In the municipality Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, there are more than 100 different nationalities. With its industrial past, Molenbeek has always had a diverse range of nationalities who have moved there since the 1800s. Today, the phenomenon is alive and well.
In figures registered by Statbel, 27,653 out of 98,112 inhabitants have a non-Belgian nationality, which amounts to 28.2% of total inhabitants.
Over one hundred nationalities are present today in the Brussels municipality, and include people from Morocco, Italy, Russia, Syria, the United States, Ecuador, Luxembourg, Thailand and many more.
However, Molenbeek is not the municipality with the largest non-Belgian population. Ixelles, for example, has more than 108 nationalities (42% of its population).
In Antwerp, more than half of the inhabitants are of non-Belgian origin.
Racism against Molenbeek
Flemish Socialist leader Connor Rousseau recently pointed out how Molenbeek “does not feel like Belgium” to him, saying that people "cannot excel at school or get all the opportunities in the job market if they do not speak the official language."
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Rousseau claims that due to a teacher shortage, there are people teaching in Arabic because they don’t speak French. However, there is no evidence of this happening in Brussels schools.
Rousseau received a lot of criticism for his comments about Molenbeek. “There is a territorial stigma around Molenbeek which is linked to the terrorist attacks in 2015,” Mathieu Berger, a Sociologist at the UCLouvain told La Derrière Heure.
“There are certainly problems in Molenbeek, but through this image, Connor Rousseau reached the average Flemish person that is rather fearful of Brussels."
Molenbeek used to be the industrial heartland of Brussels, being once dubbed 'the little Belgian Manchester'. Today, much of the industry and jobs have deserted the area, and is now one of the poorest municipalities in the country.