07 SES 14 A, Refugees in/and Education throughout the 20th Century in Europe. Re- and Deconstructions of Discourses and Practices in Educational Contexts
This paper presents findings from a research project on Belgian refugees during the First World War, more specifically the refugee relief work of the War Refugees Committee Birmingham and District (WRCB), which was responsible for the reception and care of approximately 5,000 Belgian refugees. Both the commemoration of the First World War and the refugee crisis gave the impetus to the project. Central to the study is the concept of ‘refugeedom,’ which can be understood as “a matrix involving administrative practices, legal norms, social relations and refugees’ experiences, and how these have been represented in cultural terms” (Gatrell, 2016, p. 170). The aim of the project is to unravel the matrix of the refugeedom that came into existence in Birmingham during the First World War due to the arrival and the long-term stay of Belgian refugees. It takes the local context of Birmingham and the British as well as international socio-political context into account as well as the perspectives of both the refugees and the refugee relief workers. Particularly the latter perspective demonstrates how refugeedom was imbued with philanthropy and educational work. Part of the study, dealing with notions of citizenship and the correlating allocation of social benefits, has been published (De Vuyst, Myers and Van Gorp, 2019). In this paper, we particularly focus on the refugee perspective. Since probably all Belgian refugees have died by now, we decided to interview descendants in order to retrace some of the refugees’ experiences. We paid particularly attention to how the refugee stories and family histories were intertwined and transmitted inter-generationally. In this study, we focus on the oral history account of the descendants of three Belgian families that lived in exile during the First World War, the Van Schoubroeck, Andries and Froumy families respectively. We address three main questions: How did the descendants (re)construct and (re)interpret these stories and memories? What is the personal and present-day significance of these memories for the descendants today? How do these stories and memories contribute to the construction of the aforementioned matrix of refugeedom?
De Vuyst, J., Myers, K. & Van Gorp, A. (2019). The paradox of the alien citizen? Access, control and entitlements of Belgian refugees in Birmingham during the First World War. Journal of Refugee Studies (DOI: 10.1093/jrs/fey071, advance article online). Gatrell, P. (2016). Refugees – What’s Wrong with History? Journal of Refugee Studies 30(2): 170–189.
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