In 2012 giantess Fatima makes her entry along with many other new giants in the Giants’ parade in Borgerhout | Bert Stephani

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The World in Flanders

Every year in the fourth week of September the giants of Borgerhout parade, surrounded by musicians and floats. Besides the four traditional figures nowadays the procession also accommodates new giants with various cultural backgrounds.

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The procession of the giants of Borgerhout dates back to 1712. Then Giant, Giantess, Kinnebaba and Dolphin appeared as fixed characters in an annual parade through the streets. The tradition survived the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century because the French fitted the giants into the Republican festivities, but two hundred years later interest declined because of the unravelling of community life. By the end of the 20th century the event had lost all dynamism. The turning point came with the 300th anniversary in 2012. At that point various associations and ethnic-cultural communities joined the event with their own giants. The parade revived. In 2021 the Little Giants of Borgerhout welcomed Little Amal, a giant doll representing a Syrian refugee girl.

Klein Kasteeltje.

Ghent, Amsab-ISG, Philippe Dijkmans

Sinterklaas party for children in the Klein Kasteeltje in Brussels, 9 December 1989. The Klein Kasteeltje, a 19th-century army barracks, was after the Second World War the first acquaintance of many thousands of Belgians with military service. Since 1986 the Klein Kasteeltje has been a reception centre for refugees, making it both the largest and oldest reception centre in Belgium.

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The world in Flanders

Peoples seldom form homogenous, closed communities. Their composition changes through mutual trading contacts and migration. Likewise, the low-lying areas on the North Sea were never an isolated piece of ground.

In the 19th century the population of Europe increased sharply. Until after the First World War Belgium was mainly an emigration country. More Belgians went abroad than foreigners arrived; Flanders particularly was an emigration region. After the Second World War, as result of economic growth, there was a need for labour. From 1945 to 1975 organised labour migration brought tens of thousands of migrants, mainly from countries around the Mediterranean, to our shores. Afterwards too the migration dynamic continued through family reunification, the free movement of people in a united Europe, international study programmes, refugees and people in search of a better existence.

Today Flanders is a super-diverse region. About one quarter of the 6,700,000 inhabitants of the Flemish Region has a foreign nationality or a migration background. For the whole of Belgium the figure is one third. Twenty percent of that group in Flanders originate from neighbouring countries, something over half come from countries outside the European Union. As a result of postwar labour migration many inhabitants have Italian, Moroccan or Turkish roots. In addition, Flanders has people originating from the almost 200 states in the world. In the big cities the diversity of the population has been apparent for much longer; meanwhile more and more people with a migration background are settling in rural municipalities.

Focal points

Vreemde biechtvader.

Eisden, Stichting Erfgoed Eisden, Robert Szostek

Confessing in a foreign language. Wooden board with sliding strips and an indication of the languages of the available confessors in the mining estate of Eisden, from 1923 in the North Church and since 1936 in the Sint-Barbarakerk.

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Globalisation and Interconnectedness

The history of mankind has always been to a large extent determined by trade, cultural exchange and migration, but since the 16th century globalisation – the worldwide integration of economic, political and cultural processes – has gained ever more momentum. New means of transport and communication played a decisive role.

For a long time the West was the engine of globalisation, European countries colonised large parts of the world. That led to slavery, exploitation and large-scale theft of local raw materials, from which European industry profited. After the Second World War the colonised areas won their independence, but today we are still struggling with that painful past. The economic scales are still tipped in favour of the West, which imports consumer goods, partly produced through modern slavery, child labour and contaminating production processes.

At the same time Western countries are feeling the results of globalisation. After 1945 they sought new international cooperation pacts to prevent new wars but also to safeguard their world position, firstly against the Communist Soviet Union and its allies, and later against up-and-coming powers like China and India. Meanwhile European countries are a magnet for migration from all parts of the world. That development increases mutual dependence in confronting challenges – such as security, climate and prosperity.


Antwerp, Stedelijk Lyceum Lamorinière, 2022, Sigrid Spinnox

The increased diversity in the classroom brings new challenges for schools. Knowledge of Dutch is one of them. Pupils who do not yet know Dutch, can take advantage of the Reception Classes for Foreign-Language Newcomers (OKAN).

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Today there are many traces of diversity in Flanders. Some economic sectors like construction and cleaning run on foreign labour. Large infrastructure projects like the Antwerp Oosterweel link are only possible thanks to labour migration. In the world of sport, film, theatres, dance and literature, Flemings with a migration background play a leading role. And after the Second World War an enormous wealth of culinary experience emerged, not only in the variety of restaurants but also in people’s everyday diets.

