The municipality of Kruibeke in the Belgian province of East Flanders has received the ‘Welcoming Community of 2014’ award (Gastvrije Gemeente Award) in recognition of its efforts to welcome asylum seekers and refugees.
The welcoming community award is an initiative of the Flemish Refugee Council (VluchtelingenWerk Vlaanderen), which seeks to reward local communities who contribute to the protection, reception and integration of those seeking protection in Flanders and Brussels.
Kruibeke has around 16,000 inhabitants, 1400 of whom are foreign-born, and counts 57 different nationalities amongst its residents. In 2013, the municipality joined the Belgian resettlement programme, receiving a Burundian family with three young children from a refugee camp in Tanzania where they had lived for 15 years. The local OCMW (Public centre for Social Welfare) found a new home for the family and their social worker helped them to establish their first contacts in Belgian society. Neighbours and local citizens donated clothes and furniture, and even learned a few words of basic Swahili to welcome them. The municipality established partnerships with , and the Catholic church to ensure all could contribute to their reception and integration, and local volunteers helped them adjust to life in Belgium. ‘Everything was new to them, they’ve never lived in a house before’, explained the OCMW social worker.
Kruibeke received the award in recognition not just of its work in resettlement, but also for its varied integration programmes for migrants and refugees and the awareness-raising events on related issues that are organised locally. The municipality’s award winning programmes and initiatives are outlined below:
The language programme ‘Babbelmomenten’ helps newcomers to practice their Dutch language skills with volunteers from the non-profit organisation Welzijnsschakels. Volunteers work alongside regular language courses facilitated by the city council’s integration department to provide opportunities for conversation and discussion, with the group themselves deciding what topics their discussions and exchange will focus on.
The summer holiday playground ‘Giga de Gekko’ provides games and activities for around 30 children from Kruibeke, during every July and August. The initiative is organised and financed by the municipality working together with the public social assistance centre (OCMW), and coordinated by their youth counsellor. On the playground itself, one main worker is present alongside four volunteers to supervise the children.
One of these volunteers is a young person resident at the local reception centre, whose role also aims to facilitate his/her integration into society. Volunteer work at the holiday playground gives young asylum seekers the chance to practice Dutch, to learn how to deal with children and young people of their age, and to promote empowerment.
The cultural festival “UMUNSI MUKURU” (‘Big Party’ in Kinyarwanda) is organised each September by the municipality to showcase the different national, cultural and religious backgrounds of the local population. The 2014 festival was organised with the help of 60 local volunteers and counted 750 visitors. Different national groups residing in the town and surrounding areas prepared specialties from their country of origin, and performances were given by a Burundian dance group, Russian dancers and a group of local rap artists.