The Flemish government has agreed to abolish the system in which refugees were paid family allowance after their asylum application was approved, back-dated to the time they applied.
The measure was introduced by the previous government, led by Geert Bourgeois. Refugees only become eligible for family allowance once their asylum application is approved, but then it is back-dated.
The issue came to the fore in December last year when, in a throw-away remark, Bourgeois’ successor, minister-president Jan Jambon (N-VA) mentioned the case of a family of refugees who was able to buy a house with the accumulated family allowance.
The case turned out to be apocryphal. It was fact-checked by De Tijd newspaper, which concluded it was “very unlikely” because of the sums involved and the average delay in approving an asylum application.
At the time, Open VLD president Gwendolyn Rutten accused Jambon of “fake news” and of spreading “an urban legend of the extreme right”.
Family allowance amounts to €259 a month for first and second children, and €93 a month for subsequent children – the same rates paid to everyone.
Now, the government has concluded that the measure is not logical.
“People who come here receive bed and board, as well as support while waiting for a possible approval,” said Flemish welfare minister Wouter Beke (CD&V). “That means we will no longer give them family allowance in addition, and they will not be able to apply for it retroactively.”
Only when refugees are officially recognised, he said, do the normal rules applicable to everyone come into effect.
The measure will come into effect “as soon as possible,” according to a government statement. Spending on back-paid family allowance last year amounted to about €1 million.