Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilPublicationsCollection générale2024Invisible to the state. An initia...

2024
192

Invisible to the state. An initial estimate of “administrative disappearances” in the Brussels-Capital Region

Invisibles aux yeux de l’État. Une première estimation des « disparitions administratives » en Région de Bruxelles-Capitale
Onzichtbaar voor de overheid: eerste schatting van het aantal “administratieve verdwijningen” in het Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest
Jacques Moriau, Alain Malherbe, Jean-Paul Sanderson, Adèle Pierre et Alexandre Leclercq
Traduction de Jane Corrigan
Cet article est une traduction de :
Invisibles aux yeux de l’État. Une première estimation des « disparitions administratives » en Région de Bruxelles-Capitale [fr]
Autre(s) traduction(s) de cet article :
Onzichtbaar voor de overheid: eerste schatting van het aantal “administratieve verdwijningen” in het Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest [nl]

Résumés

En Belgique, la domiciliation donne accès aux droits fondamentaux par l’inscription des personnes au Registre National. Le Registre National centralise toutes les données qui sont recueillies par les communes. L’invisibilisation administrative a donc des conséquences directes sur la jouissance des droits sociaux. Elle a trois origines distinctes : l’absence d’inscription, la radiation, la suppression de personnes du Registre National. Au départ de l’analyse des données du Registre National, cet article s’intéresse aux phénomènes d’« invisibilisation administrative », c’est-à-dire à la disparition ou la radiation, volontaire ou involontaire, des registres administratifs. Une analyse anthropologique des pratiques administratives concernant la domiciliation des personnes introduit l’article qui est poursuivi par une quantification et une spatialisation du phénomène d'invisibilisation administrative et enfin une enquête sociologique auprès des personnes victimes d’invisibilisation administrative éclaire leurs parcours d’exclusion.

Haut de page

Notes de la rédaction

In order to see the figures in a better resolution, go to the article online and click on “Original” below it.

Notes de l’auteur

MEASuring INvisibility in Brussels research was funded as part of the INNOVIRIS - Anticipate programme “Rendre visible l’invisible” (2018).

Texte intégral

1Whether at national, regional or city level, governing a territory involves controlling and managing its population [Foucault, 2004]. Building and preserving the capacity for accurate and comprehensive census-taking has been a challenge for the public authorities ever since enumeration became an integral part of the administrative apparatus [Desrosières, 1993; Kaluszynski, 2009; Tabutin, 2006].

2The Brussels-Capital Region therefore needs to update its knowledge of the people living on its territory, in order to best adapt its public policies [Scott, 2021]. As part of this effort, it must also deal with the population movements resulting from the dynamics of globalisation [Sassen, 2016], the security challenges exacerbated by the latest waves of terrorist attacks, and the effects of the deterioration of social security systems, which are less capable of ensuring the integration of the most vulnerable populations [Noël, 2021].

3The management of the population also allows access to fundamental rights to be provided. In Belgium, in order to benefit from these rights recognised by article 23 of the Constitution (guaranteeing the right to social security as well as social, medical and legal aid), it is compulsory to have a residential address. This usually coincides with the home address, but since the law of 24 July 1997, it can also correspond to the address of a CPAS, so that homeless people can also access their rights. It is this home or reference address which allows a person to be included in the national register. This link between fundamental rights and having an address makes the smooth running of the administrative system an essential issue. By understanding how it works and what goes wrong with it, we realise how social policies are implemented and how they can sometimes lead to certain people being excluded from the administration, making them actually invisible, with the result that they are unable to benefit from their rights.

4In this context, this article looks at the phenomenon of “administrative invisibility”, i.e. the voluntary or involuntary disappearance or removal from administrative registers. This phenomenon affects a proportion of the Brussels population, and in most cases deprives them of access to social rights [Observatoire de la santé et du social, 2019].

5Based on a field analysis of the administrative obligations of municipalities concerning the administrative registration of home addresses (1), we present quantitative and qualitative data which lead to the quantification, spatialisation and understanding of the process of invisibilisation in the Brussels-Capital Region (2). These initial findings on the process of precariousness of a proportion of the Brussels population which is rendered invisible lead us to question the link between a home, access to social rights and social policies (3).

  • 1 The neighbourhoods used in the study are those defined in the neighbourhood monitoring programme (I (...)

6The data used to quantify the phenomenon of invisibilisation are from the national register. They were cross-referenced with information from the latest available census (2011 Census) in order to determine the socioeconomic profiles of individuals who had disappeared or been removed from the national register. A spatialisation of the phenomenon at neighbourhood level1 then allowed us to examine the distribution of the invisibilisation phenomenon in the Brussels Region.

  • 2 Due to the sensitive nature of the interviews, which dealt with issues which had a direct impact on (...)

7In order to qualify the interpretations of the quantitative data, the qualitative part of the survey was carried out in two stages. At administrative level, 35 in-depth interviews were carried out in various departments (litigant services, reception centre, emergency reception, CPAS, aid for foreign students) and 10 individual files were consulted in a legal aid department. Finally, at individual level, we supplemented our survey material with targeted interviews with people who have a precarious profile and who are no longer included in the national register but still live in Belgium, in order to understand their background2.

