West Flemish company helps asylum seekers find jobs

West Flemish company helps asylum seekers find jobs
Photo from VILT

A West Flemish meat processing company that employs 50 asylum seekers hopes to serve as a role model for similar work programs.

Flemish Minister of Employment Hilde Crevits (CD&V) and State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Sammy Mahdi (CD&V) visited the Westvlees processing site last week to learn about the employment model and see if it could be replicated on a larger scale, according to Het Nieuwsblad.

“The search for employees is a permanent challenge,” CEO Jos Claeys told Het Nieuwsblad. “A large part of our other 900 employees also come from abroad.”

Part of the reason is that the work can be gruelling – shifts start at 4:00 AM and the job can be physically demanding.

Crevits and Mahdi want asylum seekers to be able to get jobs more quickly. In fact, current regulations mean that asylum seekers need only wait four months after submitting their asylum application before they can seek employment. However, many companies are not aware of this.

West Flanders struggles with labour market shortages, but Westvlees has been a success story.

“This is the story of an entrepreneur who is himself innovative in the field of employment, of a director of a reception centre who helps guide more than 200 of her asylum seekers to businesses, and of the good work of the job and language coaches on the shop floor,” said Crevits.

“How come it works here and almost nowhere else?”

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One potential explanation is that regional job-seeking agencies have made little effort to connect asylum seekers with potential employers.

Crevits wants to change that, and see the VDAB (the Flemish agency that helps job seekers) and Fedasil (the federal body that handles asylum requests) cooperate better.

“Cooperation between VDAB and the Fedasil reception network has existed since 2017,” said Crevits; now they need to put a stronger emphasis on collaboration.

Mahdi emphasised the benefits that this cooperation can have for asylum seekers: “they gain independence, earn a living, can take big steps to integrate, and even if they have to go back to their country after their procedure, they have a backpack of skills this way.”

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