Like many western European cities, Antwerp, which is home to Belgium’s largest port and chemical cluster, is providing assistance to those fleeing the war in Ukraine. Erica Caluwaerts, who was appointed as the city’s vice mayor at the beginning of 2022, tells fDi about the need to provide job opportunities to help them integrate into local communities. 

Q: How is the city of Antwerp supporting Ukrainian refugees?

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A: I think the whole of Belgium reacted the same way: we have to help those people. For Antwerp itself, we have a social media campaign called #freespace to see if citizens have space to house refugees. We want to first make collective solutions for people, so they can stay together. A lot of people are traumatised, they had to run away from a very difficult situation.

We think the first solution is to keep them together, so they can also help each other. We will provide for schooling and housing. We think that they shall stay for a longer period and become part of the Antwerp community — we are looking forward to welcoming their talent, as well. 

I think the best way to immigrate into a community is to have a job. For me, having to speak a language is not that important. It is really important that they can find a space in Antwerp to live.  

The second part is the economy and what we are going to do with corporates and Ukrainian firms. We are considering a soft landing programme for companies that cannot stay in Ukraine anymore and could be located in western Europe.

This article first appeared in the April/May 2022 print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.