8The results show that the phenomenon of administrative disappearance affects all segments of the population. Nevertheless, we can put forth the hypothesis that the phenomenon is more widespread among the most socioeconomically disadvantaged populations, as well as among people who live alone [Edin and Lein, 1997]. These types of profile also lead us to hypothesise that there is a higher rate of the phenomenon in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighbourhoods. These two hypotheses were compared with our results in the rest of the article.

1. Administrative invisibilisation as a process of exclusion from access to rights

9The process of administrative invisibilisation – and its social variation as the non-take-up of rights [Noël, 2021] – has three distinct origins: failure to register, deregistration or disappearance. This article focuses on the last two, the first being very difficult to quantify and qualify.

10Invisibilisation encompasses people who disappear from the national register for unexplained reasons (i.e. people who have been included in the register previously but are no longer listed, without any mention of deregistration, death or departure abroad) as well as people who have been deregistered automatically and remain in the country without reregistering [Observatoire de la Santé et du Social, 2019].

  • 3 The project met with administrative staff and people who have been rendered invisible in several mu (...)
  • 4 Royal decree of 16 July 1992 on population registers and the register of foreigners.

11Every Belgian municipality is required to keep population registers3. These registers are updated constantly by the administration, which adjusts residency situations by registering and deregistering people. Each time a person changes his or her place of residence, he or she must notify the municipal authorities so that they can carry out the change of address. The address entered in the registers corresponds to the main residence, i.e. the place where the person lives for the majority of the year. A verification of the home address is carried out by the local police. It is based on a number of factors, such as where the person goes after work, where the person's children go to school, and water and electricity consumption. While these factual elements are included in the law4, others can be taken into consideration to determine a person's main residence. Entry in the registers is therefore based on a combination of factors. These verification procedures also show that it is not enough to simply provide a given address as one's residence in order to be entered in the registers.

12People whose main residence cannot be proven are automatically removed from the population registers. The municipal college orders the deregistration on the basis of a report submitted by the registrar who requested a verification of the home address. There are several situations in which a deregistration procedure is initiated, the most common being the impossibility of determining a person's main residence. A move abroad or a change in the conditions required for a reference address or for temporary registration may also be taken into account.

13Our research has shown the diversity of ways in which individual situations are dealt with at administrative level, and the impact these decisions can have on personal pathways. In particular, it revealed clear differences in the way local police officers view, carry out and report on their verifications of home addresses. Therefore, although the law defines the verification procedure, it is often based on interpretation. While a phone call or a name on a letterbox may be enough for one local police officer, for others, several unsuccessful visits may justify non-registration. This diversity in the procedure – even within a single municipality – has major consequences for individual pathways and access to rights. These practices corroborate analyses in terms of “social magistracy”, which describe the possible influence of specific elements of a situation on how it is dealt with at administrative level [Weller, 1999].

14These observations lead us to conclude that there are major disparities in how the information which makes up the content of the registers is produced. These may exist between municipalities as well as between neighbourhoods within the same municipality, as a result of the individual assessment of each police officer.

2. Objectivising the disappearance phenomenon in the Brussels-Capital Region 

15The quantitative objectification of the phenomenon of administrative disappearance is based on the use of anonymised data from the DEMOBEL database, compiled by Statbel (the Belgian statistics office) using data from the national register. This database does not include the waiting register, where asylum seekers are registered.

16DEMOBEL is organised in three parts:

  • a snapshot of the situation on 1 January of each year (sociodemographic characteristics of each individual, municipality of residence);

    • 5 At the time of conducting this work, movement data (including internal mobility and deregistrations (...)

    files containing all movements (internal mobility, migration, births, deaths, deregistration) during an observation year;5

  • data from the 2011 Census (socioeconomic characteristics: level of education, etc.).

  • 6 Administrative registers do not fully reflect the demographic reality of the Brussels Region. An un (...)

17For each person in the register in a given year6, it is possible to find him or her the following year (on 1 January), and to identify any demographic events which may have affected him or her during the year. Figure 1 shows the different situations.

18They can be summarised as follows: the person is in the register on the first day of January of each of the years under consideration; the person is absent and we have one piece of information (he or she has emigrated abroad, died or been removed from the register); or the person no longer appears in the register: he or she has disappeared. This last category – the people who have disappeared – as well as those who have been deregistered, make up the population which interests us: those rendered invisible.

Figure 1. Diagram of the evolution of the situation of individuals in the national register

Figure 1. Diagram of the evolution of the situation of individuals in the national register

2.1. Quantifying those rendered invisible

19By applying this pattern, we can identify the number of people rendered invisible (disappeared + deregistered) for each region. Taking into account the latest data available at the time of the study (2014), we have chosen to analyse the evolution of these numbers for three periods: 1991-1993, 2001-2003 and 2011-2013. The figures for the people who have disappeared or who have been removed from the register show contrasting trends (table 1). While the number of people who have disappeared is decreasing, the number of people who have been removed from the register is rising very significantly: from an annual average of 7 377 people removed from the register in Belgium in 1991-93, the average for 2011-13 was 39 291. According to the administrative officials interviewed, this evolution reflects an improvement in the functioning of the national register, revealing both an evolution in municipal population policies and a change or adaptation of the rules imposed by the national register.

