After the fifth postponement of compulsory civic integration courses for new non-EU arrivals to the Brussels-Capital Region, the system will now take effect from 1 June.
The compulsory integration course has been the subject of many debates and its implementation has been delayed for various reasons. This time, it was the arrival of Ukrainian refugees causing municipalities to be overrun and delayed implementation of the integration courses.
"Our priority is to guarantee the entry into force of the obligation," Simon Vandamme, spokesperson for Brussels Minister Alain Maron, told The Brussels Times. The initial plan aimed to do that on 1 April, but "it was postponed to 1 June at the request of the municipalities."
The timing was not right to launch such a large system on 1 April, according to acting mayor of Schaerbeek Cécile Jodogne. "Training in the use of the software was supposed to start just as the Ukrainian crisis loomed," she told La Libre, adding that it would overload the municipal teams.
Additionally, the text of the ordinance also had to be amended to prevent the Ukrainians in Brussels from falling under the obligation as they receive automatic protection and do not have to go through a regular asylum procedure.
These civic integration courses – which are supposed to provide a cultural and linguistic background to people arriving on Belgian territory – are enforced as a tool to ensure people coming from outside of Europe can “take an active part in society,” with the presumption being that they diverge too much from European values and societies.
Many criticisms have been levelled at these programmes as they force an image of “other” onto non-Europeans, with critics saying integration is a process that works both ways, can also be achieved through means such as access to decent jobs and schools for young people.
Brussels approved the scheme in 2017, when it first appeared in an ordinance, but never implemented it. Newcomers can, however, follow the course on a voluntary basis – which about 9,000 people do.
In Flanders, compulsory integration – which includes Dutch or French language lessons and societal orientation, with courses on working, living, education and health – has existed since 2003. Wallonia implemented a similar system in 2016.