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Labour market participation of refugees and asylum seekers in Brussels: innovation and institutional complementarity

Participation au marché du travail des réfugiés et demandeurs d’asile à Bruxelles : Innovation et complémentarité institutionnelle
Deelname aan de arbeidsmarkt van vluchtelingen en asielzoekers in Brussel: Innovatie en institutionele complementariteit
Adèle Garnier et Annaelle Piva
Traduction de Jane Corrigan
Cet article est une traduction de :
Participation au marché du travail des réfugiés et demandeurs d’asile à Bruxelles : Innovation et complémentarité institutionnelle [fr]
Autre(s) traduction(s) de cet article :
Deelname aan de arbeidsmarkt van vluchtelingen en asielzoekers in Brussel: Innovatie en institutionele complementariteit [nl]

Résumés

Suite à l’arrivée de nombreux demandeurs d’asile en 2015-2016, la participation des demandeurs d’asile et réfugiés au marché du travail est devenue une préoccupation politique majeure. À Bruxelles, cette problématique s’inscrit dans un contexte de chômage structurel touchant particulièrement les populations non-européennes et de politique d’aide à l’emploi réfractaire au soutien ciblé des réfugiés et demandeurs d’asile. Pour répondre à ces difficultés, les organismes œuvrant à favoriser la participation des réfugiés et demandeurs d’asile sur le marché du travail doivent innover. Cet article s’intéresse plus particulièrement à quatre initiatives récentes et à la façon dont elles s’inscrivent dans les dynamiques institutionnelles préexistantes, afin de proposer une analyse complétant la littérature sur le « puzzle institutionnel bruxellois ».

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Texte intégral

Introduction

1This article analyses the dynamics of innovation and institutional complementarity in Brussels in terms of supporting the participation of refugees and asylum seekers in the labour market from 2010 onwards. This participation has become a major political concern in the context of the “reception crisis” in 2015-2016 in Belgium and more broadly in Europe. However, in Brussels, institutional innovation in this field is at the heart of two other challenges: the creation of the Brussels reception programme for newcomers, and the very high unemployment rate of populations of non-European origin. It is in this context that several organisations and initiatives aimed at supporting the Brussels labour market access and participation of refugees and asylum seekers have emerged since 2010, and have become part of the complex institutional landscape in Brussels. We shall highlight the diversity of these institutional innovations before exploring how they are perceived by organisations established in this sector and how they interact with these organisations, focusing in particular on the “universalist” nature of regional employment support policies.

2The first section presents the state of knowledge on the participation of refugees and asylum seekers in the labour market. Four recent initiatives supporting the employment of refugees and asylum seekers are then analysed (section 2) and put in the context of pre-existing local institutional dynamics (section 3). The conclusion shows how our results add to the literature on the “Brussels institutional puzzle”.

3Our analysis is based on qualitative research conducted in Brussels in 2016-2017. It included a documentary analysis of the organisational mechanisms in place as well as more than 30 qualitative interviews with representatives of 17 public and semi-public organisations and associations promoting the participation in the labour market of asylum seekers and refugees, and with 11 refugees active in the Brussels labour market.

1. Refugees and asylum seekers and employment in Brussels

  • 1 According to the criteria of the Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees, this include (...)

4First of all, it is useful to shed light on the terminology as well as the federal and regional competences related to access to and support of the employment of refugees and asylum seekers in Belgium and Brussels. An asylum seeker is a person who has fled his or her country and applies to be recognised as a refugee by the host country, i.e. as a person fleeing his or her country for fear of persecution on specific grounds1 and unable to return to his or her country of origin. Belgium has seen an increase in the number of asylum seekers, from 14 045 in 2015 to 38 990 in 2016, followed by a return to 14 250 in 2017 [Pironet 2018: 4]. A refugee is a person whose refugee status has been recognised by the authorities of the host country, hence the term refugié reconnu (“recognised refugee”) which we avoid in this article in order to simplify the vocabulary. However, it is important to note that the asylum seeker and refugee categories are legal categories which may conceal many sociological similarities between people [Zetter, 2007].

  • 2 Since 1 January 2019, asylum seekers who have not received a decision on their application after fo (...)