  • 7 Circular of 30 August 2013: Important points aimed at correct registration in population registers, (...)

20A second observation concerns the number of deregistrations and disappearances according to region. On average, a third of these are concentrated in Brussels, far more than the proportion of their total population in Belgium (approximately 10 %). The relative proportion of people who have been removed from the registers fell in the early 2000s for Brussels and then rose again. The most likely hypothesis – which emerged from interviews with representatives of the Directorate General for Identity and Citizenship at the Federal Public Service Interior – would be a stricter application of the legislation relating to the deregistration procedure, with the public authorities expressing the wish to counter “home address fraud”. The 30 August 2013 circular from the Federal Public Service Interior clearly refers to a tightening and unification of procedures in all of the municipalities throughout the country7. The decrease in the number of people who have been removed from the register is fairly linear, and reflects improvements in the functioning of the national register.

Table 1. People who have disappeared from or have been removed from the register according to region (average according to period: 1991-1993, 2001-2003, 2011-2013)

Table 1. People who have disappeared from or have been removed from the register according to region (average according to period: 1991-1993, 2001-2003, 2011-2013)

Source: Demobel, national register, authors' calculations

2.2. Characterising those rendered invisible

21These initial results raise the question as to whether there is a specific sociodemographic profile for people who are rendered invisible.

  • 8 As a reminder, a person who has disappeared is a person who no longer appears in the national regis (...)

22In order to answer this question, we looked at the sociodemographic characteristics of people rendered invisible in 2012 (disappeared and deregistered)8 in the Brussels-Capital Region. This year was chosen because it allows us to follow up on these people in subsequent years and to benefit from a sufficiently long period into the past (up to 1991) in order to analyse any mishaps in their lives. Finally, this date is close to the latest available census (2011), which allows us to have relatively precise and detailed data on the socioeconomic situation of these people. 

23Overall, men are overrepresented among both types of people who are rendered invisible. However, this is by no means a male phenomenon, as the proportion of women is far from insignificant. The qualitative survey revealed a number of disruptions in the pathways of those rendered invisible, more often affecting men (see 2.4).

24In terms of age, those rendered invisible due to deregistration or disappearance have similar profiles, with a high concentration of people between the ages of 20 and 44 (figures 2). The main difference concerns children, who are more often represented among those who have disappeared than among those who have been deregistered. The data do not provide a clear explanation for this situation; one hypothesis for this difference – which we have not been able to verify – would be that there are proportionally more students without children among those who have been deregistered. In addition to this general observation, there are a small number of people over age 60 among those who have been deregistered and those who have disappeared.

Figure 2a. Age pyramid of people who have disappeared according to ten-year age groups (relative per 1 000 individuals) (2012, n = 2 166)

Figure 2a. Age pyramid of people who have disappeared according to ten-year age groups (relative per 1 000 individuals) (2012, n = 2 166)

Figure 2b. Age pyramid of people who have been deregistered according to ten-year age groups (relative per 1 000 individuals) (2012, n = 12 008)

Figure 2b. Age pyramid of people who have been deregistered according to ten-year age groups (relative per 1 000 individuals) (2012, n = 12 008)

Source: Demobel, national register, authors' calculations

  • 9 As a reminder, the data used in the 2011 Census are based on administrative data which have already (...)
  • 10 For more details on the indicator methodology and the management of missing data, see Sanderson et (...)

25Data from the 2011 Census9 provide information on education level, labour market status, housing situation and income decile for all people living in Belgium. The combination of this information has made it possible to establish a multidimensional indicator of socioeconomic positioning on a national scale [Eggerickx et al., 2018; Sanderson et al., 2023]. In concrete terms, for each of these dimensions (education, employment status, housing and income), each individual was assigned a score based on his or her responses to the census. We then calculated the average score10.

26We then classified the “average” scores according to the quartile method, in order to establish four groups of equal size for the entire Belgian population. The first quartile – the most disadvantaged – is made up of individuals who are generally unemployed, have a low level of education (no diploma or with primary school education) and live in poorly equipped homes (no bathroom or central heating); by contrast, the last quartile – the most advantaged – is made up of individuals with a high level of education (higher education), who live in very well-equipped homes (bathroom and central heating) and are mostly employed.

27If we look at the position of those rendered invisible (disappeared and deregistered) within the distribution, three categories stand out: people from the underprivileged group, widely represented in this population (47 % in both cases); people from the second quartile (not necessarily the most underprivileged, but those in a fairly precarious situation) (between 22 % and 17 %) and finally, a group whose situation is unknown (either people who were absent at the time of the census, or people whose data were not complete in the administrative files used for the 2011 Census). Work carried out in the field of mortality in particular [Eggerickx et al., 2018] shows that the group of people whose situation is unknown often have very precarious profiles. Therefore, on the whole, the majority of people who are rendered invisible are relatively vulnerable.

