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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
07BRUSSELS1087 2007-03-30 10:48:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Brussels
Cable title:  

BARRIERS TO INTEGRATION: BELGIAN MUSLIMS FACE MULTIPLE CHALLENGES

Tags:   SOCI SMIG ECON KISL KPAO BE 
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VZCZCXRO0435
RR RUEHAG RUEHDF RUEHIK RUEHLZ RUEHROV
DE RUEHBS #1087/01 0891048
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 301048Z MAR 07 ZDK CTG MULTI REQUESTS
FM AMEMBASSY BRUSSELS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4948
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA 0575
RUEHRB/AMEMBASSY RABAT 2342
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
					  UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 BRUSSELS 001087 

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SOCI SMIG ECON KISL KPAO BE

SUBJECT: BARRIERS TO INTEGRATION: BELGIAN MUSLIMS FACE MULTIPLE CHALLENGES


REF: 04 BRUSSELS 2008



1. (U) SUMMARY: More than half of Belgium's immigrants from
Morocco and Turkey (nearly all of whom are Muslim) live below
the Belgian poverty line, defined as 777 euros (approximately
$1,000) or less, per household, per month. This finding is
from "Poverty in the Migrant Population," the first part of
an academic research project released in October 2006. The
final project, with joint research by two leading Belgian
universities, is scheduled for publication in October 2007.
The following is based on discussions with study authors,
plus a variety of other sources. END SUMMARY

REPORT FOCUSES ON LEGAL IMMIGRANTS, OVER GENERATIONS


--------------------------



--------------------------




2. (U) "Poverty in the Migrant Population" compares the
economic conditions of native-born Belgians with those of
different immigrant groups living in Belgium. The aim of the
academic study, a first of its kind in Belgium, is to examine
the links between immigration and poverty. The project is
financed by the King Baudouin Foundation, an independent
organization funded with proceeds from the Belgian National
Lottery and other sources. Jointly researched by two leading
Belgian universities, the Dutch-speaking University of
Antwerp and the French-speaking University of Liege, the
project examines various indicators of social well-being,
including employment, education, housing, and health. The
study focused on Moroccans and Turks because these groups are
the largest Muslim groups in Belgium and have been in Belgium
for three or four generations. Clandestine and illegal
immigrants are excluded from the analysis. The first part of
the report, released in October 2006, provides figures about
the economic conditions of immigrant communities in Belgium;
complete results will be released in October 2007.

WHO IS A BELGIAN?


--------------------------




3. (U) For purposes of this report, a "Belgian" is defined
as a Belgian citizen born of Belgian parents. A "naturalized
Belgian" refers to someone who acquired Belgian citizenship
after birth, often through marriage or legal immigration.
People belonging to this latter group may refer to themselves
as "Belgian of (country of birth)-origin." First-generation
immigrants were born outside of Belgium. Second-generation
immigrants are the offspring born in Belgium of
first-generation immigrants. Dual nationality complicates
the statistics.

BRIEF HISTORY: MUSLIM IMMIGRANTS INVITED AS GUEST WORKERS


--------------------------



--------------------------




4. (U) Following World War II, the government of Belgium
(GOB) invited foreign laborers on a temporary basis through a
series of bilateral agreements, first with neighboring
European countries, and then with more distant countries.
The first accord was with Italy in 1946. The initial wave of
immigrants came to work primarily in the mining sector in the
French-speaking region of Wallonia in southern Belgium.
Agreements with Spain (1956) and Greece (1957) followed. In
1964, Belgium signed bilateral accords with Morocco and
Turkey, opening the way for an expanding immigrant influx for
the next indtemporary workers had decided to stay in Belgium permanently
and sought o have thacted legislation i 1974 to
facilitate immigration linked to "fa-ily reunification."
Today this program constitutes the main source of legal
immigration to Blgium.
y easier. A 1984 law granted full Belgian
citizenship to children as long as at least one parent was
Belgian. A 1991 law granted Belgian citizenship to children
in the third generation of immigrants. In 2000 Belgium
implemented new legislation that streamlined and eased
acquisition of Belgian citizenship. All those born in

BRUSSELS 00001087 002 OF 004



7. (U) As of January 1, 2005, native-born and naturalized
Belgians numbered 9,574,990 -- or 91 percent of the Belgian
population. The total number of foreigners legally residing
in Belgium numbered 870,862. Of the foreigners, 591,404 come
from within the EU and 279,458 from non-EU countries. Italy,
with 179,015, is the largest source-country overall for
immigrants. Of those from non-EU countries, 81,279 are
Moroccan and 39,885 are Turkish, the two largest groups.
(NOTE: Estimates of persons of Moroccan descent range from
300,000 up to 700,000 when legal and illegal immigrants,
naturalized Belgians, and third generation immigrants are
included. In addition, the number of refugees from Muslim
countries resident in Belgium was estimated at 7,000 in 2004.
END NOTE.)