5The processing of asylum applications and the granting of residence permits are federal competences. Belgium grants a five-year residence permit to refugees, which includes the same social and economic rights on Belgian territory as for persons with an unlimited residence permit, including the right to work. Refugees therefore do not need work permits [Vanmarcke 2018: 639]. On the other hand, until the reform of work permits in force since 1 January 2019,2 asylum seekers needed a work permit, and after four months of residence in Belgium were eligible for a renewable one-year C work permit [Lens, Marx and Vujic, 2018:11]. Until this reform, and as the management of immigrants' work permits has generally been a regional competence since 2014, the federal government remained responsible for granting work permits to asylum seekers [Pironet, 2018: 11-14]. The regions are responsible for employment integration and for monitoring job search efforts, in Brussels through the regional employment agency Actiris [Vanmarcke, 2018: 638]. Unlike the regional employment agencies in Wallonia (Le Forem) and Flanders (VDAB), Actiris does not have a cooperation agreement with the federal authorities to promote the integration of asylum seekers in the labour market (ibid.: 641).

  • 3 Socio-economic monitoring data exclude asylum seekers [see SPF and UNIA, 2017: 132].

6Belgium has a similar situation to other industrialised countries where the employment rate of refugees (and other persons who benefit from humanitarian protection) is well below the average employment rate, although it increases significantly over time. Thus, according to the 2017 data from the 2017 Monitoring Socio-économique, among refugees and other protected persons aged 18 to 64 registered in the Belgian national register in 2010, 11 % were employed in 2011, compared to 33 % in 2014 [SPF and UNIA, 2017: 141];3 see also Rea and Wets, 2014]. The Monitoring Socio-économique does not disaggregate the data for Brussels and the other Belgian regions, however, the Actiris data mentioned in May 2017 by Didier Gosuin, Minister of Employment and the Economy, show an employment rate for refugees and protected persons registered with the Brussels employment agency in 2015-2016 of 31 %, i.e. 1 636 out of 5 265 refugees registered with Actiris in the Belgian capital [Sente, 2017].

7The academic literature on the subject has focused on two main aspects. On the one hand, it highlights the effects of the individual characteristics of refugees and asylum seekers, such as the impact which their poor command of the official languages of the host country upon arrival has on their participation in the labour market. On the other hand, this literature focuses on the role of certain obstacles in the access which people of foreign origin have to employment, in particular the lack of recognition of skills and qualifications obtained abroad and discrimination against job seekers of non-European origin [on the Belgian case see Rea and Wets, 2014; Lens, Marx and Vujic, 2018; and more generally Krahn et al., 2000, Colic-Peisker and Tilbury, 2006; Correa-Velez, Barnett and Gifford, 2015]. Our analysis intends to contribute, in particular, to the more recent and expanding field of studies on the organisation of employment support [Garnier, 2016; Losoncz, 2017]. From this point of view, Brussels is a very rich case study given its regional institutional complexity: support for “newcomers” is provided by a multitude of organisations with more or less highly coordinated actions [Adam and van Dijk, 2015; Xhardez, 2016].

2. Institutional innovations to support the employment of refugees since 2010

8In Brussels, the issue of the employment of refugees and asylum seekers is superimposed on two related themes: the low participation of the population of non-European origin in the labour market and the socio-economic integration of newcomers. There is no specific body which supports the employment of refugees and asylum seekers. Like other job seekers, refugees and asylum seekers have access to the regional employment agency, Actiris, to municipal employment support networks such as job centres, as well as to the socio-professional integration services (ISP) of the public social action centres (CPAS). There is also a dense associative fabric focused on the socio-economic participation of refugees and immigrants which offers socio-professional integration services. In this section, we look at four newly created organisations of Brussels origin working to improve access to employment for refugees and asylum seekers, with or without them as a specific target group. We compare the dynamics of their creation, their organisational arrangements and their target population.

