Diaspora Engagement - English


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Brief introduction

The International Organization of Migration defines diaspora as “migrants or descendants of migrants whose identity and sense of belonging have been shaped by their migration experience and background”. Through that shared sense of belonging, diasporas are connected and contribute to both their country of residence and country of origin. The most recognized contributions are remittances, but diaspora members also have a huge untapped potential in terms of humanitarian relief, promoting trade, investments, innovation and knowledge and technology transfers. Their expertise, commitment and cultural knowledge of their country of origin are only a few factors that make it essential for IOM to recognize, empower, mobilize and include diaspora as powerful development actors. With over 30 years of experience, IOM is aware of the importance to continue the engagement of diaspora communities with their countries of origin through its global 3E strategic approach.

3E explanation

Diaspora projects of IOM Belgium and Luxembourg

Click on the buttons to receive an overview.

Half of the Belgian population with a migration background has origins outside of Europe and consists mostly of Maghreb and sub-Saharan African descendants. Not only these impressive statistics, but also their expertise, commitment, knowledge and skills make it essential for IOM Belgium and Luxembourg to involve the diaspora communities in the project activities. IOM Belgium and Luxembourg is fully aware of the potential role that diasporas communities can play in bridging migration and development and in effecting durable change. Our Country Office will therefore continue to establish links and engage with the various diaspora communities in Belgium and Luxembourg through IOM’s 3E strategy. Moreover, diaspora engagement has been included as one of the main pillars of our Country Office's national strategy.

