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112,000 undocumented people live in Belgium, with almost half in Brussels

08:54 13/04/2023

There are an estimated 112,000 people without residence documents living in Belgium, according to new research from Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB).

The number of undocumented migrants is equivalent to the population of Bruges, and almost half of them are living in Brussels.

In an attempt to determine the real population of the country, including undocumented migrant people, VUB demographers applied a simple but innovative statistical method that they believe has provided the most accurate figures possible.

Counting unregistered people is a challenge, as they can remain under the radar for a very long time, sometimes until they die.

“At that point, people have no interest in staying hidden,” explained demographer Johan Surkyn, who led the research.

Official statistics record all deaths in Belgium, including those of unregistered people. About 500 people who are not in the population register die in Belgium each year.

Using those statistics as a basis, researchers calculated that there are 489,000 unregistered people in Belgium on any given day.

This includes not only undocumented migrants, but also, for example, occasional tourists or asylum seekers.

By subtracting those groups from the 489,000 unregistered persons, the researchers arrive at 112,000 undocumented migrants from outside the Schengen area.

The study, co-authored by Pieter-Paul Verhaeghe and Sylvie Gadeyne (VUB), has not yet been published in a scientific journal and has therefore not yet been tested by other academics. However, the method has already attracted interest.

“We think that other countries will be inspired by it,” Surkyn said, pointing towards the method’s greater accuracy.

Written by Helen Lyons