2.1. Semi-public innovation: Reception Offices for Newcomers

9The Reception Offices for Newcomers (BAPAs, or Bureaux d'Accueil pour Primo-Arrivants) are French-language non-profit organisations (ASBLs) in Brussels, funded by the French Community Commission of the Brussels-Capital Region (COCOF). BAPAs must administer a programme to facilitate the socio-economic integration of new Brussels residents from countries outside the European Union who have a residence permit of three months or more but who have resided in Belgium for less than three years and are registered in the residence register of one of the 19 municipalities of Brussels (Joint Community Commission of the Brussels-Capital Region, 2017). Refugees residing in Belgium for less than three years can therefore participate in the reception programme, but not asylum seekers, as their residence permits – if renewable – are only valid for three months. The programme must include the following modules: a reception module including an assessment of the linguistic, economic and social needs of the newcomer and information sessions on rights and duties in Belgium; a French course module; and a citizenship training module (ibid.).

  • 4 Interview with BON management, 10 May 2017. It should be noted that BON was incorporated into the F (...)

10Brussels was the last of the three Belgian regions to organise a compulsory reception programme for certain categories of newcomers. When the Flanders region introduced this obligation, both Wallonia and Brussels were openly hostile towards it. However, a Flemish association in Brussels, BON, was established in 2004 to offer a non-compulsory civic integration programme to newcomers incorporating Dutch language courses. This programme became extremely popular among newcomers in the Belgian capital.4 The discussion on the French-speaking side was pushed by the Brussels associative sector, in particular by CIRÉ (Coordination et Initiative pour Réfugiés et Étrangers) [CIRÉ, 2016]. The Brussels French Parliament created a formal regional reception programme in 2013 and decided to make it compulsory in 2017 [Xhardez, 2016, Joint Community Commission of the Brussels-Capital Region, 2017]. The application of this obligation has been delayed several times and, as of March 2019, is scheduled for 2020 [D., 2018; Le Vif 2018]. There are two BAPAs in Brussels: BAPA BXL, created by the municipality of Brussels-City, and BAPA VIA, created by the municipalities of Schaerbeek and Molenbeek. Convivial, a non-profit organisation with a long involvement in supporting newcomers in Brussels, with the support of CIRÉ, the Service d'Aide aux Primo-Arrivants Molenbeekois (SAMPA) and other associations, proposed the establishment of a third BAPA in 2015, but this application was not accepted [Vassart, 2015].

  • 5 Interview with a COCOF representative, 10 March 2017.

11The Brussels programme is far from meeting the demands of CIRÉ. Unlike the Flemish and Walloon reception programmes, BAPAs are not supposed to intervene directly in the participants' job searches but instead should direct them towards other services and associations. Reflecting the regional government's priorities in terms of social cohesion,5 the programmes focus rather on introducing participants to Belgian and Brussels social and civic life, and also encourage the creation of sustained interactions between the participants.

  • 6 Interview with VIA management, 12 April 2017.
  • 7 Ibid. and interview with the management of BAPA BXL, 24 April 2017, interview with refugee 9, emplo (...)

12At organisational level, BAPAs were completely new creations in the Brussels institutional landscape, but had to be able to handle thousands of files as soon as they were opened in order to guarantee their public subsidies. It can be noted that BAPA VIA has more strongly integrated the existing municipal and associative fabric supporting the socio-economic participation of newcomers, particularly in the municipality of Schaerbeek, where communication on the subject has long been well established.6 However, the management staff of the two BAPAs has been keen to create teams capable of interacting with heterogeneous populations, not only in terms of language but also in terms of familiarity with life in Brussels.7

  • 8 Most of the refugees we spoke with had completed the equivalent of the reception programmes which e (...)

13Statistics on the number of refugees and protected persons participating in the reception programme are only available for BAPA VIA. In 2017, 47.6 % of participants had refugee status [VIA, 2018: 3]. The two BAPAs noted in their first annual activity reports that many participants were from Syria and Iraq, and were therefore often refugees [VIA, 2017: 5, BAPA BXL, 2017: 7]. The two annual reports and our interviews with staff from each BAPA confirmed that job search support is a major concern for the populations in the reception programmes.8 As a result, both BAPAs have worked to create links with the existing ISP fabric, while noting that they were not yet well known in the sector at the time of the reports and interviews in spring 2017. Moreover, although BAPAs do not have the mandate to use their public subsidies to promote professional integration directly, there is nothing that prevents them from developing such projects using other resources. This avenue was explored in Schaerbeek when the municipality applied in mid-2017 for a grant from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) for this purpose with the close involvement of VIA BAPA [V., 2017]. This grant application was unsuccessful.