  • MIDA project (2001 - 2012). The Government of Belgium supported between 2001 and 2012 the implementation of the four phases of IOM’s Migration for Development (MIDA) project. The activities aimed to mobilize resources from African diaspora communities residing in Belgium for the sustainable development of the countries in the Great Lakes region (DRC, Rwanda, Burundi). Through the organization of missions, diaspora experts were engaged in transferring their competences and knowledge to institutions in their country of origin. The interventions took mainly place in the sectors of health, rural development and education and training. The MIDA project also supported the capacity building of national institutions and departments to strengthen their diaspora engagement activities. Take a look at IOM's MIDA Make a Move video here!
  • MEDMA project (2007, 2012 - 2015). The project “Mobilizing Moroccans Residing Abroad for Morocco” started with a study in 2007, which was carried out by IOM with the support of the Belgian Government. The project defines strategic objectives to support the social economy in the Northern region of Morocco through the promotion of the private sector, entrepreneurship and business creation by foreign Moroccans residing in Belgium. Based on these findings, a second phase was initiated (2012 – 2015) through which selected Moroccan diaspora members in Belgium were accompanied and guided in investing in sectors in Morocco, such as health, services, tourism and logistics. The project also supported the creation of mechanisms and tools to maximize the efficiency and impact of diaspora investments. Check out the flyer that was created in the context of the project here.
  • Rwandan diaspora mapping (2018). The Government of Rwanda is well aware of the potential of its diaspora in the economic development of Rwanda. To realize this full potential, the Government of Rwanda launched, together with the IOM missions in the respective countries, a mapping exercise of its diaspora in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom to better understand the conditions and factors necessary to engage diaspora in the country's development process. The mapping report is available here.
  • Women4Dev Academy (2018 - 2019). This project aimed to strengthen the role of African diaspora women's associations located in Belgium as effective agents in the development of their country of origin. Through a tailored capacity-building program, the 11 selected associations improved their skills on project cycle management, increasing communication and visibility, and financial management. For more info on the project, click here and have a look at the interviews below.
  • Engagement of Rwandan diaspora residing in Europe for the TVET and Health sector of Rwanda (2019 - 2022). The project aims to address the needs of the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector in Rwanda through the engagement of highly skilled diaspora members residing in Europe. Through Trainings of Trainers (ToT), the Rwandan diaspora men and women will build the capacity of TVET professors and students in priority courses of the Rwanda Polytechnic’s host institutions (IPRCs) across the country. The Rwandan diaspora professionals will also provide support (to the development of) start-ups, initiated together with and/or by the trained professors and students. With the support of the IOM Development Fund, the scope of the project was extended to also include the Rwandan health sector, by engaging highly skilled diaspora members residing in Belgium, Germany, UK, France and the Netherlands for capacity building and skills transfer activities to i.e. local medical practitioners. Read the project brief here.
  • Support to circular and temporary migration of Mauritanian diaspora. The EU-funded initiative, implemented by IOM Mauritania, aims to temporarily move 20 qualified diaspora members to support of capacity-building and skills development of public institutions in their country of origin. For more info about the outreach session organized in Brussels (June 2019) for Mauritanian diaspora, click here.
  • Engaging medical personnel of the Mauritanian diaspora for COVID-19 relief efforts. As part of the above mentioned project, IOM in coordination with WHO and the Mauritanian Ministry of Health, is looking for diaspora working in the medical sector who are willing to temporarily return to support COVID-19 response in Mauritania. More info for interested diaspora can be found in this document
  • Global Diaspora Virtual Exchange. The COVID-19 pandemic has a firm grip on the everyday lives of people across the world. The scale and devastating impact of this crisis calls for new levels of coordination and collaboration between various actors, such as governments and local communities. Diaspora groups are not only often the first to respond but their political, social, cultural and human capital coupled with their in-depth knowledge of the country, its norms and languages, put them in the ideal position for a more targeted and tailored response.
    The first Global Diaspora Exchange, organized by IOM and iDiaspora in coordination with large umbrella diaspora organizations, such as ADEPT, ADNE and Demac, brought together diaspora from all over the world to share experiences and best practices, bring attention to their valuable work and foster cross-community collaboration. The events took place in English (22nd of April), French (20th of May) and Spanish (10th of June) and their results can be found on the iDiaspora website.
    IOM Belgium and Luxembourg supported iDiaspora and IOM’s Diaspora Unit in the outreach to local diaspora organizations for their participation in this Global Exchange. The President of the Rwandese Diaspora Organization in Belgium also participated in the Exchange as a speaker and explained the Organization’s efforts in the COVID-19 relief in Rwanda.
  • Joint Statement in Solidarity with those Facing Xenophobia due to COVID-19 and Global Diaspora Coalition . Following the Global Diaspora Virtual Exchange two concrete actions took form. First of all, various diaspora organizations emphasized the need to address recent xenophobic acts directed towards refugees, migrants and diaspora who, due to misinformation and raising tensions, are scapegoated for the spread of COVID-19. More than 230 diaspora organizations signed the Joint Statement. Furthermore, the signatories and other interested organizations committed to continue their efforts in addressing the challenges arising the COVID-19 situation, by forming a Global Diaspora Coalition. IOM Belgium and Luxembourg is committed to provide ad-hoc support to the work of the Global Diaspora Coalition.

IOM Podcast: Diaspora Insights

"Diaspora Insights" is an IOM Belgium and Luxemburg podcast which aims to create a platform by and for the diaspora. The episodes will highlight the work of diaspora and will discuss key topics of interest. The podcasts intend to create a safe place where members of the diaspora can come together and express themselves freely and on the other hand it's an opportunity for non-diaspora members to get an inclusive insights on the activities of the diaspora.


Salomé Aïssatou Olivia


The Voices of Diaspora

Click on the buttons to read the stories of diaspora residing in Belgium.


In May 2019, we celebrated the end of the successful Women4Development Academy project, supported by IOM. During this project, the participating organizations were trained in project management, communication and visibility, and fundraising over the course of several weekends.

Picture PluriElles

© Marie-Pierre Nyatanyi, PluriElles

One year later, we interviewed Femmes PluriElles, one of the participating organizations, to talk about their activities and the impact of the project.

Thank you Ms. Nyatanyi for taking the time for this interview. Could you tell us a bit more about the projects of your organization, and especially those organized after the end of the Women4Development Academy project?

