How do “immigrants” see themselves?

Johan Leman, 8 December 2021

In the Foyer, in view of International Migrants’ Day (December, 18), we interviewed 18 people, who go through life as immigrants. But do these people see themselves as immigrants? One of our staff members, Dr Ann Trappers, analysed the results. Eighteen people is not a lot, but… it is still instructive.

It is striking that four of them who were not born in Belgium do not consider themselves immigrants at all. They are two European citizens and two people who came to Belgium by choice (e.g. by marriage, where it could have gone the other way), whereas they defined a migrant as a person forced by certain circumstances to leave their country of birth.

I remember once being invited to the “American Democrats” club, that one of the Americans present was very surprised that he would be defined as an “immigrant”. He was an “expat”, he said, he didn’t feel like an “immigrant” at all. Being a migrant, being an immigrant… as a terminological construction.

When the 18 interviewees were asked what aspects of the destination country are really very different from those of the country of origin, they talked about the weather and climate, the completely unknown language or certain customs and habits.

Learning the language is considered by most people as a basic condition for being accepted in a new country, but many also stress the importance of being surrounded by open and welcoming people, and of feeling recognised as people who contribute something to society. In short, one wants to be recognised as a human being, as each of us