2.2. Innovating through intergenerational mentoring: Duo for a Job

  • 9 Unlike the BAPA reception programme, the mentoring offered by Duo for a Job is available to asylum (...)

14The not-for-profit organisation Duo for a Job, created in Brussels in 2012 by two young entrepreneurs from the humanitarian and human resources sectors, was a response to a twofold observation: the very high unemployment rate among people of non-European origin aged 18-30 and the low activity rate among people aged 55-64 in Belgium. Duo for a Job trains retired or pre-retired people to be mentors for people of immigrant background aged 18-30, who are seeking career or student guidance (mentees). At its inception, Duo for a Job offered mentoring to non-Belgians aged 18 to 30, and refugees accounted for 40 % of their mentees in 2014 [Duo for a Job, 2015: 12].9 The mentoring offer was extended to Belgian young people of immigrant origin in 2015, and by 2016, refugees accounted for only 24 % of their total number of mentees [Duo for a Job, 2017: 27]. In reality, this represents a quantitative increase in the number of refugees who have had access to mentoring in the context of a strong and rapid increase in the number of Duo for a Job’s participants (85 mentees in 2014, 245 in 2016) [Duo for a Job, 2015: 10; 2017: 43].

  • 10 For example, the not-for-profit organisation Be.Face for labour market integration, established in (...)

15Duo for a Job has distinguished itself by its innovative financing model, being the first association in the European Union (EU) to make use of the Social Impact Bonds. In 2016, donations accounted for more than half of its income, and public subsidies for 15 % [Duo for a Job, 2015: 35; 2017: 58]. It should be noted, however, that Duo for a Job is not the first association to offer intergenerational mentoring in the area of access to employment.10 However, the fact that mentoring is its main mission certainly distinguishes it from other associations active in this field.

  • 11 Interview with a member of the team at Duo for a Job, 7 April 2017.

16The association sees communication and public relations as assets, being very present in online social networks and encouraging word of mouth among mentors and mentees. Since its launch, Duo for a Job has also focused on partnerships with other stakeholders in the sector, noting that few actions target newcomers specifically.11 In addition to the Brussels offices, the association is now present in Antwerp, Liège and Ghent, and is positioning itself as a European and international model [Duo for a Job, 2017: 78]. Duo for a Job is highly recognised for its actions and has won several national and European awards, even receiving King Philippe on its premises on 17 April 2018 [RTBF, 2018].

  • 12 Interview with refugee 11, 9 May 2017.

17One of the main reasons for the growth of Duo for a Job is the success of its mentoring programme. Since its inception, nearly half of the mentees were employed one year after they began mentoring, which is double the employment rate of a comparable cohort not benefiting from the programme [ibid: 44]. That said, it is possible that a selection effect may occur because mentees make the choice to participate in Duo for a Job programmes and are therefore potentially more motivated than a cohort of job seekers with otherwise similar characteristics. This observation was reported to us by a former Duo mentee refugee who was very satisfied with his experience (he was employed at the time of our interview), but who felt that the individual contribution of mentees and mentors to the success of the association should not be underestimated.12

2.3. Employer innovation: the FEB Refugee Crisis Task Force

  • 13 Interview with the Task Force Coordinator, 13 April 2017.

18The strong presence of migrants in Maximilian Park in Brussels in 2015 [Kassou, 2015] – not only near the Immigration Office but also near the towers where large companies are based – has made many organisations and companies aware of the consequences of European and Belgian migration policies. This visibility was one of the catalysts for the creation of the Refugee Crisis Task Force by the not-for-profit organisation Fédération des Entreprises de Belgique (FEB) in September-October 2015. The aim of the Task Force was to support a “useful” and “feasible” contribution by companies to a solution to this crisis. Their approach was to focus on access to the labour market for asylum seekers and refugees in coordination with other stakeholders in the sector [Fédération des Entreprises de Belgique 2017a: 11]. To this end, FEB has set up a steering group of several employer federations and a group responsible for the direct management of the Task Force, including a coordinator made available for this purpose by his FEB member employer for a period of one year. For the Task Force coordinator, this was his first professional experience in this field and he did not have an institutional or associative network in the sector.13

19One of the main activities of the Task Force was to make an inventory of the major socio-economic challenges faced by asylum seekers and refugees in Belgium, as well as the challenges faced by employers wishing to hire refugees and asylum seekers, while identifying opportunities for the Task Force to contribute to existing initiatives. The Task Force was able to achieve several concrete results between 2015 and 2017, in particular the publication of a practical guide for employers on the training and employment of refugees and asylum seekers. The European Commissioner for Employment praised the guide at a conference on refugee labour market participation in Antwerp in November 2016 [Thyssen, 2016].