8. (SBU) Belgium's Muslim population is diverse, comprising
Northern and sub-Saharan Africans, Middle Easterners,
European converts, and others. While it is illegal to
collect official data on race and religion in Belgium,
informed estimates do exist, including some from officials in
the Belgian Muslim community. The most reliable figures put
the Muslim population at about half a million, or nearly five
percent of Belgium's total of 10.6 million people. The
greatest concentration of Muslims is in Belgium's capital,
Brussels, with significant numbers also living in the
industrial areas of Wallonia. Nearly one in five residents
of Brussels is of Muslim origin. Brussels is home to nearly
40 percent of Belgium's Muslims, concentrated primarily in
the neighborhoods (communes) of Schaerbeek, Molenbeek, and
Brussels-City. Thirty-five percent of Moroccans and Turks in
Brussels are under 18, and 25 percent of Brussels' total
under-20 population is of Moroccan descent. Higher birth
rates, continuing immigration, and religious conversion
ensure that Belgium's Muslim population will continue to grow
during the coming decades. Half of Belgium's Moroccan
community lives in Brussels, with other communities in
Antwerp, Liege, and the former coal-mining areas of Hainaut,
Charleroi, and Limburg. Half of the Turkish community lives
in Flanders, with the largest concentration in Ghent.

ISLAM IN BELGIUM, AND THE MUSLIM EXECUTIVE


--------------------------




9. (U) There are an estimated 380 mosques in Belgium. After
Catholicism, Islam is the second-most practiced religion in
Belgium, and the fastest growing. The GOB officially
recognizes six religions, including, since 1974, Islam.
Official recognition has numerous advantages including the
payment of religious leaders' salaries and construction and
maintenance of religious buildings. 850 primary and
secondary schools have Islamic religious education courses,
which reach about 30,000 students, funded by the Belgian
state.



10. (SBU) While not overtly fractious, the Muslim community
in Belgium remains diverse enough to defy simplistic
characterization. Because of a perceived lack of
organization and focus within the community, the Belgian
government created the Muslim Executive Council (MEC) in 1998
with which to establish an official liaison relationship such
as it had with other religious groups.



11. (SBU) In theory, the MEC represents the entire Muslim
community of Belgium and serves as an official mediator
between the GOB and Belgian Muslims. Coskun Beyazgul,
Belgian-born of Turkish immigrants, was elected in October
2005 as the President of the 68-member assembly, governed by
a 17-member executive. Like assembly members, his term is
for five years. The 17 members of the current executive
include eight Turks, six Moroccans, two Pakistanis, and one
Albanian. The MEC decided that the composition of the
executive should include approximately equal numbers from
both French and Flemish language communities.



12. (SBU) Not all Muslims agree on the organization's role
as the official representative of the Belgian Muslim
community with the Belgian government. Some Moroccan leaders
boycotted the organization's October 2005 elections in
protest over equitable representation and concerns about the
suitability of some of the elected leaders. Further, the GOB

BRUSSELS 00001087 003 OF 004


"screened out" a handful of potential candidates for the 2005
MEC elections for security reasons, and various officials
have been investigated over the years. Finally, some mosques
prefer a more independent status, distancing themselves from
the benefits and scrutiny that accompany official GOB
recognition.

HIGH UNEMPLOYMENT, COMPOUNDED BY DISCRIMINATION


--------------------------

--


13. (U) Labor participation (or employment) rates of the
population aged 15-64 years old in Belgium demonstrate
striking differences. The study examined employment rates
for men and women in five categories:

--Belgians
Men: 69 percent
Women: 54 percent
Total: 61 percent

--Naturalized Belgians
Men: 61 percent
Women: 42 percent
Total: 51 percent

--EU-15
Men: 67 percent
Women: 45 percent
Total: 56 percent

--EU beyond the EU-15 core members
Men: 50 percent
Women: 28 percent
Total: 38 percent

--Moroccans/Turks
Men: 41 percent
Women: 11 percent
Total: 26 percent



14. (SBU) With just one in four Moroccans and Turks of
working age employed in Belgium, this group has a
disproportionately higher rate of unemployment than any other
category. The study opines that the very low employment
among women may be explained by family structure, limited
education levels, and a lack of fluency in French or Dutch,
the two primary languages spoken in
Belgium.



