Flanders tells Moroccan migrants how to behave
By Honor Mahony
A new immigration kit for Flanders tells would-be immigrants that it does not rain money in Belgium, while giving the impression that Flemings are healthy-eating, spontaneity-adverse creatures tucked up in bed by 10pm each night.
A 17-page brochure designed for Moroccans who already have permission to come and live in Flanders, shows them where it is on the map, that euros are the currency and what the weather is like.
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It contains advice that veers from the commonsensical through to the patronising.
"If you come to live in Flanders, you have to learn Dutch. The weather is variable and it often rains," says some of the introductory blurb.
Immigrants are also informed that they will have to follow a "civil integration programme" and that leaving their home country will change their whole life "radically."
They should register as "aliens" at their new host town within eight days. "This is only possible during opening hours."
Meanwhile, readers are encouraged to "show an interest in your child's school" and discouraged from inter-generational living arrangements: "It is rare for married sons or daughters to live with their parents or parents-in-law. Couples try to live separately as a family as soon as possible."
Under the heading "respect for the individual," immigrants are reminded that "it is forbidden to hurt someone mentally or physically, including your partner or children."
The same paragraph notes that the government sometimes "limits personal freedom" to make it easier for people to live together. "The traffic rules are a clear example of this."
Meanwhile, the section on "home" advises on how best to rub along with Flemings.
Rubbish-sorting, punctual and private
"Flemish people do not spend most of their time outdoors. They live mainly inside their homes. Flemish people like peace and quiet. No noise is permitted after 10pm," the guide says.
"People do not just visit each other spontaneously. They usually make an appointment first. They like their privacy."
They also sort their rubbish, are often members of clubs and "many" try to eat healthy food. They are punctual to boot.
The brochure is accompanied by a 25-minute DVD. This has testimonials from well-integrated migrants on getting to grips with Flanders including the fact that it rains a lot (but not money), women are equal to men and Flemings are like walnuts (hard on the outside but softer on the inside).
Flemish integration minister Geert Bourgeois handed the "Starters kit for Family Migrants" over to the Belgian consul in Casablanca last week.
"Geert Bourgeois apparently thinks that Moroccans live on another planet," said Morocco-born actor Noureddine Farihi in reaction.
"Who, after that, would want to go to Flanders," said Belgian journalist Francis Van de Woestyne on Twizz radio.
Bourgeois defended criticism of the way the information was presented by saying that it is targeted at low-skilled and poorly-educated workers and that those coming to Flanders should not have "false expectations."
Speaking on Flemish TV he said that "53 percent of the Moroccan community in Belgium live below the poverty threshold. Eighty percent of the women do not work. Thirty six percent of Moroccans don't speak our language well and one quarter of them are not even able to speak to their neighbours. It is a big societal problem for which we are looking for a solution.
The minister, who belongs to the most popular political party in Flanders, the nationalist N-VA, plans a Turkish and Russian version of the packet too.