Some 45,000 Brussels residents left capital in 2021

Some 45,000 Brussels residents left capital in 2021
Credit: Ugo Realfonzo / The Brussels Times

Last year, some 45,000 Brussels residents left the capital, part of a larger exodus of Belgians towards the regions motivated by the difficult housing market and a desire for green spaces, Jean-Pierre Hermia, demographer at the Brussels Institute for Statistics and Analysis (IBSA) told Belgian broadcaster RTBF.

Last year was a record year for departures from the capital. Some 28,000 residents moved to Flanders, and another 17,000 to Wallonia.

Some estimates, such as those published by CIB Flanders, using data from FPS Home Affairs, say that this figure is lower -- with around 24,000 Brussels residents moving to Flanders, and only 68,490 people moving between Belgium's regions in total.

While there are yet to be any causal links, Hermia believes that this might be a delayed response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“In 2020…there hadn’t been an increase (in departures) so probably it was adieu to the fact that there were a number of postponed moves, because estate agencies had been closed during the first lockdown,” Hermia reasoned.

The Brussels exodus increased by around 10% last year. In recent years, there has been a steady flow of Belgians leaving the capital. The 2022 results, which are awaiting to be published by the IBSA, may further confirm this trend.

According to the expert, most Brussels residents who leave the capital tend to relocate to provinces immediately surrounding Brussels, which is why more people ultimately travel to Flanders. “Particularly Flemish Brabant,” he notes, “and a fortiori all the municipalities that surround the Brussels-Capital region.”

New dynamics have recently been noted by the demographer. Besides Flemish Brabant, there has been a surge in relocations to the Dender valley area, as well as Walloon Brabant, northern Hainaut, the province of Namur, and east Flanders.

Brussels still a young and international city

The capital still attracts a considerable amount of internal relocation. Last year, 24,000 people already resident in Belgium moved to the capital, including 10,500 people from Flanders and 13,000 from Wallonia. Hermia noted, however, that the age between those leaving and entering the capital tended to be different.

“We notice that the people who arrive are notably proportionally more young adults in their development phase, parental emancipation, therefore between 18 and 25 years old,” he said.

While Hernia’s statistics would suggest an annual decrease in Brussels’ population, in fact, the opposite is true. According to Statbel, Belgium's official statistics service, population growth was 0.22%. Both Statbel and the IBSA credit this growth to international migration. In 2021, some 16,965 new migrants came to the capital.

“Brussels is losing inhabitants compared to the other two regions, but it is gaining inhabitants in two other demographic areas. On the one hand, international migration…And something quite remarkable in Belgium is that there are many more births in Brussels than deaths, which is not necessarily the case in the other two regions of the country,” Hermia said.

Compared to other regions of Belgium, Brussels has a much younger population. For the last 20 years, Hermia says, “there have been many more births than deaths in Brussels.”

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Statbel says that there were 16,854 births in the capital in 2021, compared to 8,849 deaths. This trend may eventually reverse, as the number of births has fallen for the past three years.

One thing that is clear, is that Brussels is becoming even more international. The international migration balance to the Brussels-Capital region is positive, with some 16,965 more foreign nationals calling Brussels their home last year.

“The proportion of people who do not have Belgian nationality is increasing in the Brussels-Capital region, that’s for sure. But studies have been able to show in recent years that people of foreign nationality also…settle outside of the Brussels-Capital region,” the expert concluded.

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