Flemish minister-president Jan Jambon has been accused of spreading an “urban legend of the extreme right” over remarks he made concerning refugees who were able to buy a house using family allowances.
The accusation came from Gwendolyn Rutten, president of the conservative Open VLD, one of the coalition parties in the Flemish government.
Jambon (N-VA) made the remark in a speech in Hasselt, reported by De Tijd. In it, he said he had heard the story of a family of refugees who had been able to buy a house using back-dated family allowances.
The issue being highlighted by Jambon was the rule that allows refugees who are granted asylum to claim family allowance back-dated to when they first applied for asylum.
De Tijd fact-checked the claim, and found it to be highly unlikely. For example, a family in Flanders with five children born before 2019 would receive between €93 and €259 a month for each child, firstborn and second children receiving more.
The paper calculated what it described as this “exceptional case” if the family had waited two years for their application to be successful. In that case, they would receive in total a maximum of €32,000 in back payments – nowhere close to enough to buy a house.
Jambon argued, in the face of objections first from Groen and then from Rutten, that he had heard the story, but could not name the source. Rutten accused him of “fake news” and of retailing an “urban legend of the extreme right”.
Jambon was defended by party colleague and former federal migration minister Theo Francken, who pointed out that the case of a two-year wait for an asylum application to be accepted was far from exceptional.
“If you really want an exceptional case, let’s talk about a couple with five children and an asylum procedure of five to ten years. Then you arrive at a figure of €80,000 to €160,000, enough to find a house in some parts of Flanders.”
Francken fails to point out, however, that both hypothetical families would in the end receive the same amount of family allowances by the end of ten years; only the amount that is back-dated is different. If the family in the example given by De Tijd had saved their allowances for eight years more, as the family in his own example had been forced to, they too would have had enough to buy a house.
Jambon himself took the criticism in his stride, posting to his Facebook account in response to Rutten: “Dear Gwendolyn, let us not be too cutting, or force alleged contradictions to the fore. The example I gave had been repeatedly mentioned at the negotiating table during the formation of our Flemish government. Than as now, it was not the example itself that was under discussion, but the essence of the excesses of the rule [on back-dating]. We will tackle those excesses. Together. Season’s greetings to all.”