Important external influences on the integration of immigrants

Johan Leman, 8 June 2024

Something that is often forgotten is that external influences, completely unrelated to the policies pursued in our country, can have very fundamental influences on the way immigrants integrate. I limit myself to four external factors from the post-war period.

A first external event was the rise of Khomeini in the late 1970s, with in the same vein the massacre in Hama (Syria) by Hafiz al-Assad (1982), the bombing of Tripoli by the US in 1986, and ‘nine eleven’ (1991)… Anyone who wants to understand the Islamisation of Muslims in our country must keep those dates in mind. Those events were totally outside Belgium’s integration policy. They did not even take place in Belgium. But they have a huge impact on current debates on Islam in our country.

A second external event had importance in the Turkish migration. Between 1989 and 1993, Özal was president of Turkey and the economy suddenly ‘boomed’. It is a fact that this had an impact on Turkish integration in our country, because unlike what happened with Moroccans, suddenly many Turks started to believe in a return. This turned around again in the second half of the 1990s. It means that the movement in Turkish integration took a slightly different course from that of Moroccans.

A third external fact points in the same direction: COVID. The fact that Moroccan immigrants were not allowed to transfer the bodies of their deceased to Morocco has had the effect that Moroccans are currently very much inclined to bury their dead in Belgium. This happens not because of Belgium’s policy measures but because of Morocco’s governmental attitude.

A final point concerns the economic relaunch in Morocco and the low burdens there for entrepreneurs. This explains that the idea of transnationalism, i.e. settling in Morocco at the same time, while maintaining a foothold in Belgium, is very strong among young Moroccans today.

These are some reservations I have when following the debates today on integration policies. They are far too Belgo- and at best only Euro-centric in focus.