In the past years, Belgium, like the rest of Europe, experienced an exceptionally high influx of asylum seekers and refugees. This sudden influx poses special challenges for both the host community and the refugees. A large proportion of the refugees initially end up in "arrival districts" in large cities with a superdiverse population, where all kinds of economic, religious and ethnic fault lines run straight through each other (Geldof 2015, Oosterlynck et al 2016, Saunders 2010). The incoming refugees themselves also include a particularly diverse group of people with higher and lower educational levels, religious communities (from Shiites to Evangelical Christians) and ethnicities (Kurds and Arabs in Syria, Pashtun and Tajik in Afghanistan and Tigrinya and Tiger in Eritrea). While many refugees first land in large cities, there are more and more who, sometimes only after some time, end up in smaller municipalities.
The question that arises is how these refugees look at living together with Belgians and people of other nationalities? Do they feel at home in the big city or in the small municipality, and do they seek contact with Belgians? Do they consider the city or the municipality as their new home, or as a temporary stop where they ended up without much choice? How do their first contacts with Belgians, other newcomers and second generation migrants go, and how do these contacts change over time? What role do networks play in building language learning, access to community life, education and the labor market? What tensions do they experience between the standards and values of their host country and those of their country of origin? How do these tensions change over time? What consequences does this have for the place where they want to live? Are there differences between living together in the big city and in small municipalities? And finally: what implications does this have for the different facets of the local and Flemish integration policy (integration, language, housing, education, work)?
We propose to study these questions on the basis of three aspects of living together in diversity, which focus on the specific situation of refugees: the development of social networks, symbolic border work (identity) and spatial experiences.