Brussels – Only 20 Kilometers separate the capital of Belgium, Brussels, which suffered from terrorism and extremism, and Mechelen city that succeeded in countering extremism to an extent that the city’s name was not mentioned in the arrests that preceded and followed last March bombings, thanks to the precautionary measures pursued by local authorities led by Mayor Bart Somers.
Somers, former minister-president of Flanders, was awarded the World Mayor Prize few days ago.
Somers, 52, became the first Belgian mayor to ever win the prestigious honor, beating 37 other international nominees to win.
The Mayor was keen on holding a simple event to celebrate this prize and on the sidelines of the event he said that this prize is not granted only for him but also for all the citizens in the city who worked together in countering threats, according to Belgian media.
Mechelen has shown Europe that people from many different countries and cultures can come together and be proud citizens.
Bart Somers believes that all people in Mechelen are unique and different. They have different dreams, do different jobs, lead different lives, but Mechelen is their home.
“I believe that true social cohesion is only possible if we prevent segregation,” Somers wrote in his nomination essay.
“That is a task for the government. The government should set an example and make it clear that we all need to integrate in diversity. It is not only up to the newcomer to adapt. Everyone has to adapt to the New Normal, to a diverse society. That is what we try to do in Mechelen.”
Residents of North African origin, who make up some 20% of the city’s 86,000 population are recognized and see themselves as full citizens of Mechelen.
Somers, who is also president of the Alliance for Liberals and Democrats for Europe group in the European Committee of the Regions, has emphasized that none of his city’s young Muslim men left to fight in Syria and Iraq.
The World Mayor Prize is awarded every two years by the independent City Mayors Foundation.
The 2016 prize, announced on 14 February 2017, recognizes mayors who have made an extra effort to provide immigrants with the facilities to contribute to their city’s society, economy and culture.