Since 2016, the activities of Femmes PluriElles revolve around the book "PluriElles, Women of the African Diaspora", which addresses themes such as sub-Saharan female migration to Belgium, stereotypes and prejudices against African and Afro-descendant women, and roles of women in the diaspora in host societies and in Africa. These themes have also served as the common thread for round tables, conferences, workshops and symposium that were organized by the platform and that took place across Belgium.

In March 2019, an "International Symposium on the Leadership of African and Afro-Descendant Women" was held at the premises of the Wallonie Bruxelles International. This led to recommendations that would serve as a basis for future actions by the platform. One of the recommendations, creating links and bridges with women living in Africa, was implemented via conferences that we organized in Guinea in May 2019 and in Senegal in November 2019. The planned conferences in Cameroon (March 2020) and in the Parliament of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation have been postponed due to the COVID-19 crisis.

At the invitation from the Center d'Action Laïque de Namur we also intervened during the opening of the exhibition of PluriElles portraits in March 2020. This brought us in touch with an audience interested in the theme but who are not used to attending our activities.

One of the key modules of the Women4Development Academy project focused on project cycle management and how to prepare proposals for submission. Since the end of the Academy, have you successfully submitted a project proposal to a donor?

One of the recommendations of the International Symposium was to concretely resolve certain problems encountered especially by young women entrepreneurs. We therefore successfully submitted a project to support young African or Afro-descendant girls with an entrepreneurial project or wishing to embark on entrepreneurship.

You have also received a visibility training. Is your association now more active on social networks and other communication channels?

The communication coaching allowed us to develop and improve our visibility on social networks through the choice of images and accompanying texts. We have also become aware of certain communication elements that we were missing (for example the website) and we are in contact with a web developer to remedy them. These corrections increased our audience and interest in the project and the platform.

What are the next steps for your association?

The next steps are to act concretely on the ground, whether in Belgium or in Africa, to provide technical and practical assistance to African and Afro-descendant women so that they are able to fully exercise their leadership and act as change agents.

© Marie-Pierre Nyatanyi, PluriElles

COVID-19 has impacted the work of many organizations around the world. We have also seen stories about diaspora members who decided to re-direct their activities towards COVID-19 relief efforts. How has COVID-19 influenced your activities?

The crisis has put our activities on the back burner but also gave us the opportunity to quickly set up a #Masquespourtous project. Confinement in Africa has deeply impacted the women who are often active in informal economy. They therefore had to face both the health crisis and an economic crisis due to the cessation of activities without financial compensation. We financed the local production of protective masks, which has enabled some women to benefit from income while providing masks to vulnerable populations. This was carried out in Cameroon, Guinea, Senegal, Zambia, Côte-d'Ivoire, the DRC and Mali and is expected to end in Swaziland.

What do you think of the Women4Development Academy project one year later?

The project was a great experience which allowed us to strengthen our capacities while putting us in touch with other associations of African women. The inter-generational dimension via the coaches was a winning bet by bringing together the experience of the elders and the knowledge newly acquired by the young coaches. As far as we are concerned, we put this dynamic into practice during the conference which was organized in March 2019: the various associations intervened either in the public or in the panels and the young coaches put their talents into practice both in organizing the event and by moderating panels or leading workshops.

Thank you Ms. Nyatanyi for your kind words! We wish PluriElles all the best.



Since 2018, IOM has been working closely with the Rwandan diaspora for the successful implementation of IOM projects. After a first mapping exercise in 2018, IOM is currently implementing a Rwandan diaspora engagement project. We were glad to meet Pierre Mugabo from the Youth department of the Rwandan Diaspora Association in Belgium (DRB Jeunesse) for an interview on their many activities, on COVID-19 and on their successful fundraiser for Rwanda.

Picture DRB jeunesse

© Pierre Mugabo, DRB Jeunesse

Thank you for taking the time to meet with us, Pierre. Could you explain the structure, work and objectives of DRB Jeunesse and your role?