Figure 3a. Distribution of people who have disappeared according to quartile (2012, n = 2 166)

Figure 3a. Distribution of people who have disappeared according to quartile (2012, n = 2 166)

Figure 3b. Distribution of people who have been deregistered according to quartile (2012, n = 12 008)

Figure 3b. Distribution of people who have been deregistered according to quartile (2012, n = 12 008)

Source: Demobel, national register, authors' calculations

28An examination of these characteristics suggests that the profiles of invisible populations in Brussels are fairly similar. Most of them are male, between the ages of 20 and 45, and in a precarious economic situation. These results are fairly close to those obtained on average for all of Belgium [Sanderson et al., 2021]. However, this population is far from uniform: beyond this initial portrait, a number of subtleties emerge. For example, it includes children as well as individuals with intermediate profiles, and even people belonging to the most affluent social group. The presence of international civil servants and international students is a particular feature of the phenomenon of invisibilisation in certain neighbourhoods of the capital, as the map in section 2.3 illustrates.

29The analysis would be incomplete if we did not follow up on the people rendered invisible, in order to determine whether it is a temporary phenomenon (in which case, they reappear one or two years later); whether it is a phenomenon linked to emigration (which would mean that the people are rendered invisible because they go abroad); or whether it is a more complex phenomenon.

30By focusing on the period between 2012 and 2014, it is possible to follow the pathway of the people rendered invisible over a 3-year period (table 2). In 2012, 12 008 people were deregistered and 2 166 disappeared in the Brussels-Capital Region. 81,3 % of the people who were removed from the register are considered to have emigrated abroad, compared with 3,09 % of those who disappeared; just over 17 % of each group were reregistered during the following two years; finally, 1,5 % of those removed from the register and 79,6 % of those who disappeared were not reregistered during the following two years.

Table 2. Future situation (in 2013 and 2014) of people who were deregistered or who disappeared in 2012

Deregistered

Disappeared

Emigrants

81,3%

3,1%

Deceased

0,1%

0,0%

Other

1,5%

79,6%

Reregistered

17,2%

17,4%

Source: Demobel, national register, authors' calculations

31Therefore, out of 14,174 people who were rendered invisible in 2012, 2,899 disappeared without any information and 2,451 reregistered between 2013 and 2014. The others were identified as emigrants.

2.3. Invisibilisation: a localised phenomenon?

32In order to highlight any differences in the level of invisibilisation within the Region, the data on people who have been deregistered or who have disappeared were integrated into a geographic information system, in the form of an invisibilisation rate, i.e. the ratio between the number of people who have been rendered invisible and the total population of the neighbourhoods. This rate has been calculated for the 2010-2013 period, in order to minimise random fluctuations linked to small numbers. We worked at neighbourhood level in order to ensure sufficient statistical significance, and to comply with the data anonymisation requirements of the privacy law.

33Quantitatively, the neighbourhoods with the highest rates of invisibilisation are located in the central eastern neighbourhoods. The neighbourhoods concerned in particular are, in descending order, “Quartier européen”, “Matonge”, “Quartier Royal”, “Notre-Dame-aux-Neiges”, “Louise”, “Université”, “Grand-Place”, “Louise”, “Berckmans-Hôtel des Monnaies”, “Chatelain”, “Sablon”, “Stalingrad”, “Squares”, etc.

Figure 4. Invisibilisation rates according to residential neighbourhood between 2010 and 2013

Figure 4. Invisibilisation rates according to residential neighbourhood between 2010 and 2013

Sources: DEMOBEL, national register - produced by the authors

34Contrary to our initial hypothesis, figure 4 shows that the phenomenon is not concentrated mainly in the Region's most disadvantaged neighbourhoods. It is seen frequently in the European quarter and the university district, where many of those rendered invisible are probably expatriates or students who have not yet carried out their administrative formalities. A cross-referencing with the socioeconomic profile of these neighbourhoods leads us to link this process of invisibilisation with the mobility of a privileged international population. The causality of invisibilisation therefore varies according to the type of neighbourhood.

35While there does not appear to be a correlation between the state of precariousness of neighbourhoods and the rates of invisibilisation observed at this level, invisibilisation concerns many profiles of people and must be seen as the result of a process linked to other dynamics and mechanisms, such as the impoverishment of the Region [Observatoire de la Santé et du Social, 2020], the housing crisis [Dessouroux et al., 2016; De Laet, 2018] and the complexification and automation of administrative mechanisms [Noël, 2021].

2.4. The pathways of invisibilisation

36A qualitative survey of people who are or have been in a situation of administrative invisibility provides a more detailed understanding of the pathways leading to homelessness or administrative non-existence. International students and workers were not interviewed in this last part of the survey, as these profiles do not usually present the same risks of social fragility, and quantitative data showed us that their disappearance from the register often corresponded to a departure abroad.

