Details of the meeting

Date:   22 - 23 Jun 2017

Address: Molenbeek

Bruxelles/Molenbeek – Rport 

22/23 June 2017

1. Following the agenda, the meeting was open by Sarah Turine (Councilor for Youth Policies, Social Security and Cohesion, Intercultural Dialogue and the Fight Against Social Exclusion in Molenbeek-Saint-Jean), who presented a picture of the migratory situation in Belgium: from the early 1960s flows (consisting mainly of Italian); to that of the 1970s and 1980s (mainly Turkish/Maghrebi); to the latest arrivals from Eastern Europe and from Central Africa. Two were the main point of analysis. The first concerns the specific situation of Molenbeek Municipality, the most densely populated part of the capital, located in the very centre of Brussels, between a canal and the railway (better known as the area of the “croissant pauvre”), which in fact is characterized by a broad population of immigrants, mostly Maghrebi, which reach the Third/Fourth Generation. The second analysis involved some unresolved nodes (school, language, work) of an integration process that, in light of the fundamentalist radicalism, which characterized groups of young people and adults of Molebeek, clearly shows that something has not worked as it should have been.

In addition to this presentation, Dr. Delphine Michel of the European Institute of Peace presented a field research (with questionnaires and interviews) that help to frame the situations of immigrants present in the municipal territory and the appreciation of their conditions.

Following the discussion, a visit to the headquarters of the LES (Lutte contre l’exclusion sociale a Molenbeek) has allowed broadening the knowledge of the territory and its structures.

The thorough discussion of the partners, regarding the knowledge gained by the presentations and the direct visit of the operational structures, focused on the whole of the Belgian welfare system, which showed its effectiveness in the face of the economic crisis (preventing a dramatic increase in poverty), but that should be improved on some pivotal points such as school, language, professionalization, woman’s condition, and so on.

Overall, the discussion led to a shared impression of an integration process that in Belgium (but in other European countries too) seems on a social level to have disappointed the expectations of the Second Generation (which in turn fueled the frustrations of the Third), and on a cultural level to have favored an alarming oppositional identity.

2. Regarding the second point of the agenda, related to the topic of Second/Third Generations, Carla Barbarella has introduced a number of considerations about identity, sense of belonging and struggles of young Muslim generations. She emphasized, in the opening, the fact that prejudices, common places, fear of Otherness produced a fracture in the identity of young Muslims of Second/Third Generation in search of a grounded and clear identity. She then asked the partners their opinion about the reasons why, in face of a situation that seems to be common to almost all EU countries, society, institutions and religious communities have not activated all the tools necessary to make the integration processes effective; or at least why this process seems to have been put on hold and, in many cases, even to have taken some steps backwards, showing the worrying development of these oppositional identities already discussed while debating the situation of the Belgian context and the dramatic phenomena occurred in Brussels, and in many other EU countries. The following discussion focused on the insufficient knowledge of many host countries about the identity problems faced by the younger generations and, consequently, on the inadequacy of the responses offered. All these factors contribute to hinder the construction of shared spaces and necessities, creating dramatic tensions. The intricacy and difficulty of accepting the Other, in fact, promotes the development of defensive identities, which often reject, with violent episodes, their own uneasiness and “inadequacy”.

It has been agreed that these behaviors are the basis of misunderstanding, hostility, and conflicts. To overcome them is essential to seek forms of dialogue through discussions held on equal levels, which helps to find the motivations and tools for improving and/or strengthening the integration processes. It was established that even though it is impossible to suggest solid solutions to the problem, a useful indication could be to not focus only on social projects, but to integrate them with cultural interventions that will engage everybody in a solidarity project, capable of holding together rights and responsibilities of individuals and those of communities. There is indeed a need for innovative approaches aimed at a full and mutual recognition of youngs and adults, men and women who inhabit and share, temporarily or permanently, the same territory. It is, in fact, essential to acknowledge the need to “involve” individuals living in the same territory, which contribute to the development of wealth, work, sociability, and closeness, regardless of the cultural iconographies that accompany them.

3. It was then resumed the analysis of the inputs offered by the Offenbach Municipality in Madrid for the outlining of a Best Practice centred on the activation of a democratic process of Listening/Involvement of Immigrants, which focuses on jointly address the process of integration.

Ana-Violeta Sacaliuc, coordinator of the funding program “WIR – Wegweisende Integrationsansätze Realisieren” of the state of Hessen, recalled that at the center of the involvement are the formally recognized associations of immigrants, aware of the role of representation bestowed upon them. It has also been mentioned how it was necessary to trigger a process of development, that is of professionalization, of such associations on many levels (political, legal, financial, etc …) to make them an effective interlocutor in a formal context. Just as it was indispensable to organize initiatives, conferences, and meetings to introduce them to public opinion in their role of active and recognized representative of the migrant communities. Specifically, a lot of work has had to be done on the concept of co-production and enabling society, in other words being active partners in the implementation of society. It was a long process, which can be synthetize with few chosen keywords: listening, mutual recognition, empowerment, participation, planning with and not for, and shared welfare production.

The practice has been further discussed by the partners who have thus proposed to the representative of Offenbach Municipality to map activities, paths and modalities in the Best Practice model as required by the ongoing Project.

4. It was then accepted the suggestion to visit MolenGeek’s headquarter.  It was with great interest that the partners have listened to the history and the development of this start-up created by Molenbeek’s young people to encourage entrepreneurship in a spirit of respect for cultural diversity, gender, generation and competence.

At the end of the meeting, it was confirmed the next appointment in Perugia on the 21st and 22nd of September.