Researcher identifies obstacles to integration of Syrian refugees


An Antwerp PhD student has spoken to Syrian refugees and their assistance providers and found several specific factors leading to problems integrating in local society

Personal vs professional

Antwerp University (UAntwerp) sociologies Robin Vandevoordt has pinpointed obstacles that hinder the integration of Syrian refugees in Belgium. For his PhD thesis, Vandevoordt interviewed 39 refugees and found that they often have very different expectations than their Belgian coaches.

“Solidarity in Belgium is defined in formal rights and duties, monitored by professional organisations,” said Vandevoordt. “But Syrian refugees in particular want to maintain a sense of dignity, which means that their expectations differ from the rights they receive here and they miss out on certain opportunities to which they are entitled.”

One problem concerns work, which Syrians focus on in the short term. The refugees are often ashamed of receiving state benefits and want to find a job as quickly as possible, “which their coaches support,” said Vandevoordt. But this leads to many still working far below their competences after five years, at which point it becomes nearly impossible to improve their situation. This leads to a lack of motivation and sometimes burnout.

Syrian refugees also have trouble relating to professional distance, expecting a more personal form of help. And many integration coaches only react to requests and don’t ask questions themselves, according to Vandevoordt. That leads to certain problems – such as in the areas of health care and psychological counselling – not being dealt with.

Vandevoordt also refers to the difficulties refugees have finding a place to live and establishing friendships with Belgians. “Because of difficulties with social integration, many of them fall back on their own community,” he said.

Photo courtesy Fedasil