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

Notes de la rédaction

This is the press release related to the article from Adèle Garnier and Annaelle Piva, published on May 27, 2019

The protracted crisis in the reception of migrants, whether newly arrived or in transit in Brussels, should not obscure raises the fact that refugees and asylum seekers are already officially present in the region. This the question as to their participation in the labour market in Brussels.

In the Brussels-Capital Region, this question is superimposed on two other related issues: on the one hand, the low participation in and difficulties of access to the labour market for people of non-European origin, and on the other hand, the implementation of integration programmes for newcomers.

However, 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.

As is often the case, this organisation may seem complex from the user's point of view. This complexity has also aroused the curiosity of two researchers: Adèle Garnier, professor of political science at Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia) and Annaelle Piva, doctoral student in geography at Université Laval (Quebec City) and Paris1 Panthéon Sorbonne. Issue 135 of Brussels Studies summarises their findings.

The two researchers have devoted most of their attention to the organisation of employment support. They note that the support of “newcomers” is provided by a multitude of organisations with more or less highly coordinated actions. All of this exists in a context where employment assistance policy seems relatively opposed to targeted support for refugees and asylum seekers.

Their analysis compares four initiatives specifically working to promote the participation of refugees and asylum seekers in the labour market and how they deal with the institutional landscape and reality in the field, examining them in terms of their innovation. These include a semi-public initiative, the BAPA (Bureaux d'Accueil pour Primo-Arrivants), an intergenerational mentoring association, Duo for a Job, an employer mobilisation, the FEB Refugee Crisis Task Force, and the establishment of internships for refugees and asylum seekers within international organisations, Tandem.

The complementarity between these initiatives is strongly emphasised by stakeholders in the field, underlining the role of information and relay which is often necessary. But complementarity is also linked to or even imposed by the lack or even disappearance of the resources specifically allocated to the integration of refugees. This has an impact on the daily work with beneficiaries, as well as on the coordination between initiatives, which is struggling to evolve from inter-knowledge and informal (and partial) coordination to more formal (and systematic) coordination. Actiris, as a regional employment agency, could have positioned itself as the “natural” vehicle for such coordination. But more than the other regional agencies – Forem in Wallonia and VDAB in Flanders – Actiris highlights the universality of its job search assistance measures. In Brussels, employment support for newcomers is therefore part of the promotion of “employment for all”, to the detriment of more targeted action.

In the field of employment too, the reception of migrants has given rise to true social innovation, to which the institutional complexity of Brussels may contribute. But, as is often the case, there seems to be a lack of coordination and sustainability of these initiatives.

Adèle Garnier and Annaelle Piva, “Labour market participation of refugees and asylum seekers in Brussels: innovation and institutional complementarity”, Brussels Studies [Online], General collection, No 135, 27 May 2019. URL:
Benjamin Wayens, Senior Editor: bwayens[at]

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