The Flemish government has stopped its cooperation with the Minorities Forum, arguing that the organisation no longer corresponds to the new government’s norms.
Instead, official recognition goes to Join.Vlaanderen, an organisation set up by social entrepreneur and author Hassan Al Hilou, which brings together young people with migration roots in hackathons to discuss how to reach out to more young people on issues such as the implementation of coronavirus measures.
“More people of foreign descent will feel themselves more effectively represented,” said social affairs minister Bart Somers (Open VLD).
The clouds started to gather over the Minorities Forum in September last year, when an internal discussion document was leaked that raised questions over future support for organisations that were based on origin or philosophy. The document stated clearly that relations with the Minorities Forum should be brought to an end.
At the time, 78 organisations including the Catholic scouting movement Chiro, the LGBT organisation Cavaria and the forum itself, signed an open letter to the Flemish government, claiming the decision was motivated by the government’s view that the forum is non-inclusive, and arguing that representation for a variety of organisations was the very definition of inclusion.
But the government was determined to go ahead, and put out an open tender that attracted three applications. Join.Vlaanderen was selected to go ahead.
“Instead of maintaining existing structures, I want to work with new people to get things moving,” Somers said.
“Join.Vlaanderen is innovative, practice-oriented and action-oriented. It will not only formulate policy advice, but will roll out concrete actions and projects that can make living together in diversity a success.”
The forum was informed of the decision yesterday, in a phone call from Somers’ office to director Landry Mawungu, who described the decision as “incomprehensible”.
“Over the past year, the Minorities Forum evolved from a classic umbrella organisation of ethnic-cultural associations to a network organisation,” he said.
“We have been playing the role of advocate for the rights of ethnic-cultural minorities for years. A constructive, yet critical and independent voice with twenty years of expertise. Unfortunately, these are qualities in civil society organisations that are increasingly not appreciated.”
The government’s decision was attacked by opposition party Groen.
“This is a sad day for ethnic-cultural minorities in Flanders,” said member of parliament An Moerenhout.
Somers’ decision, she said, bore the fingerprints of N-VA, “a party that has been speaking tough talk from the outset about, among other things, integration.”
“Organisations that think differently about integration and racism than N-VA met with silence from the Flemish government,” she said.
“The Minorities Forum is now being punished because it was a thorn in the flesh of Flanders for years. Losing twenty years of the forum’s expertise to an organisation that has just been put together is an example of bad policy.”