  • 14 Ibid.
  • 15 Interview with members of the Labour, Equivalence and Training Department, CIRÉ, 30 March 2017, and (...)
  • 16 Interview with the Task Force Coordinator, 13 April 2017.

20In contrast, the Task Force was unable to respond to the request by companies to identify workers among new refugees and asylum seekers who could fill a labour shortage quickly – a request which had also contributed to the FEB's mobilisation regarding the issue.14 This request reflected the lack of knowledge of employers, as most newcomers did not speak French or Dutch when they arrived and were confronted with the inadequacy – or non-recognition – of their qualifications on the Belgian labour market.15 The fact that the Task Force could not respond to this request immediately caused a gradual withdrawal of employers, even as more and more refugees and asylum seekers began to seek employment actively. That said, the Task Force has participated in several European Social Fund calls for projects supporting the employment of refugees in Antwerp, Ghent and five Flemish provinces [Fédération des Entreprises de Belgique, 2017a: 18]. The Task Force coordinator had not identified such calls for projects in Brussels.16

21In September 2017, as the period of availability of the Task Force coordinator ended, the FEB considered that the Task Force had fulfilled its objectives [Fédération des Entreprises de Belgique, 2017b], suggesting that its future was open. The Task Force was “put on hold” in March 2018, with the FEB declaring that it could be reactivated “in case of urgent need” [Fédération des Entreprises de Belgique, 2018].

2.4 Refugees and asylum seekers at the heart of innovation: Tandem

22As mentioned above, several factors affected the participation of asylum seekers and refugees in the labour market, including the lack of proficiency in the official languages of Belgium, the lack of recognition of the professional qualifications of refugees, and in the case of asylum seekers, the impossibility of working within the first four months following the submission of an asylum application. Tandem intervened in this context by taking advantage of the presence of many European and international organisations in Brussels which work in English. Tandem was created in June 2016 by Syrian refugees, asylum seekers and Belgian residents working for locally based international organisations. To meet the needs of newcomers, Tandem set up unpaid but compensated two-week internships – in the context of the volunteer status – of 25 € per day for refugees and asylum seekers in international organisations based in Brussels [Tandem, 2016.]

  • 17 Interview with one of the co-founders of Tandem, 24 April 2017.
  • 18 Interview with refugee R4, 25 April 2017 and refugee R7, 3 May 2017, member of the Tandem team and (...)
  • 19 Interview with one of the co-founders of Tandem, 24 April 2017.
  • 20 Ibid.
  • 21 See message from 18 October 2018 on the Tandem Facebook page, which was still active in March 2019, (...)

23Tandem first existed only as an initiative with the online social network Facebook and then established itself as a de facto association, the simplest legal status for an association in Belgium. The initiative has received significant support from organisations such as Het Punt, which specialises in volunteer work.17 At the time of our interviews in 2017, Tandem did not have permanent premises and was managed entirely by a team of volunteers that included several refugees. The latter were based in Brussels but also in other Belgian cities including Antwerp.18 Some members of the Tandem team had met for the first time a year after the launch of the association. 19 One of the founding members whom we spoke with said that Tandem's main aim was to fulfil its mission, and was not against being absorbed by a larger associative structure.20 In fact, in October 2018, Tandem gave up its associative autonomy and became a project of the Centre européen du Volontariat (CEV, generally referred to by its English name, European Volunteer Centre), an international not-for-profit organisation (AISBL) [European Volunteer Centre, n.d.]. The Director of CEV had played an important role in the establishment of Tandem.21

  • 22 Interview with one of the co-founders of Tandem, 24 April 2017.
  • 23 Testimonies are available on the Tandem website, and the association's co-founder showed us more qu (...)