37Generally speaking, the accounts indicate a lack of resources (financial, training, qualification, information, etc.), social ties (family support, networks, discrimination) and frequent disruptions in their lives (family breakdown, job loss, migration, illness, violence, mental health problems, etc.). The accounts also converge as regards the often problematic nature of contacts with institutions, administrations or the legal system, whether initiated by the latter or by the respondents themselves in an attempt to resolve problems. These contacts – or lack of them – more often produce impossibilities or obstacles than solutions, and reinforce the desire to avoid public authorities, as expressed by our interlocutors. These main points echo the content of many descriptions of the dynamics of relegation, disaffiliation and loss of housing [Pichon, 2005; Marpsat, 2007; Service de lutte contre la pauvreté, la précarité et l'exclusion sociale, 2017; Baronnet and Vanlemmens, 2019].

38In this context, a more exhaustive use of the interviews based on a content analysis enabled us to identify certain recurrences in people's experiences. These specify the socioeconomic profiles determined based on the 2011 Census data. Four main types of invisibilisation pathways emerge from the lives of the people interviewed:

  • Disruptions

39Many of the people rendered invisible have lived – often since birth – in precarious, unstable conditions, lacking individual, family and collective resources and security. In the Brussels context of an affordable housing crisis and the continuous rise in rents, the slightest additional fragility (loss of income, rising costs, relationship or psychological problems, loss of informal support, etc.) can quickly lead to residential instability which – mishap after mishap – results in the loss of housing and the impossibility of finding a new address.

  • Recent migrations

40A second type of profile emerges around the pitfalls and challenges specific to migration. Legal and administrative hurdles make it difficult to settle in the country or to extend residence permits, and push many foreigners into administrative non-existence, for example due to problems with family reunification [Mascia and Odasso, 2015] or failure in higher education [Rakotonarivo, 2013].

  • Effects related to gender

41Although they are in the minority in our study population, women and sexual minorities are nevertheless exposed in particular ways to inadequate housing, homelessness and the resulting risks of invisibilisation. This situation is the cumulative consequence of relatively more precarious living conditions (poorer employment conditions, lower income, single parenthood) on a day-to-day basis, a more vulnerable position during critical situations in life (separation, domestic violence, etc.), and repeated discrimination (housing, employment, social assistance).

42The path leading to housing eviction is thus explained by cumulative insecurity in the daily lives of women and LGBTQ+ people [Mouton et al., 2022; Loison and Perrier, 2019]. Whether as a result of domestic violence or having to bear the burdens of family life alone, some of these people are forced to leave their homes, struggle to pay rent or move to a new dwelling in a situation which prevents them from having a home address [Wagener, 2013]. These pathways – which are similar to the dynamics of disruption mentioned above – take on an even more critical nature given the cross-cutting inequalities linked to gender relations.

  • Institutional constraints

43Finally, certain institutions play an important role in causing administrative invisibility. Prisons, psychiatric institutions and youth assistance services, for example, do a very poor job of managing changes in the status of the people in their care and the administrative constraints entailed by these changes. Due to a lack of foresight, when people leave these institutions, very often they embark on a difficult journey, and are faced with de facto exclusion from meeting the necessary conditions in order to have a home address, and a scarcity of resources for recovering their rights.

44In addition to these four types of profile, let us mention an infrequent profile which draws our attention: that of “sherwoodisation” [Van Asbrouck, 2014], i.e. voluntary administrative disappearance. There can be many reasons for wanting to disappear, such as the desire to fend for oneself, to experiment with other ways of living and functioning, and to escape the demands of certain government agencies such as the tax authorities, the ONSS or the legal system.

45A quick glance at these various pathways may make them appear to be the result of a series of personal events. In fact, these pathways unfold in the context of an unequal social distribution of resources and opportunities, and of structural effects resulting from multiple administrative regulations and the active welfare state.

46Invisibilisation therefore appears to be a product of worsening social vulnerability [Bihr and Pfefferkorn, 2021], related in part to the lack of accessible housing, which prevents people who are rendered invisible from having a home address. The inability of public policies to increase the supply of housing for the most precarious people has a direct impact on administrative exclusion, and therefore on the access to fundamental rights.

Conclusion

47Although in quantitative terms the disappearance and removal of people from the national register is not statistically significant, it nevertheless has a direct impact on access to fundamental rights, particularly for disadvantaged populations. The hypothesis put forward at the start of the research, whereby the phenomena of administrative invisibilisation are concentrated in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, needs to be qualified, given the diversity of the people concerned. The results of quantitative and spatial analyses reveal the duality of the invisibilisation phenomenon in two population categories: one which is extremely disadvantaged and the other which is made up of international executives and international students.

48The phenomenon of administrative disappearances does not depend solely on the quality of record keeping. In view of the profiles revealed by the quantitative survey, it would appear that a significant number of people who have disappeared or have been deregistered are in fact residents who have emigrated or returned to their country of origin without completing the necessary administrative formalities (for example, in the case of students who have come to pursue higher education studies).

