Maarkedal makes asylum seekers work in return for shelter

The East-Flemish municipality of Maarkedal (Flemish Ardennes) is willing to provide shelter for asylum seekers, but they will receive "the friendly request" to carry out some chores in return. The chairman of the local OCMW social services Joris Nachtergaele (Flemish nationalist) told Het Nieuwsblad that "putting people to work has various benefits".

It's not a coincidence that the municipality is saying "we will kindly ask them". At present, there is no legal framework to oblige asylum seekers to work. This could be created in the future, but Joris Nachtergaele is not planning to wait.

Maarkedal is thinking of chores such as painting their own reception centre, cleaning up roadside litter or helping out in the old people's nursing home. "We are even thinking of inviting them to the local schools, to let them tell their story to the children", explains Nachtergaele. All this can speed up their integration process and create more support along local residents, he explains.

Nachtergaele insists that this is not a measure to deter possible asylum seekers. "It will also benefit these people. What's the use of staying indoors all day, isolated from the outside world, in a room with your TV and fridge?"

Maarkedal is not the only municipality behind the idea. A poll involving 91 different cities or municipalities revealed that 1 in 3 local social services are giving it thumbs up.

Asylum seekers are granted a place to stay, food and a shower while their procedure is being treated, the so-called "bed, bath and bread" principle. They are not receiving any cash while their procedure is still going on. If they are given green light to stay here permanently, they can claim a living wage and child benefits. Those that are not given a residence permit, have to return to their home country.