Belgium has a unique place in the history of migration in that it was the first among industrialized nations in Continental Europe to develop into an immigrant society. In the nineteenth century Italians, Jews, Poles, Czechs, and North Africans settled in Belgium to work in industry and commerce. They were followed by Russians in the 1920s and Germans in the 1930s who were seeking a safe haven from persecution by totalitarian regimes. In the nineteenth century immigrants were to a larger extent integrated into Belgian society: they were denied political rights but participated on equal terms with Belgians in social life. This changed radically in the twentieth century; by 1940 the rights of aliens were severely curtailed, while those of Belgian citizens, in particular in the social domain, were extended. While the state evolved into a welfare state for its citizens it became more of a police state for immigrants. The state only tolerated immigrants who were prepared to carry out those jobs that were shunned by the Belgians. Under the pressure of public opinion, an exception was made in the cases of thousands of Jewish refugees that had fled from Nazi Germany. However, other immigrants were subjected to harsh regulations and in fact became the outcasts of twentieth-century Belgian liberal society.
This remarkable study examines in depth and over a long time span how (anti-) alien policies were transformed, resulting in an illiberal exclusion of foreigners at the same time as democratization and the welfare state expanded. In this respect Belgium is certainly not unique but offers an interesting case study of developments that are characteristic for Europe as a whole.