49As regards the people living in Belgium, for whom the consequences of invisibilisation are undoubtedly more damaging, quantitative data and the interviews conducted have led us to conclude that their administrative non-existence is caused by several concomitant phenomena. On the one hand, it is the product of transformations which are reshaping the city, in particular the dynamics of metropolisation, which are characterised by an increase in socio-spatial inequalities, a concentration of international functions and corporate headquarters, and an increase in highly qualified yet highly precarious international immigration to fuel globalised economic systems [Sassen, 1991; Ascher, 1995]. On the other hand, another contributing factor is the decline of the social protection system.

50At individual level, an analysis of the accounts of people who have been rendered invisible reveals the role of disruptions in their lives, particularly for the most vulnerable. The survey shows that administrative exclusion weighs particularly heavily on people with limited resources and transnational pathways, whose experiences lead more frequently to homelessness.

51In a recent article, Hermans and Pleace [2020] consider that the growing significance of individual situations of homelessness and inadequate housing is mainly due to structural causes. In their view, this conclusion calls for a consideration of the worsening of the following phenomena: conditionality of access to rights, austerity measures, lack of housing assistance policies and transnational migration. They also feel that inadequate housing should be seen as a problem directly linked to the transformations of the welfare state, which emerges from the interviews conducted during the qualitative survey. The worsening of the problem – which is revealed by the figures for disappearances and deregistrations between 1991 and 2013 – should therefore lead us to reflect on the need for the link between home, identification and access to rights implied by our social policies.

52The steady increase in precariousness – of which the phenomenon of homelessness is an extreme manifestation – may be considered as the consequence of the gradual erosion of multiple systems of protection, which Turner [2016] describes as the attribution of the status of “denizen” to a growing share of the inhabitants of western countries. In Belgium, the model based on social protection and access to public services for the entire population without differentiation is inexorably undermined by the division of the country into restricted political regions, as well as by the increase in socio-spatial differentiation on a national scale and the intensification of globalisation dynamics [Garnier and Zimmerman, 2018].

53In Brussels in particular, the process of metropolisation is creating competition and socio-spatial differentiation between the Region and its outskirts [Ananian, 2014; Leclercq et al., 2016] as well as between the municipalities which make up the Region [Malherbe et al., 2019]. These dynamics of metropolisation mark spatial segmentations “between populations which are coping well with social acceleration in its various aspects (the ‘ins’) and populations which can no longer or are on the brink of no longer being able to keep pace and are giving up (the 'outs')” [Garnier and Zimmerman, 2018: 21]. In the light of our interviews with the people who have been rendered invisible, homelessness is often the last stage in this process of giving up.

54The dynamics of metropolisation therefore bring the principles of recognition of citizenship and all of the benefits associated with it into stark confrontation with the reality of living in the region. In this context of profound changes, the principle of having a home address cannot be the only way to guarantee an existence which respects human dignity.

55This observation was already made in the Regional Policy Declaration 2019-2024, which proposed automatic rights and the automatic granting of derived rights based on social status, as well as 100 % healthcare coverage for the population living in the region, irrespective of people's administrative status.

56These policies may well be the beginnings of a renewed concept of citizenship in the Brussels Region. However, they must be subject to an ethical evaluation in order to examine the consequences for individuals, the enjoyment of freedoms and the related control mechanisms before any regulatory formalisation.

Haut de page

Bibliographie

ANANIAN, P., 2014. Bruxelles, région de l’innovation: Evolution et perspectives des développement des centralités bruxelloises. Louvain-la-Neuve: Presses universitaires de Louvain.

ASCHER, F.,1995. Métapolis ou l’avenir des villes. Paris: Odile Jacob.

BECKER, S., 1985. L'étude de la déviance: Problèmes et sympathies. Paris: Éditions Métailié. pp. 189-200

BIHR, A. and PFEFFERKORN, R., 2021. Le système des inégalités. Paris: La Découverte.

Déclaration de politique générale commune au Gouvernement de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale et au Collège réuni de la Commission communautaire commune, 2019. Brussels. 

DE LAET, S., 2018. Les classes populaires aussi quittent Bruxelles. Une analyse de la périurbanisation des populations à bas revenus. In: Brussels Studies [online], General collection, No 121. Published online on 12 March 2018. (Accessed on 03 August 2021). Available at: http://journals.openedition.org/brussels/1630

DESSOUROUX, Ch., BENSLIMAN R., BERNARD, N., et al., 2016. Le logement à Bruxelles: diagnostic et enjeux. In: Brussels Studies [online]. Synopses, No 99. Published online on 06 June 2016. (Accessed on 03 August 2021). Available at: http://journals.openedition.org/brussels/1346

DESROSIERES, A., 1993. La politique des grands nombres. Histoire de la raison statistique. Paris: La Découverte.

EGGERICKX, Th., SANDERSON, J.P. and VANDESCHRICK, Ch., 2018, Les inégalités sociales et spatiales de mortalité en Belgique: 1991-2016. In: Espace populations sociétés, published online on 22 June 2018 (accessed on 06 September 2021). Available at: http://journals.openedition.org/eps/7416

FINE, A. and OUELLETTE, F-R., eds., 2005. Le Nom dans les sociétés occidentales. Toulouse: Presses Universitaires du Mirail.

FOUCAULT, M., 2004. Sécurité, territoire, population. Cours au Collège de France, 1977-1978. Paris: Gallimard/Le Seuil.

