Historical story

Guest column on migration in the history of the Netherlands

A guest column appears on Kennislink every two weeks. The columnist is always a different researcher, who writes from his or her field about the science behind an event in society or from our daily lives. This week Susan Leclercq, project officer of the recently launched website www.vijfeeuwen Migration.nl. She talks about migration in the history of the Netherlands.

Migration is a normal phenomenon in history. In search of work, safety or love, people have traveled the world for centuries. Over the past five hundred years, so many people have settled in the Netherlands that 98% of the Dutch now have foreign ancestors.

Although almost every Dutch person is a descendant of a migrant, migration is often seen as something negative. Reports about Turks and Moroccans in particular are not positive.

Different type of migrant?

Turkish and Moroccan migrants are said to be different from other migrants in the media and in politics. The difference between Turks and Moroccans and 'other' migrants in the Netherlands is said to be in their numbers and their faith. It would therefore be difficult for them to hold their own in Dutch society. But groups of this size have appeared before in Dutch migration history. And also migrants with a different faith. Moreover, Turks and Moroccans appear to be far from being the first migrants to make their temporary, permanent residence.

For example, at the beginning of the 17 e century migrants in Dutch cities are not to be missed. In Amsterdam 40% of the population was born abroad. In fact, the majority of the inhabitants of Leiden were migrants. Responsibilities for this were mainly refugees from the Southern Netherlands, roughly present-day Belgium.

Most of these Southern Netherlanders were Calvinists, fleeing persecution. Catholic Southern Netherlanders were safe from the Spanish Inquisition, but not from the economic crisis. Some of them therefore also left for the Netherlands. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of migrants came to live in the Dutch cities.


Migrants were more likely to adhere to a belief that was different from what is usual in the Netherlands. In the mid-eighteenth century, ten thousand Ashkenazi Jews from Germany, Poland and Russia lived in the Netherlands. After that, this number continued to rise.

Most of them lived in Amsterdam. They spoke Yiddish and they were mocked for their ostentatious appearance. The mostly poor Ashkenazi Jews ended up in the lowest class. The High German synagogue of the Ashkenazi Jews was built next to that of the Sephardic Jews. These fellow believers from Spain and Portugal were in the 17 e century already come to the Netherlands. They did participate fully in the Amsterdam trade.

Hungarian children's trains

Migrants have often had the idea of ​​going to the Netherlands for a while, while never going back. During the First World War, all kinds of organizations decided to bring children from occupied areas in Belgium and France to the Netherlands. This way they could gain strength.

After the war, these charitable actions continued in Hungary. Tens of thousands of Hungarian children came to the Netherlands on special children's trains. They went to live in foster homes. In regions where many of these children ended up, whole Hungarian school classes could even be formed. This "vacation" would last three months. But many children's stays were extended. In the end, about a third of these Hungarian children never returned home.

The examples show that the large numbers, a different faith and a longer stay do not make Turkish and Moroccan migrants unique.