The whereabouts of Migrants: A comparison of Dutch migrant registration systems

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The whereabouts of migrants: a comparison of Dutch migrant registration systems.
Today, one way of visualising the current refugee and migrant crisis on the outer borders of Europe is by showing a bottleneck in the processing of migrant flows: large groups of people waiting endlessly for their registration before they are allowed to enter ‘the promised land’. But registering and mobility is not a new phenomenon:
With the emergence of the modern nation-state, the distinction between ‘foreigner’ and ‘national’ became more important. States started to set up information
systems. From 1840 onwards population registers in western European countries were introduced, which made it possible to monitor mobility of individuals, residents or aliens, over time and to discern specific migrant streams (Moch 2003). National consular services, responsible for issuing visas registered citizens abroad, while national security and aliens registration services collected information on inward migrants. During World War II, the allies started to coordinate attempts to establish migration management on a global scale. These were continued after 1945, when countries were confronted with new and large groups of displaced persons, demographic problems, security issues and questions of manpower. With millions of people on the move who wanted to leave Europe, it resulted in multilateral collaboration to regulate migration and a plethora of more specific migrant registration systems. In these years the Dutch government started their so called active migration policy, facilitating emigration, in close collaboration with civil society organizations.
Migration studies usually have a strong focus on the inward movement. As a result the data (and policy files) of the aliens registration services, collected with the purpose of ‘control’ and ‘monitoring’, are best known. The aim of this paper is to make a comparative analysis of migrant registration systems in order to asses a Dutch registration system of Dutch nationals to Australia (1946-1991). Records with data on over 50,000 migrant units (90 % of the Dutch-Australian migrants) were kept from the moment they applied to the moment that they settled – and sometimes even long afterwards. What kind of information was registered, by whom and what was the original purpose of this system? Why wanted the Dutch authorities to monitor citizens who left? And what can we discern today from the different layers of information about the bureaucratic habits of civil servants? I will argue that the original function of the cards was no more than an index on personal files of selected migrants, which developed into a system that was deliberately used by Dutch authorities for migration policy goals.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2017


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