24Given the type of internships offered, the majority of participants had to be proficient in English and have post-secondary qualifications. That said, Tandem was working to find internships for less qualified people, for example at cultural festivals in Brussels.22 Evaluations of former interns were very positive, as were those of the participating organisations.23 In addition, Tandem presented its activities on the premises of other associations regularly and was invited to present its activities to the European Parliament at a seminar on the role of non-governmental organisations in the integration of refugees in Brussels. The representative of Tandem at the seminar was its refugee co-founder [Leigh, 2018].

3. Complementarity with pre-existing institutional dynamics

  • 24 Interview with members of the integration team of the not-for-profit organisation Caritas, 11 April (...)
  • 25 This was reported to us by a member of the Convivial socio-professional guidance team (interview on (...)
  • 26 Interview with VIA management, 12 April 2017.
  • 27 From 2000 to 2014, the ERF aimed to co-finance initiatives by the European Commission and EU member (...)
  • 28 .Interview with members of the Labour, Equivalence and Training Department, CIRÉ, 30 March 2017, an (...)

25The complementarity between initiatives to support the employment of asylum seekers and refugees is strongly emphasised by established stakeholders in the sector. A representative of the integration service of the non-profit organisation Caritas described it as follows: “We set up connections and relays, and don't try to replace the structures which exist”.24 A major justification for this emphasis on complementarity is that the demand for support from their public is much higher than the available resources. Several stakeholders described the many measures adopted internally in order to meet the objectives required to maintain their public funding.25 For example, the director of an ISP service reported doing more field work and less strategic work in order to be able to process the required number of files. The director of one of the BAPAs (which does not have a mandate to facilitate access to employment) also mentioned that organisations providing ISP are “overwhelmed”.26 Some organisations pointed to the decrease in European subsidies since the disappearance of the European Refugee Fund (ERF) and the creation of the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF)27 in 2014, and also indicated that they had been severely impacted by the unilateral withdrawal of the federal government from partnership agreements in the area of housing and integration of asylum seekers.28 The heterogeneity of the newcomer public was also mentioned, which requires close collaboration between support organisations, each highlighting a service aimed at a particular category of this public.

  • 29 Interviews with VIA management, 12 April 2017, and with BAPA BXL management, 24 April 2017. It shou (...)
  • 30 Interview with members of the Labour, Equivalence and Training Department, CIRÉ, 30 March 2017.

26An emphasis on complementarity does not mean that the relations between new initiatives and more established structures are necessarily strong or harmonious. With regard to BAPAs, several representatives of established organisations mentioned a lack of awareness of their actions in the spring of 2017. The director of one of the two BAPAs who is from the associative sector herself, was afraid to be perceived as “another CPAS” while the director of the other BAPA insisted on the need to be known in the community.29 Most representatives of established agencies also mentioned that they did not know exactly what the Refugee Crisis Task Force did and that they had never met its coordinator personally. In contrast, established initiatives were much more familiar with Duo for a Job, and to a lesser extent, Tandem. We were informed of an informal partnership to distribute beneficiaries among Convivial, Duo for a Job and other associations in the sector, depending on characteristics such as the age of the beneficiaries. In addition, the new initiatives were part of the dynamics of information circulation, including regular meetings between stakeholders in the sector to learn about the evolution of each other's practices. For example, Be.Face, a not-for-profit organisation which has a long history of providing mentoring services to young job seekers (newcomers or not), organised seminars on company recruitment at BON every month and regularly at Convivial and CIRÉ. A formal partnership agreement also exists regarding support for the recognition of diplomas between Actiris, CIRÉ and BON.30

  • 31 Interview with the coordinator of the alpha ISP unit of the not-for-profit organisation Lire et Ecr (...)

