Belgian marriage-immigration

A recent study was published by Antwerp University about Moroccan family-unification. The study is titled "Aspects of Moroccan marriage-immigration and Moroccan family law". I had written about it briefly, but since then I have read through the study and found a few interesting points.

In the 1960's and 1970's when many immigrants came from Morocco (among others) to work in Belgium, it was quite obvious why migrants needed to go back to their homeland in order to find a suitable bride. The Moroccan community in Belgium was composed mainly of young men, and the choice was either to marry a Belgian woman or to go back home.

A reasonable expectation was that such marriages would become rarer as the community grew. However, the exact opposite happened. Marriages with a Moroccan mate went from 41.4% in 1979 to 65.4% in 2003.

The study brings up another trend, which is conflicting in a way with the previous one: the percent of such marriages among second-generation Morrocan-Belgians is slightly lower than by middle-generation. The "second generation" is defined as those who got to Belgium before the age of 7 while "middle generation" is defined as those who moved during the school years (7-17). Since there are many in the second generation who have not yet married, it is really impossible to tell whether the trend will continue or not.

What brings people to marry somebody from their homeland? For one, they tend to think they're marrying somebody from the same community, not realizing that people who grew up in a Western country and people who grew up in Morocco have a very different view of life.

Among boys there was a wish to marry a more traditional women, seeing the Moroccan-Belgian girls as too "free". Among girls there was a quite contrasting wish - it seems Moroccan boys have a bad reputation inside their own community. The girls are looking for somebody who has an education and a job.

Marriage in the Moroccan community is still very traditional, with the girl "moving" into her husband's family sphere. And so, by marrying somebody from Morocco those girls are ensuring that their husband's family will not get involved in their life. As the "local" spouse their husband will also be quite dependent on them.

From the immigrant spouse side, the expectations are quite different. The girls expect to move to a country where they will be ensured freedom. Freedom to advance a career, freedom to learn. Reality doesn't always live up to that. The boys expect to come to a "promised land" as well, but instead they face high bills and pressure to get immediately to work. Traditionally the man pays dowry to the bride's family and for a European bride, the price is quite high. Additionally the new husband needs to pay for the trip and for setting up the new family. He usually doesn't have the luxury of learning the language and as the spouse of a Belgian, he is not obligated to go through an integration course (though I understand the law is about to change).

Many European Moroccans spend their summers in Morocco. Many of the worker-immigrants saved everything they had in order to build up splendid homes in Morocco. From the Moroccan side this just enhances the expectations that Belgium and Europe are indeed the promised land. If these immigrants can build up such houses as summer homes they must have castles in Europe. It causes a big let-down when they discover in what squalor many immigrants live in Europe.

There are many expectations on every side, and with the immigrant spouse being completely dependent on their new European spouse and family for almost everything, as well as for their very stay in Europe, it brings up a lot of conflicts and a lot of problems.

The study also brought up the issue of rampant drug use in the Moroccan community in Belgium. The drugs are grown in Morocco and transported to Belgium. Currently the community is simply ignoring the problem.

There were a few questions left open from the study. Some marriage migrants are/were very young. Does Belgium allow such immigration when the bride is below the legal age in Belgium?

There was one chapter devoted to problems in such marriages which consisted of interviews with women who had left them (both from the Belgian and Moroccan side). The study stressed how hard it was to interview these women due the close monitoring by their community.

If marriage migrants divorce their spouse before receiving a permanent residence permit, they have to go back home. However, among the women interviewed, none wished to go back. Going back to Morocco after being divorced simply meant they will never get to marry again. Instead, they stay in Belgium illegally, hoping that sooner or later there will be an amnesty for illegals.

The study brings up an interesting point here: on the one hand the Belgian gov't declares that illegals will be expelled and works towards that end. On the other, it financially supports organizations which help out illegals.

See also: Belgium: Moroccans choose mates from Morocco , Study homepage (Dutch)

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