Written by Zahra El Bouhali
According to numbers published by the Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons, 5.512 asylum applications had been filed in Belgium in September 2015. This was the highest number of applications in Belgium since the climax of the European refugee crisis.
Daily news reports showed long lines of refugees waiting in front of the WTC in Brussels. The crisis demonstrated how divided the public opinion was about this influx. Whilst groups of people independently organized themselves through social media in order to offer their support by collecting and distributing food, blankets and other necessities, others worried about the negative impact the arrival of the refugees would have upon their lives.
The reception of refugees in Europe became a much debated topic in political scenes. The economical impact was highlighted but also possible problems regarding the integration of refugees in Western society and risks involving terrorism were a point of concern.
This topic has proven to be an important right-wing theme in the run-up to the Belgian local elections which were held on October 14th. Even though there is a decrease in applications for international protection in Belgium (2345 in September 2018), politicians proudly display the firm measures they are taking against refugees and asylum seekers. The set up of new units for families with children in detention centers, the increased deportation of rejected asylum seekers and plans to open a national administrative centre for transmigration are actions that are strategically being projected as necessary measures to protect the state’s economic and social activities.
The results of the election have shown that in the majority of the Belgian municipalities, there was no distinct shift towards the right-wing parties. The left-wing parties have gained the majority of votes in Brussels showing a clear victory for the green political parties Ecolo and Groen. The N-VA kept its strong position in Antwerp (35,3%) followed by Groen (18,1%). In Ninove, a Flemish city with approximately 38.000 inhabitants, 40% of the votes went to Forza Ninove which is part of the right-wing party Vlaams Belang.
It is safe to say that the refugee crisis and how it has been dealt with by the Belgian government did not have a major impact on the voting pattern. The theme will certainly remain an important topic during campaign debates towards the Federal elections which will be held on May 26th2019.
About the author: Zahra El Bouhali is active as an aviation professional specialized in passenger documentation and security. She is currently doing a BA in Arabic and Islamic Studies with a minor in Middle Eastern culture, history and society.