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Reception Policies for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Belgium: Dynamics in Decision Making

Federalism
Migration
Policy Analysis
Asylum
Decision Making
Public Opinion
Refugee
Elien Diels
University of Leuven
Annie Hondeghem
University of Leuven
Elien Diels
University of Leuven
Sarah De Coster
University of Leuven

Abstract

Asylum policies in Belgium are a competence of the federal government and the coordination of the reception network is the responsibility of Fedasil (the federal agency for the reception of asylum seekers). With the arrival of a huge number of asylum seekers during the refugee crisis of 2015, the reception network was put under pressure. New reception centers had to be opened in a short time as the objective of government was to guarantee a shelter to all asylum seekers. In the government declaration of 2014, priority was given to collective refugee centers as the assumption was that individual reception places would be regarded as an incentive for asylum seekers to come to Belgium. Although asylum policies in general and reception policies in particular are a responsibility of the federal government, other levels of governments are involved as well. The regions are responsible for integration policies together with local governments. Non-governmental organisations (such as Red Cross) also have an important role as most of the reception centers are exploited by these organisations. We can thus say that asylum policies is a typical example of multi-level and multi-actor governance (van Heffen et al, 2000). In this context the question is: how are decisions taken with regard to the opening and closing of reception places? The relation between the different actors can be conceived as a principal-agent relation (Van Thiel, 2016). The basic assumption of this theory is that “Principals hire agents because the latter are experts that have specific knowledge (assets) required for the job and therefore much better able to perform the work and do so at a more cost-efficient price” (Van Thiel, 2016: 69). The relation between the principal and the agent however is according to the theory characterized by goal incongruence and information asymmetry. In this context, the question is: Who is the main decision maker? How is the dynamic between the main actors? The paper is based on qualitative research done in the framework of the BELSPO-project ‘Public opinion, mobilisations and policies concerning asylum seekers and refugees in anti-immigrants times (Europe and Belgium), funded by the Belgian science policy. Policy documents have been analysed and interviews have been conducted with policy makers, administrators and representatives from civil society. The main conclusion of the research is that the decision making process regarding opening and closing of reception places is a very political process due to its political salience (Koop, 2011). Decisions are taken at the federal level, and the influence of local governments on the decision making process is limited. In our case studies we have found that local governments have been supportive towards the federal policies as they saw it as their responsibility to make a contribution in times of the refugee crisis of 2015. This is inconsistent with the basic assumption of principal agent theory on goal incongruence.