Reclaiming the future? A critical analysis of innovative forms of shelter and support for illegalized migrants.

01 September 2021 → Ongoing
Regional and community funding: Special Research Fund
Research disciplines
  • Social sciences
    • Political and legal anthropology
    • Social and cultural anthropology
    • Political sociology
    • Radical and critical sociology, feminist studies
    • Social policy
    • Social movements and collective action
    • Counselling, welfare and community services
    • Human rights law
    • Law not elsewhere classified
    • Immigration
    • Citizenship
    • Local and urban politics
migration migration governance social work solidarity undocumented migrants
Project description

Migrants without legal residence status often find themselves in situation with little prospect to structural inclusion. They have limited access to work, education and health care, and they risk being arrested and deported. Many nonetheless have resided for a long time in Belgium, where they have built up their lives and contributed to the informal economy. Social workers often cannot do much more than provide ad hoc support, without prospects for structural solutions. And even though migrants without legal residence status have mobilized themselves in several strong social movements, they too have not been able to induce policy changes.  

The last few years some changes seem underway. In several European countries, civic associations and NGOs have induced their municipal governments to provide shelter to migrants without residence documents. This shelter is often coupled to intensive legal and psychosocial support. The aim and approaches strongly vary: some initiatives emphasize voluntary return, whereas others invest more in re-examining legal residence applications. In Belgium too, this form of support is gaining popularity, under names such as ‘BBB+’ (Bed, Bath, Bread and Support) and ‘Future Orientation’. In this sense, State Secretary of Asylum and Migration Sami Mahdi announced to launch different pilot projects in his first policy note.

There is only scant scientific evidence on how these initiatives work, and what their impact can be. This project therefore examines how and to what extent these BBB+ initiatives contribute to the structural social inclusion of migrants without legal residence documents. We seek answers to 4 research questions: 3 of which are tied to specific scientific disciplines, and 1 of which transversally cuts aross these disciplines. 

  • Drawing on social work literature, we examine the support these initiatives offer. We map the current practices: which kind of support do different actors offer, which methods do they use, and how do they work together. We also examine whether and how this support leads to an improved life situation of migrants without residence documents, and to what degree this fits with their aspirations.
  • Drawing on legal studies, we document the legal processes that leads migrants to reside in Belgium without legal residence documents, and we explore how initiatives can address this. We focus particularly on avoidable legal trajectories: migrants who receive residence documents after a long period, and situations in which complex administrative procedures of flawed forms of sociolegal support pushed migrants into illegal residence.
  • Drawing on political sciences and social work, we analyse whether and how these initiatives contribute to social change on the level of (local, regional and national) policies on the one hand, and public opinion on the other. To what extent do they counter dominant discourses on migrants without legal residence status? And if so: how do they do so? And do they succeed?
  • To these disciplinary research questions we add a transversal question: how in/exclusive are these initiatives? Who has (no) access to the shelter and support they offer? And what do the different actors involved understand by ‘structural solutions’?