Fifth column: A rock and a hard place


Politicians in Flanders are struggling with the refugee crisis

Fear and friendship

The refugee crisis has led to a multitude of reactions in Flanders. The images of people waiting in line to be registered as asylum seekers in Brussels and forced to spend the night in parks have led to an outpouring of spontaneous aid.

The massive influx into Europe also inspires fear, though: fear of being overrun by another culture and of our social security system not surviving the increase of poor residents. The political parties have reacted accordingly.

Take N-VA. As sectary of state for migration and asylum, Theo Francken (pictured) is working hard to provide shelter for the asylum seekers. However, part of the nationalists’ electorate believes this only encourages more migrants to come. In spite of his tough public image, they see Francken as being too soft on the issue.

Therefore, N-VA party leader and Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever stepped in with some strong statements. He suggested a special statute for asylum seekers, allowing them less access to social security as they have not contributed to it yet. In the wake of the Thalys shooting, De Wever also questioned the free movement in the Schengen area.

This culminated in an interview in which he stated that the death of Syrian toddler Aylan was “not my fault”. “As a father, these images move me, but I will not be guided by emotions and refuse to be talked into feeling guilty.” According to De Wever, Aylan’s family were not war refugees but economic migrants.

So much for N-VA being soft on refugees.

Open VLD, meanwhile, struggles with the issue. Traditionally, the liberals believe in open borders and especially an open labour market. In recent interviews, however, party leader Gwendolyn Rutten stressed that migrants should “not only have rights but duties, too”. These duties include learning the language and finding employment.

Rutten has avoided joining the chorus of negative reactions to De Wever’s statements. This has led to some resentment in her own ranks, as well as a major gaffe: when comparing the current situation with Belgian refugees during the World Wars, she said that “the difference now is we do not know how long the conflict will last”.

Still, the liberal leader knows that a situation of one-against-the-rest works best for N-VA. No way will she grant them that much.

Photo courtesy VRT