GARNIER, J. and ZIMMERMANN, J-B., 2018. Solidarité sociale et proximités: de l’État providence aux communs sociaux. In: Espaces et sociétés. vol. 4, No 175, pp. 19-33. 

HAGGERTY, K. D., 2004. Ethics Creep: Governing Social Science Research in the Name of Ethics, In: Qualitative Sociology, Vol. 27, No 4, pp. 391-413.

HERMANS, K. and PLEACE, N., 2020. Counting All Homelessness in Europe: The Case for Ending Separate Enumeration of “Hidden Homelessness”. In: European Journal of Homelessness. January 2020. vol. 14, pp. 35-62. 

KALUSZYNSKI, M., 2009. L’identification, pratique constructrice de l’État. Genèse et développement des techniques d’identification en République (XIX-XXIème siècles). Du carnet anthropométrique au passeport biométrique. In: Les approches pragmatiques de l’action publique: quels apports pour l’analyse des politiques publiques? Congrès annuel de la Société québécoise de science politique. Ottawa, Canada. May 2009.

EDIN, K. and LEIN, L., 1997. Work, Welfare, and Single Mothers’ Economic Survival Strategies. American Sociological Review, Vol. 62, No 2, 253-266. https://doi.org/10.2307/2657303

LECLERCQ, A., QUADU, F. and MALHERBE, A., 2016. Bruxelles: Constats des dynamiques actuelles pour la Wallonie, Rapport final, Conférence Permanente du Développement Territorial. Namur.

LOISON, M. and PERRIER, G., 2019. Les trajectoires des femmes sans domicile à travers le prisme du genre: entre vulnérabilité et protection. In: Déviance et société, vol. 43, No 1, pp. 77-110.

LUSSAULT, M. 2003. Régime de visibilité, In: LEVY, J. and LUSSAULT, M. (eds.), Dictionnaire de la géographie et de l'espace des sociétés, Belin: 997.

MALHERBE, A., MORIAU, J., ROSA, E., et al., 2019. La problématique du sans-abrisme à Bruxelles - Limite de la gouvernance multiniveau dans l'application du principe de justice spatiale. In: Justice spatiale-Spatial justice [online]. Vol. 13. Published online in October 2019. (Accessed on 02 August 2021). Available at: https://www.jssj.org/article/la-problematique-du-sans-abrisme-a-bruxelles-limite-de-la-gouvernance-multiniveau-dans-lapplication-du-principe-de-justice-spatiale/#popin-credits

MOUTON, P., GADÉ, R., PERRIN-WOLANSKI, A., et al., 2022. Le mal-logement au prisme du genre: Le genre, un facteur de vulnérabilité et un impensé dans les stratégies de lutte contre le mal-logement. In: Recherche Sociale, No 1, pp. 4-11.

NOËL, L., 2021. Non-recours aux droits et précarisations en Région bruxelloise. In: Brussels Studies [online]. General collection, No 157. Published online on 30 May 2021. (Accessed on 02 August 2021). Available at: http://journals.openedition.org/brussels/5569

OBSERVATOIRE DE LA SANTE ET DU SOCIAL DE BRUXELLES-CAPITALE, 2019. Précarités, mal-logement et expulsions domiciliaires en Région bruxelloise, Cahier thématique du Rapport bruxellois sur l’état de la pauvreté 2018. Brussels: Joint Community Commission.

OBSERVATOIRE DE LA SANTE ET DU SOCIAL DE BRUXELLES-CAPITALE, 2020. Baromètre social 2020. Brussels: Joint Community Commission.

PITSEYS, J., 2017. Démocratie et citoyenneté. In: Dossiers du CRISP, vol. 88, No 1 pp. 9-113.

SANDERSON, J-P., VANDERSCHRIK, Ch. and EGGERICKX, T., 2023. La mesure des inégalités sociales de mortalité: construction d’un indicateur de positionnement social à l’échelle individuelle à partir des données de recensements belges (1991-2011). In: Démographie et sociétés. 33.

SANDERSON, J-P., LECLERCQ, A., PIERRE, A., MORIAU, J. and MALHERBE, A., 2021. Statistical invisibility through the prism of the Belgian Population Registers: What are the specificities? In: Chaire Quetelet 2021 (Louvain-la-Neuve, from 27/10/2021 to 29/10/2021).

SASSEN, S., 1991. Global City: New York, London, Tokyo. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

SASSEN, S., 2016. Expulsions. Brutalité et complexité dans l'économie globale. Paris: Gallimard.

SCOTT, J. C., 2021. L’œil de l’État. Moderniser, uniformiser, détruire. Paris: La Découverte. 

TABUTIN D., 2006, Les systèmes de collecte en démographie. In: CASELLI, G., VALLIN, G, WUNSCH, G. (eds.), Démographie: analyse et synthèse, VIII Observation, Méthodes auxiliaires, Enseignement et Recherche, Institut National d'Études Démographiques: 13-64

TURNER, B. S., 2016. We are all denizens now: on the erosion of citizenship. In: Citizenship Studies. Vol. 20, No 6-7, pp. 679-692. 