27What does not exist is a formal coordination of employment support for asylum seekers and refugees, or for newcomers more broadly. On the contrary, some speakers mentioned the decrease in public subsidies specifically aimed at promoting sectoral coordination. There was also discussion of the development of managerial practices to ensure that recipients of an employment support measure could not simultaneously be counted as participants in a similar support measure offered by another organisation, which could lead to competition in the recruitment of recipients.31Actiris, as a regional employment agency, would be the “natural” choice for such coordination. But Actiris highlights the universality of its job search assistance measures more than Forem in Wallonia and VDAB in Flanders – the other Belgian regional employment agencies. In Brussels, employment support for newcomers is part of the promotion of “employment for all” [Actiris, 2017]. It seems that a window of opportunity for institutional innovation within Actiris has been missed. In 2016, Actiris had launched a Newcomers' Action to simplify access to the labour market for refugees and asylum seekers, and included conferences in Arabic on job searches, for example. But due to the small number of participants in these activities, the Newcomers' Action was stopped after eight months [Sente, 2017].

  • 32 Interview with the Head of Employment and Training, Be.Face, 10 April 2017.
  • 33 Interview with a member of the Diversity Department, Actiris, 27 March 2017.

28The withdrawal of Actiris from this area resembles the gradual withdrawal of employers who had initially supported the FEB Refugee Crisis Task Force. One participant, a former employment counsellor, noted, however, that the associative sector was often unaware of the opportunities open to newcomers and refugees in large companies: “There are many prejudices which we must get rid of through direct, interpersonal contacts.”32 However, the withdrawal of Actiris was also presented to us in a perspective of complementarity with other organisations: “Individual follow-up such as mentoring is what works best, but I don't think it is the job of Actiris to offer this service, as there are already many organisations doing so.”33

Conclusion

29This article has highlighted the diversity of institutional innovations aimed at supporting the employment of asylum seekers and refugees in Brussels and, more broadly, the socio-economic integration of newcomers, in a structural context of high unemployment among populations of non-European origin in the Belgian capital. These innovations are part of a complex institutional landscape which, as Xhardez [2016] notes, has many consequences for stakeholders in the sector as well as for asylum seekers and refugees who use their services. While Xhardez [ibid.] emphasises the many political and organisational obstacles to coherence in the sector, our article highlights that this lack of coherence does not prevent innovation, and is illustrated by the rhetoric and practices of complementarity between recent and more established initiatives.

30In addition, we show that the notion of “complementarity” has several meanings for the stakeholders. It can be presented as necessary given the limit of available resources and the heterogeneity of the target population, and also given the institutional limits of the action of regional public and semi-public organisations (universalist mandate in the case of Actiris, focus on social cohesion rather than employment in the case of BAPAs). Furthermore, we add to Adam and van Dijk's observations [2015], by showing that the lack of institutional coherence does not mean that stakeholders do not have many more or less formal practices aimed at maintaining sustained interactions. However, the severe limitation of material resources hinders the development and sustainability of these interactions.

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Notes

1 According to the criteria of the Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees, this includes persecution on the grounds of race, religion, nationality, belonging to a particular social group and political opinion.

2 Since 1 January 2019, asylum seekers who have not received a decision on their application after four months are automatically entitled to work, this condition being notified on their residence permit [Brussels Economy and Employment, n.d.].

3 Socio-economic monitoring data exclude asylum seekers [see SPF and UNIA, 2017: 132].

4 Interview with BON management, 10 May 2017. It should be noted that BON was incorporated into the Flemish regional integration agency in 2014, which faced a major budget cut in spring 2018 [Legrand, 2018].

5 Interview with a COCOF representative, 10 March 2017.

6 Interview with VIA management, 12 April 2017.

7 Ibid. and interview with the management of BAPA BXL, 24 April 2017, interview with refugee 9, employed as an advisor in a BAPA, 5 May 2017.

8 Most of the refugees we spoke with had completed the equivalent of the reception programmes which existed before 2016 in Brussels, offered by BON and by French-language non-profit organisations (in particular Convivial). But in both cases, practical orientation on the labour market is either part of the programme (BON) or is accessible internally through another unit of the association (Convivial). See also section 3 on the perception of institutional innovations by more established organisations in the sector.

9 Unlike the BAPA reception programme, the mentoring offered by Duo for a Job is available to asylum seekers.

10 For example, the not-for-profit organisation Be.Face for labour market integration, established in Brussels in 2010 with the financial support of companies, offers sponsorship activities. However, the rapid expansion of this sector was not one of the priorities of its board of directors, according to our meeting with the head of Employment and Training, Be.Face, 10 April 2017.

