficulties.

    New developments

    Local branches of the Public Welfare Centres (CPAS/OCMW) were not previously engaged in resettlement during the 2009 and 2011 ad-hoc exercises.  Ahead of the 2013 programme, however, the Belgian government made specific and successful efforts to engage them as new actors in the resettlement process.

    Resources & news

    Resources

    UNHCR Resettlement Handbook, Belgium Country Chapter, October 2013 revision [Read more]

    Latest news