DRB jeunesse is not an independent structure. It is a section within the DRB (the Rwandan diaspora association in Belgium), so that is why we depend on their objectives. Our organization has three principle objectives: the harmonious integration of our community within Belgium, supporting socio-economic projects that have an impact on Belgium and/or Rwanda and lastly, the fight against negationism with regards to the genocide perpetuated against the Tutsis. It is in this framework that we try to organize activities that will interest and mobilize young people. The structure of the DRB is similar to other non-profit organizations. It has a president, a vice-president, a secretary, a responsible officer for gender, a treasurer and a responsible officer for youth. But at the youth level, the structure is less formal. There is a federal committee to which I participate, but there are also various other sections in Belgium, 10 in total. For now, I am the responsible for the Rwandan diaspora youth, but I do not work alone. I work with a team of other young people under the form of a commission.

Where did the initiative to create DRB Jeunesse come from? 

The DRB in its current format was created in 2011, but the association already exists for more than 20 years. So, we have been mobilizing in Belgium for several years already. It is interesting to know that the Rwandan community in Belgium is the largest community outside of Rwanda. Despite the fact that there are so many of us, the youth has always been categorized as the most difficult to reach. In the beginning, the activities of the associations were mostly directed to adults. We rarely saw youngsters, even though we knew there are many. So, the question arose, “Who are these young people and how do we reach them?” We wanted to try to get to know them, to bring them together and to spark their interest in the Rwandan diaspora.  

Recently, we got to know about the big campaign organized by the Rwandan diaspora to help Rwanda in tackling the COVID pandemic. Why has the DRB Jeunesse decided to mobilize members of the Rwandan diaspora for COVID-19 relief efforts? How did the idea take shape?

We noticed that this was what the diaspora wanted. We received several messages on social media: Instagram, Twitter and Facebook). Various members of the diaspora asked us: “How can we help the most vulnerable people in Rwanda?”. In the beginning, we asked ourselves the same question and we knew it was our responsibility to create a tool that would allow the community to contribute and to help. The idea of a call for donations took form and in collaboration with the Embassy of Rwanda in Belgium we appealed to the diaspora to contribute any amount. It is a simple way to raise a maximum amount of money and to try to help the best way possible in the fight the country was waging. The idea came from the DRB committee, but it was the youth who took care of the communication. We had the idea of creating a video with a call for donations: a simple message that was accessible to as many people as possible. 

What were the concrete results of this campaign and how will this help the COVID-19 relief efforts in Rwanda?

We started the campaign around April 14th, if I remember correctly. That is the day when the flyers and the video were posted. A month and a week after its launch, we stopped the campaign because we wanted to send the money as soon as possible. We were able to collect more than 40,000 euros, which we sent to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning in Rwanda. The collection campaign had as objective to help the most vulnerable and we had confidence in the Rwandan government to use the donations optimally.


€ 40.000 is a lot of money, congratulations! How did you raise so much money in such a short time? Could this be because of your communication strategy?

There are two factors that have really played a role. First, there is the community's willingness to give. We were in a situation we have never encountered before. I think that created a sense of strong solidarity that was translated in concrete actions. I really want to highlight this: without the will of the diaspora, it would not have been possible, they wanted to give. At the same time, it would not have been possible without a good communication strategy. The sharing of information was important to mobilize interested people. There were people who did not know our activities and who still contributed. Even people who do not have Rwandan origins asked us if they could contribute. And of course, our response was positive: even if the organization is in the hands of the diaspora, contributing is open to everyone.

Has COVID-19 also had an impact on the activities of the DRB Jeunesse?

Yes, a lot unfortunately. We had just started a project called Rwanda Youth Club, which was actually an afterwork. We started at the end of 2019 and we had organized our second edition in February. It was really something that was working well. The idea was to have one every three months. With COVID, it is almost impossible to organize physical meetings, so this really affected us.

How do you see the future for the projects and activities of DRB Jeunesse?