11 Interview with a member of the team at Duo for a Job, 7 April 2017.

12 Interview with refugee 11, 9 May 2017.

13 Interview with the Task Force Coordinator, 13 April 2017.

14 Ibid.

15 Interview with members of the Labour, Equivalence and Training Department, CIRÉ, 30 March 2017, and with refugee R1, 4 April 2017, refugee R5, 25 April 2017 and refugee R7, 3 May 2017.

16 Interview with the Task Force Coordinator, 13 April 2017.

17 Interview with one of the co-founders of Tandem, 24 April 2017.

18 Interview with refugee R4, 25 April 2017 and refugee R7, 3 May 2017, member of the Tandem team and co-founder of Tandem respectively.

19 Interview with one of the co-founders of Tandem, 24 April 2017.

20 Ibid.

21 See message from 18 October 2018 on the Tandem Facebook page, which was still active in March 2019, https://www.facebook.com/Tandemvolunteering/.

22 Interview with one of the co-founders of Tandem, 24 April 2017.

23 Testimonies are available on the Tandem website, and the association's co-founder showed us more quantitative data on this satisfaction during our interview on 24 April 2017.

24 Interview with members of the integration team of the not-for-profit organisation Caritas, 11 April 2017.

25 This was reported to us by a member of the Convivial socio-professional guidance team (interview on 24 March 2017), the coordinator of the alpha ISP service of the not-for-profit organisation Lire et Ecrire (9 June 2017) and the director of BON (10 May 2017).

26 Interview with VIA management, 12 April 2017.

27 From 2000 to 2014, the ERF aimed to co-finance initiatives by the European Commission and EU member states aimed at managing the arrival and integration of refugees and asylum seekers in the EU, as well as the return to the countries of origin of persons whose asylum applications were refused. The ERF underwent several changes during the different funding periods (2000-2005, 2005-2007 and 2007-2013), however it was formally abolished and replaced by AMIF in 2014 for the 2014-2020 funding period. The purpose of AMIF is to co-finance the management of migration flows in general, so the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers is only one aspect of the programmes funded by AMIF.

28 .Interview with members of the Labour, Equivalence and Training Department, CIRÉ, 30 March 2017, and with members of the integration team of the Caritas non-profit organisation, 11 April 2017.

29 Interviews with VIA management, 12 April 2017, and with BAPA BXL management, 24 April 2017. It should be noted that there was a rather negative characterisation of CPASs in many interviews with sector organisations and refugees active in the labour market.

30 Interview with members of the Labour, Equivalence and Training Department, CIRÉ, 30 March 2017.

31 Interview with the coordinator of the alpha ISP unit of the not-for-profit organisation Lire et Ecrire (9 June 2017). On the limits of compatibility between the coordination of employment stakeholders and the use of managerial practices in Brussels, see Cipriano, Fallon, Fastré and Halin [2015].

32 Interview with the Head of Employment and Training, Be.Face, 10 April 2017.

33 Interview with a member of the Diversity Department, Actiris, 27 March 2017.

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Référence électronique

Adèle Garnier et Annaelle Piva, « Labour market participation of refugees and asylum seekers in Brussels: innovation and institutional complementarity », Brussels Studies [En ligne], Collection générale, n° 135, mis en ligne le 27 mai 2019, consulté le 27 juin 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/brussels/2732 ; DOI : 10.4000/brussels.2732

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Auteurs

Adèle Garnier

Adèle Garnier is a lecturer in political science at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, and a research associate at GERME, Université libre de Bruxelles. With Geneviève Saint-Laurent and Loïc Pignolo, she recently directed Gérer les migrations face aux défis identitaires et sécuritaires (Université de Genève, 2018), and with Liliana L. Jubilut and Kristin B. Sandvik, Refugee Resettlement: Power, Politics and Humanitarian Governance (Berghahn, 2018).

Annaelle Piva

Annaelle Piva is a doctoral candidate in geography under a joint supervision arrangement between Université Laval de Québec and Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne. Her work focuses on the dynamics between legitimate users of urban space and precarious migrants who are vagrants in European cities, particularly in Paris and Rome. The impact of this co-presence on the social construction of cities and host societies is at the heart of her research.

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