"You can never do enough for integration"

22. June 2023

What can politicians in the German-speaking Community do to make the integration of immigrants in East Belgium even more successful? This question was addressed by a citizens' jury in the German-speaking Community (DG) of East Belgium from April to June 2023. On 21 June 2023, the recommendations of the randomly selected participants were handed over to the Parliament.

The citizens' jury had scrutinised various aspects around integration in its five sessions. The topics ranged from language support to the labour market.

"A lot has already been done on the topic of integration"

"The feedback was very varied. The group of participants found that a lot has already been done in the DG on the topic of immigrant integration," said Anna Stuers, permanent secretary of the permanent citizens' dialogue in the DG. "There is a separate law. There have already been adjustments. A lot has already been established. That's why the recommendations are more about tips on how to improve what already exists. This is more about detailed recommendations."

"Nevertheless, the challenges of integration remain manifold. One can never do enough to raise awareness of integration and to maintain and improve ongoing processes," reads the foreword to the recommendations of the citizens' jury.

More language courses

The jury is thus in favour of expanding the offer of language courses, for example through online offers. Course participants should also receive financial support. The offer should also be extended to asylum seekers.

Children with a migration background and all "disadvantaged" children should be offered free help with their homework from primary school to secondary school. Teachers should be sensitised to the realities of other cultures and their language during their training. The DG is called upon to additionally introduce holidays for the important religious holidays of other cultures.

Integration of young people

Families should be sensitised to accept single immigrant youths from the age of 18 as "family members". The young people should also be provided with personal carers. They are to help them structure their day, learn the language and come to terms with stressful experiences. A separate "integration course" is also suggested, i.e. a practical language course with a cultural presentation and an unbureaucratic "taster opportunity" into the world of work.

In order to better integrate immigrants into the labour market, the citizens' jury suggests that medium-sized companies in particular be better informed about financial incentives for the integration of workers from third countries. The DG should work at the federal level to enable shorter decision-making processes for the residence of refugees with verifiable qualifications to support integration. The willingness of immigrants to work and the integration that has already taken place should have an influence on the asylum procedure.

Supporting helpers

According to the citizens' jury, helping people are the backbone of the integration of people with a migration background. Therefore, it is important to support them and to facilitate the contact between these helping people and those who need help. To this end, the coordination of all organisations related to integration should be strengthened and a central website for those helping and those seeking help should be provided.

Volunteers should receive a small subsidy to motivate them to participate in the integration process. It is also suggested that the DG organises further training for professional and volunteer "helpers" on the topics of "intercultural knowledge, intercultural skills, intercultural communication, culture shock and conflict management".

Integration on a mutual basis

The participants of the citizens' jury are of the opinion that integration can only work on a mutual basis. Therefore, immigrants should also be made aware of the social behaviour of the local population "from the very beginning". Migrants should also be made more willing to do voluntary work in the DG. To settle conflicts, the DG should appoint an integration ombudsman/woman for the DG.

In the area of information, the participants of the citizens' jury suggest creating the position of a "community manager" at Info-Integration. The main objective of this manager should be to consolidate and compile the existing measures for the general promotion of integration.

Participants randomly selected

The members of the citizens' jury had been randomly selected. All citizens who were resident in the German-speaking Community at the time of the sortition procedure and who were at least 16 years old were in the lottery pot. 1,000 randomly selected residents of the DG had been invited to participate. The following criteria were taken into account in the sortition procedure: Age, gender, place of residence and socio-economic background. The citizens' jury was put together from the applications of those randomly selected in such a way that it represented as good a reflection of the population as possible according to these criteria.

The citizens' jury had met for five sessions, in which the participating citizens first learned about the topic. Afterwards, the participants exchanged their opinions on the subject, collected ideas for possible solutions, and finally drew up recommendations for action to the politicians.

Information sheet, online platform and experts

As a basis for information, the 28 participants of the mini public had received an information sheet prepared by the parliamentary administration. In addition, all participants used the online platform "Padlet". In addition to the provision of all meeting documents and minutes, the participants could share documents they had found themselves on the topic on this platform.

Furthermore, participants were able to listen to experts in the various meetings, including refugees and immigrants themselves. Wisal al Kurdi, for example, reported on her flight from Syria and her integration in East Belgium. People with a migration background were also among the members of the citizens' jury.

Suggestion of topics from the population

The topic of the citizens' jury came about as a result of a call by the citizens' council for suggestions for topics published in May 2022. The citizens' council consists of former participants of the citizens' jury and is drawn from among them. Finding topics is one of the tasks of this body. On 21 January 2023, the Citizens' Council had chosen the topic "Integration of people with a migration background in East Belgium" based on a proposal from the population.

In the opinion of the Citizens' Council, this topic was too broad to be dealt with in a few meetings by the relevant Citizens' Jury. In order to be able to elaborate high-quality recommendations, the Citizens' Council felt that the topic should therefore be narrowed down further. However, the decision on this was deliberately left to the Citizens' Jury.

Recommendations in Parliament

The Parliament of the German-speaking Community publish its opinion on a possible implementation of the recommendations of the citizens' assembly on 8 November 2023 and also invited its participants. Subsequently, an implementation report will be prepared, which will also be discussed with the members of the citizens' assembly and in the Parliament.

Read more: Citizens' Jury on immigrant integration in East Belgium