Belgium city uses 'speed dating' to support newly arrived migrants

Belgium city uses 'speed dating' to support newly arrived migrants
The mayor of Belgian city, Mechelen, is pioneering a scheme that partners up migrants with a buddy to help them adjust to a new life in Europe.
2 min read
03 October, 2021
Bart Somers has been mayor of Mechelen since 2001 [source: Getty]

A "speed dating" buddy programme in the Belgian city of Mechelen has been used to support migrants and curb radicalisation by Islamic State groups, according to its Mayor Bart Somers, a local report said on Sunday.

The buddy programme partners up refugees with Belgian citizens to new arrivals adjust quickly to their new life. 

Its pioneer Somers is promoting the project as a model for other cities on how to support migrants and prevent destitution leading to European towns becoming fertile ground for extremist groups to recruit members. 

"It’s a beautiful thing," said the mayor to The Times.

"We have hundreds who've done it and it works, it helps to prevent segregation," he added.

Candidates are asked to fill out a questionnaire and then a "matchmaker" pairs up people based on the activities they want to do or help they can offer. 

"It's just like speed dating," said Somer. "The newcomers see three of four people and say, 'I like person A, but B and C I didn’t click with'."

In the past, buddies have helped migrants find jobs and get Covid-19 vaccines, as well as accompanying them on trips to other European cities. 

Mechelen is one of Belgium’s most diverse cities, with around 132 different nationalities and 30 percent of citizens from a migrant background. 

Few if any young immigrants left Mechelen to join Islamic State groups in Syria and Iraq in 2013 and 2014, according to The Times. 

"That has attracted a lot of attention," said Somers. 

The Flemish government approved a new policy on immigration last year that involves migrants being sponsored by a Flemish "buddy" after their arrival. 

The policy will take effect in January 2022.  Around 10,000 buddies are needed on the expanded programme. 

Belgium hosts over 60,000 refugees and more than 26,000 asylum seekers, the majority of which are Syrian, Palestinian and Afghans.