"Asking people to learn Dutch isn't harassment. We want to help."

Knives are being sharpened in Francophonia as a new controversy threatens to split the otherwise already pretty divided nation. At the centre of the controversy is the treatment of non-Dutch-speakers by local social services across Flanders.

The President of social services in the City of Brussels Yvan Mayeur claims that local social services in Flanders are refusing to help people who do not speak Dutch and he goes on to name the city of Antwerp. Up North, the Antwerp social services President Liesbeth Homans has rejected the accusation pointing out that Antwerp offers people the opportunity to learn Dutch.

The Francophone Brussels daily Le Soir gives prominence to the plight of a lady from the Brussels borough of Anderlecht, who moved to Antwerp and whose application for an allowance was turned down because she did not speak Dutch, "which jeopardised her chances on the labour market".

Yvan Mayeur told Le Soir: "It regularly happens: Flemish local social services send somebody packing and suggest that the applicant would do better to make an application in Brussels. There are documented cases of towns and municipalities that paid an applicant's train fare to Brussels."

"This is not how you solve the problem! I'm fed up to the back teeth of this Flanders that won't deal with people applying for financial support! If Flanders hopes to solve its social problems in this way, well, then it is a disgrace."

Liesbeth Homans, President of Antwerp social services, has denied that Antwerp is packing applicants for the living wage allowance off to Brussels when they are unable to speak Dutch.

"We don't insist that people speak Dutch from the start. We offer them the opportunity to learn Dutch and we counsel them. Fortunately most people acknowledge that it is in their interest to learn Dutch. Asking them to learn Dutch isn't harassment. We want to help."

"Mr Mayeur would do good to concentrate on the numerous problems and scandals at local social services in the City of Brussels."