What we will try to do now is to adapt to the situation. At the start, we wanted to wait until the end of the pandemic, but we realize that in 2021 masks would still be compulsory. You have to act smart and just adapt to the situation. Now we are really going to put a lot of effort into the digital world. Because before, using digital means was simply for communication and sharing our activities. Before the pandemic, we counted on the physical presence, like our afterwork. We will try to be very present on social media and offer digital content that can mobilize and bring together the diaspora. At the level of the DRB Jeunesse, we will also aim to increase representativeness, for example by linking a young person, like me, to another Rwandan who is a lawyer or a minister and wants to share his/her experience and journey. In fact, this is what we did at the Rwanda Youth Club : we invited young professionals who have a good career and we gave them a platform where they can share their journey and their difficulties and inspire other young people in the diaspora. But also to show who is part of our community, so that we can offer them our support. So, this is the double objective that we are going to try to digitize. 

Thank you, Pierre, for your time. We wish you and the young Rwandan diaspora the best of luck with your future projects! 

Thank you, Salomé, for making the time to meet with us. Can you tell us about yourself?

Thanks for having me! I am 26 years old, I was born and raised in Brussels and I recently graduated with a master in African studies. I have also been working on and off for the past two years in the Africa Museum in Tervuren. During my studies I did a research about the neighborhood Matonge and its link to the Congolese migration. My parents migrated in the 90s, like a lot of Congolese, due to political and economic instability that occurred during the Mobutu- epoch.

African studies seem interesting! Can you maybe explain us what the Diaspora is and what it means to you?

The diaspora consists of people who migrated to foreign countries and where they formed a community to have a sense of belonging. It also consists of second and third generation of migration. For me, the diaspora is important to keep a bond with the country of origin without necessarily visiting. It is also vital for me to construct my cultural identity, it is a reminder of where my roots are from. The diaspora is also a way to make contact with other people who are in similar situations. To tackle the mainstream ideas on diasporas, it is important to connect with other members and to create my own vision, and own perspective of people like me.

Picture Salomé

© Salomé Ysebaert

Can you explain us the roots of the Congolese diaspora in Belgium?

The Congolese migration started in 1908, when the Belgian State took over the colonial rule under pressure from the international community after the red rubber scandal that tainted Leopold II’s power”. By the 1950s, the limited amount of Congolese who came to Europe mostly consisted revolutionaries, students and servants. But of course, we cannot forget the world expositions of 1958; where several colonial powers decided to exhibit Congolese people to show Belgians how they lived so they also build replicas of the villages. So Congolese people were used to entertain Belgians. In 1879, 267 Congolese were exhibit but unfortunately 7 have died due to the cold temperature as they were forced to sleep outside. Those 7 bodies were never repatriated to the Democratic Republic of Congo, but they were buried near the church of Tervuren. Before the independence of the DRC, the Congolese that came in Belgium were of short-term stays: for work or study purposes. So, to sum up, the real migration of Congolese to Belgium is that of a postcolonial migration.

What does Matonge mean for the Congolese Diaspora?

Matonge is a neighborhood in the municipality Ixelles in Brussels that stretches from the ‘Chaussée Wavre’ to the ‘Chaussée Ixelles’. It is not far from the Royal Palace, the European district and the ‘Avenue Louise’. It is meeting point for the Congolese diaspora, it not necessarily where they live but where they meet up, have a drink, do their groceries and so on. There is also a Matonge in Kinshasa, this really shows the bond between Congo and Belgium.

What is the history of Matonge?

The history of Matonge cannot be detached from the history of the Congolese migration, because the first Congolese that arrived after the independence of Congo sought to live near or in Matonge. For different reasons: it is not far from the Université Libre de Bruxelles, near the Congolese Embassy and Luxury stores. The first wave of Congolese migrants were diplomats or of higher status that fled Congo for political reasons.

Why do you think it is important to discuss about the diaspora?

Well first of all, for historical purposes. Because it has a direct link with the colonization of the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is no coincidence that the Congolese migrated in Belgium from all places. It is a new generation that has been dismissed for too long, while there is so much talent in the Congolese diaspora. We have people who have higher education, artists, and musicians. But even after being in Belgium for over 50 years, the Congolese diaspora still face a lot of racism, lower chances to be able to rent a house, to find a job and are victim of colonial prejudice.

Thank you Salomé for this interesting talk! We wish you all the best!


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