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Latest figures show an increasingly international Antwerp

© City of Antwerp
A group of recent arrivals celebrate their graduation from the city's integration course
© City of Antwerp

The population of Antwerp recently passed the threshold of 50% of people of a “migrant” background, meaning that more people in the city now are migrants or the descendants or migrants than not, according to figures from the Flemish government’s Stadsmonitor, or City Monitor. The 50.1%, however, is broad and all-encompassing. It includes not only people who themselves came from other countries, but also people born in Belgium with Belgian nationality, but parents who were migrants.

It also includes those we may typically think of as migrants, including refugees from places like Afghanistan and Syria, but also those who prefer to think of themselves as expats, for instance, a Dutch couple and their children, whether they were born here or not.

Those migrants from other European countries make up a large percentage of the migrant population. “Since the financial crisis, we’ve seen an influx of highly skilled Europeans,” Patrick Deboosere, professor of demographics at the Free University of Brussels (VUB) told De Morgen, “If for instance, you don’t have job opportunities in Spain, you go looking abroad.”

The largest number of migrants, however, comes from North Africa, in particular, Morocco, while the numbers are growing from Western Asia – places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

And the numbers are heavily influenced by the number of young people: while the population as a whole is just over 50% migrant, among children aged up to ten years, the proportion is three in four. Not only, Prof. Deboosere explained, because migrants tend to be young adults of family-raising age, but migrants as a whole tend to have more children.

Antwerp is not, incidentally, alone in having more migrants than natives. Brussels passed the halfway point years ago, according to Stijn Oosterlynck, urban sociologist at the University of Antwerp. “In Brussels, more than 75% of people have a migrant background. On that score, Brussels is one of the most diverse cities in the world.”

The bare figures, and the fact that some migrant populations, such as those from North Africa and Southern Europe, suffer disproportionally from poverty, means the city’s policy has to keep up with demographic trends, according to Tom Meeuws, socialist councillor for social affairs on the city council. “Anyone knows this city certainly saw this coming,” he told VRT Radio. “You see the whole world go by in Antwerp, and it’s time we learned to live with it.”

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times