Migration History: 60.000 refugee files in the State Archives
October 3, 2016
Interested in 20th century migration history? Come tap into a new source in the State Archives! Last summer 60,000 individual files on applications for approval of refugees were transferred by the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons to the State Archives. The files include all refugee applications from the immediate post-war period and the beginning of the Cold War (1944-ca.1960).
In the aftermath of World War II more than 9 million displaced persons needed to be repatriated to their homeland. Because of the Cold War about one million Eastern European Displaced Persons in Western Europe dreaded to return to the other side of the Iron Curtain. The United Nations tried to assure the permanent care of these people through individual recognition processes, first by the International Refugee Organization (IRO) and from 1952 by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Belgium regulated its refugee policy based on the international refugee regime enshrined in the Geneva Convention of 1951. From now one, a refugee was defined as a person with a well-founded fear of persecution in his or her country of origin for reasons of race, nationality, membership of a social group, religion or political affiliation. Those who complied with these conditions could enjoy protection.
The tens of thousands of files with requests for recognition of the refugee-status were formed by the Belgian section of the IRO and from 1954 by the Belgian representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. More than 20,000 files concern people who were recruited in 1940 to work in the mines and who mainly came from American camps for Displaced Persons. As for the 1950ties, Eastern Europeans are the subject of most of the files, with the Hungarian uprising in 1956 as the biggest reason.
The files mainly hold one or more application forms with identification of candidate refugees. As of the 1950ties those forms mention the persons training, working life and the trajectory of the person throughout Europe. In many cases a researcher will have a good view on the fate of the refugees before, during and after the Second World War.
The refugees records thus contain information that does not show up in related archival sources such as the foreigners files and naturalization records, making them a "missing link" in the investigation of individuals who were hoping for refugee status. Based on the number of file numbers for the years 1944-1960 their number amounts to an estimated 7% of all registered immigrants. The foreigners and naturalization files, in turn, contain further data about the residence of these persons in Belgium.
How to use foreigners files for local history research
May 8, 2017
Case Study: Clara Andres,a sixteen-year-old servant from Germany