In the ideological field diversity has also increased. For a long time the vast majority of the population was Catholic; a small minority was Anglican, Evangelical or Jewish. Immigration from Morocco and Turkey since 1964 also brought Islam to Belgium. In 1974 Islam became a recognised religion. It also became more natural to live one’s life separate from any religion.

The growing diversity gives a rejuvenating impulse, supports the economy and enriches culture, but also entails social problems. Initially there was hardly any integration policy planned by the government to deal with ‘guest workers’. That caused conflicts, alienation, racism and later religious fundamentalism. ‘Integration’ is now a main a main thrust of policy. But migration confronts education, housing and the labour market with serious challenges. The Giants’ Procession in Borgerhout has already found a formula for linking different communities together.

Hongaarse vluchtelingen.
Private collection Vera Hajtó

Hungarian refugees in Denderleeuw, 1929. After the First World War ‘child campaigns’ were begun to give children from needy Hungary a temporary refuge. Between 1923 and 1927, mainly on the initiative of Catholic organisations, more than 20,000 children came to Belgium. They stayed for at least six months with host families and went to school. After the Second World War, between 1946 and 1948, the campaign was repeated on a smaller scale.

Pastoor bouwt moskee in tuin.
Leuven, KADOC-KU Leuven, Kerk en Leven

Kerk en Leven (Church and Life), 18 January 1968. For years this Catholic weekly had the highest number of registered readers per year. In the edition of 18 January 1968 Father Frans Verachtert (1913-1996) from Hoboken describes his plans to make the parish garden available for the building of a mosque. In July 1972 it is inaugurated in the Achturendagstraat, and today it is known as ‘Mosque Association and Islamic-Cultural Centre’.

Jaïntempel Wilrijk.
Wikimedia Commons, Abdel Sinoctou

The Jain temple of Wilrijk, 2010. Jainism is an Indian philosophy and religion, in which complete non-violence is central. The marble Jain temple is the largest outside India, where it was built and from where it was shipped to Wilrijk. The initiative for the building came from Jains active in the Antwerp diamond sector.

Wikimedia Commons, Callflier001

If you go through the Van Wesenbekestraat close to Antwerp Central Station, you walk under a Chinese gate and are greeted by lions left and right. Although both here and in the adjacent Van Arteveldestraat there are other Asian businesses, the district is called Chinatown.

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Caestecker Frank
Vluchtelingenbeleid in de naoorlogse periode

VUBPress, 1992. 

Chakkar Mohamed (red.)
Dakira. 50 jaar Marokkaanse migratie

Federatie van Marokkaanse Verenigingen, 2014. 

De Gendt Tina
Turkije aan de Leie. 50 jaar migratie in Gent

Lannoo, 2014. 

Huet Leen, e.a.
Ik kom van ver: verhalen van 43 vrouwen van over de hele wereld

Davidsfonds, 2013. (12+) 

Morelli Anne
Geschiedenis van het eigen volk. De vreemdeling in België van de prehistorie tot nu

Kritak, 1993. 

Naegels Tom
Nieuw België. Een migratiegeschiedenis

Lannoo, 2021. 

Regionaal Integratiecentrum Foyer (red.), Raats Jonas, Leonard Ingrid en Vandebroek Hannelore
‘On est là’. De eerste generatie Marokkaanse en Turkse migranten in Brussel 1964-1974

Garant, 2014. 

Vandecandelaere Hans
In Brussel. Een reis door de wereld

Epo, 2012. 


Albbdiouni Naima, e.a.
Kif kif: nieuwe stemmen uit Vlaanderen

Meulenhoff/Manteau, 2006. (Verhalenbundel) 

De Cock Michael & Vanistendael Judith
Rosie en Moussa

Querido (reeks kinderboeken, 7+) 

El Azouzi Fikry
Drarrie in de nacht

Vrijdag, 2014. 

Lamrabet Rachida

Meulenhoff/Manteau, 2007. 

Ouaamari Mohamed
Groetjes uit Vlaanderen

Prometheus, 2020. 

Afrit 27: een documentaire over 50 jaar migratie


Rosie en Moussa


Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen
Bordspel – ‘This is not a game’

Met verhalen van vluchtelingen (Uitleenbaar via de openbare bibliotheek)