Historical Social Research

Filip Strubbe: A Straightforward Journey? Discovering Belgium’s Refugee Policy through Its Central Government Archives (1945-1957). [Abstract]

When looking at the “management” of refugee crises or violence induced mobility in Western Europe since the 1930s, one cannot help but notice that Belgium offers an interesting case study. In the second half of the 1940s, it recruited over 22,000 displaced persons (DPs) from Germany to work as miners, and by early 1954, it had become the first country to delegate its national competence for recognizing refugees on its territory to the representative of an international body - the Belgian delegate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This historical evolution is of course only of interest in as much as it is reflected in the archives which, in the case of Belgium, are well preserved. This contribution uses the records of the Aliens Police and of various Belgian branches of international refugee organizations over the years 1945-1957. The aim is to analyze how their archive production bears the traces of the evolving refugee mobility and Belgium’s asylum regime. Interestingly, these archives have a dynamic of their own, which makes them much more than passive witnesses of the policy-making in the past. I will argue that the latter aspect is of crucial importance for a good understanding and efficient use of such archival sources.

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