15. (SBU) In addition to low skill levels and insufficient
mastery of host-country languages, non-Belgians (especially
Muslims) often encounter discrimination in the job market.
In May 2005, a French-language Belgian economic weekly,
Trends Tendances, surveyed more than 500 administrators and
human resources directors from a range of Belgian companies.
Some of the key findings include:

--Nearly 80 percent agreed that immigrants experience
Discrimination in the workplace.

--58 percent favored banning the wearing of a veil in the
workplace.

--Although 70 percent of the surveyed businesses said they
employ immigrants, foreign laborers tend to be hired for
basic menial tasks.

--All other factors being equal, nearly half of employers
said they prefer to hire a person of European origin.

--Companies were asked to list factors that contribute to
discrimination in the work place. Nearly 50 percent of
companies identified "being of Muslim origin" as the number
one reason for discrimination in the hiring process. Other
reasons include: foreign origin, lack of university
education, age, sex, and being a union member. Although some
level-the-playing-field measures have been considered (such
as the "anonymous C.V."--a curriculum vitae without photo or
name), discrimination in the workplace remains a problem. In
an ongoing effort to address the situation, the Belgian House
of Representatives discussed anti-discrimination measures in
early 2007.

LOWER LEVELS OF EDUCATION AMONG IMMIGRANT POPULATION


--------------------------



--------------------------




16. (U) The survey found that the risk of poverty increases
for those with lower levels of education and training. In
comparison with Belgians, those of Moroccan or Turkish origin
are more than twice as likely to have completed only a

BRUSSELS 00001087 004 OF 004


primary school education: just 30 percent of Moroccans and 63
percent of Turks have attended classes beyond age 12.
Further, Moroccans and Turks are four times as likely not to
have studied at the university level. Twenty-eight percent
of Moroccans and Turks have not attended university, compared
to six percent of Belgians who have not. A recent study in
Flanders found that 71 percent of Flemish girls begin higher
education after high school, compared to less than 20 percent
of girls from Turkish or Moroccan backgrounds. Even fewer
boys from immigrant communities undertook a university
education. The survey found that poor reading levels were
equally found in both first and second generation students
and second generation students. Thus, immigrants whose
entire academic studies have taken place in Belgium do not
necessarily have higher levels of educational achievement,
such as better reading levels or graduation rates.

HOUSING


--------------------------




17. (U) According to the study, the r
Belgium is two times @nts, compars for receiving medical care or (ospitalization.


ON THE MARGINS OF SOCIETY


--------------------------




19. (SBU) The quanttative portion of the study concludes
that alQ non-Belgians, but especially Moroccan and TQrkish
immigrants, are increasingly on the margins of economic
viability in Belgium. The stuy has important implications
for the demograpics of Belgian society and, by extension,
itspolitical voice. The second part of the stuQy, set for
release in October 2007, will examine how socioeconomic
conditions convey down successive generations of immigrants.

POLITICALLY FOREIGNERS, INCLUDING MUSLIMS, PARTICIPATING MORE


--------------------------



--------------------------




20. (U) Perhaps to improve their circumstances, the extended
Muslim community in Belgium is exhibiting better organization
and cooperation. This has empowered the community, enabling
Belgian Muslims to make inroads into Belgium's political
landscape. In the 1994 municipal elections in Brussels, of
the 653 council members in the 19 communes that comprise the
capital region, just 13 council members of non-EU origin were
elected. By 2000, this number had increased to 89 council
members of non-EU origin; 72 were Moroccan. Immigrants
scored further gains in the October 2006 local elections. In
the 19 Brussels communes, the increase was striking: 145 of
653 places went to representatives of foreign origin,
including Moroccan, Turkish, and Congolese, among others.
All but two of the nineteen Brussels communes now have at
least one elected official of foreign origin. In the fifteen
biggest Flemish cities, the number of foreign origin elected
officials more than doubled from 16 to 40.
IMBRIE