February 1, 2023

Taylor Daily Press

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10,000 Dutch speaking friends wanted for newcomers | internal

Flemish Minister for Integration and Equal Opportunities Bart Sommers (Open Vld) is looking for 10,000 friends for newcomers. Since January 1, they are required to spend at least 40 hours with a Dutch-speaking companion who introduces them to the community. This approach is part of the new integration program of the Flemish government.

The buddy system is already in Gent, with Sommers visiting integration agency IN-Gent on Thursday. A similar system also exists in Mechelen, Ostend and Leuven. Today, 2,500 people have already registered as a friend, but this number must therefore be increased. Each year, 8,000 newcomers look for a boyfriend, but integrators who are not required to do so can also look for a mate. Nominated friends can register on the mybuddy.be website.

European funds have also been provided for the Friends operation and the Flemish government hopes local authorities will make efforts to look into the formula. But if they do not answer this question, Flanders can intervene.

Somers describes the buddy process as “the cornerstone of the new integration process” because it can help newcomers establish a network. Sometimes connection leads to lasting friendships. However, people who integrate can also choose an alternative such as an internship or volunteer work.

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In March last year, newcomers, that is, people who have been granted the right of residence, must register with VDAB within two months. This approach is working, says the minister. Where 17 percent of new arrivals were referred to VDAB before March 1, 2022, this is now 74 percent.

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Gent Alderman for Equal Opportunities Astrid De Bruecker (Fooerwit) will hear with Sommers on Thursday about the experiences of participants and friends. Many buddy programs run in Ghent. For example, there is “2RUN”, where a friend goes jogging with a newcomer, “Samen Gentenaar”, where they choose a different activity, and “Tandem”, where a family takes on another.

“These are very diverse activities, and friendships often result from them,” says Alderman and IN-Gent Chairman Astrid De Bruycker (Vooruit). It’s a mutual thing. A newcomer gets to know our city and our language. But people in our city also learn to deal with the fact that the city is becoming increasingly diverse.”


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In practice, the vast majority of these newcomers are very happy to have a friend. You don’t come here to sit and relax. They want to build a new future here

Bart Somers

committed

The buddy process is not voluntary. Newcomers who start an integration program must participate in it. “We’re really asking a number of people to learn Dutch, sign up for VDAB and spend those 40 hours with friends,” Sommers says. “If you don’t, you can get punished. But in practice, the vast majority of these newcomers are very happy to do that. You don’t come here to sit back and relax. They want to build a new future here.”

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74% of integrators have redirected to VDAB since March 2022, but “we have to go to 100%”