WELLER, J-M., 1999. L’État au guichet: sociologie cognitive du travail et modernisation administrative des services publics. Paris: Desclée de Brouwer.

Haut de page

Notes

1 The neighbourhoods used in the study are those defined in the neighbourhood monitoring programme (IBSA - https://monitoringdesquartiers.brussels/).

2 Due to the sensitive nature of the interviews, which dealt with issues which had a direct impact on people's lives, an ethics committee was set up to monitor the MEASINB project, in addition to the usual steering committee for a project funded by Innoviris. In addressing the concepts of invisibilisation, the proper functioning of the state and access to rights, there must be an ethical reflection on the collection and use of qualitative and quantitative data, and on the consequences for the people concerned of formulating recommendations for the political authorities [Becker, 1985; Haggerty. 2004; Lussault, 2003; Pitseys, 2017]. We would like to thank the members of the ethics committee for their support: Christine Schaut, sociologist (ULB), Mark Hunyadi, philosopher (UCLouvain), Fabrizio Leiva-Ovalle (SPF Intégration sociale), Adeline Grard (UCLouvain), Muriel Moens (UCLouvain), Pierre Reinhold (UCLouvain) and Antoinette Rouvroy, jurist (UNamur).

3 The project met with administrative staff and people who have been rendered invisible in several municipalities of Brussels, chosen to reflect the socioeconomic diversity of the city. In keeping with the recommendations of the ethics committee to guarantee the strict anonymity of people who have been rendered invisible, we have chosen not to specify the municipalities included in the qualitative survey.

4 Royal decree of 16 July 1992 on population registers and the register of foreigners.

5 At the time of conducting this work, movement data (including internal mobility and deregistrations) were not available beyond 2014. Consequently, our analyses do not go beyond this date.

6 Administrative registers do not fully reflect the demographic reality of the Brussels Region. An unknown number of people in the region escape registration and are added to the number of people who have been removed from or have disappeared from the registers.

7 Circular of 30 August 2013: Important points aimed at correct registration in population registers, judicious application of automatic deregistration and combating home address fraud.

8 As a reminder, a person who has disappeared is a person who no longer appears in the national register after being included in year -1. A person who has been deregistered is a person who is no longer included in the national register in year +1, with the cause for removal from the register having been identified.

9 As a reminder, the data used in the 2011 Census are based on administrative data which have already been collated, unlike previous censuses which were based on large-scale national surveys.

10 For more details on the indicator methodology and the management of missing data, see Sanderson et al., 2023.

Haut de page

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Diagram of the evolution of the situation of individuals in the national register
URL http://journals.openedition.org/brussels/docannexe/image/7553/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 80k
Titre Table 1. People who have disappeared from or have been removed from the register according to region (average according to period: 1991-1993, 2001-2003, 2011-2013)
Crédits Source: Demobel, national register, authors' calculations
URL http://journals.openedition.org/brussels/docannexe/image/7553/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 20k
Titre Figure 2a. Age pyramid of people who have disappeared according to ten-year age groups (relative per 1 000 individuals) (2012, n = 2 166)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/brussels/docannexe/image/7553/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 62k
Titre Figure 2b. Age pyramid of people who have been deregistered according to ten-year age groups (relative per 1 000 individuals) (2012, n = 12 008)
Crédits Source: Demobel, national register, authors' calculations
URL http://journals.openedition.org/brussels/docannexe/image/7553/img-4.png
Fichier image/png, 61k
Titre Figure 3a. Distribution of people who have disappeared according to quartile (2012, n = 2 166)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/brussels/docannexe/image/7553/img-5.png
Fichier image/png, 47k
Titre Figure 3b. Distribution of people who have been deregistered according to quartile (2012, n = 12 008)
Crédits Source: Demobel, national register, authors' calculations
URL http://journals.openedition.org/brussels/docannexe/image/7553/img-6.png
Fichier image/png, 49k
Titre Figure 4. Invisibilisation rates according to residential neighbourhood between 2010 and 2013
Crédits Sources: DEMOBEL, national register - produced by the authors
URL http://journals.openedition.org/brussels/docannexe/image/7553/img-7.png
Fichier image/png, 196k
Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Jacques Moriau, Alain Malherbe, Jean-Paul Sanderson, Adèle Pierre et Alexandre Leclercq, « Invisible to the state. An initial estimate of “administrative disappearances” in the Brussels-Capital Region »Brussels Studies [En ligne], Collection générale, n° 192, mis en ligne le 26 mai 2024, consulté le 19 juin 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/brussels/7553 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/11plt

Haut de page

Auteurs

Jacques Moriau

Jacques Moriau is a researcher at the Conseil Bruxellois de Coordination Socio-politique (CBCS), research coordinator at CREBIS and member of the METICES centre at the ULB Institut de Sociologie. He works mainly on regional public policy in the fields of social benefits and primary health care.
jacques.moriau[at]ulb.be

Alain Malherbe

Alain Malherbe holds a doctorate in the art of building and urbanism. His work is centred on housing, spatial justice and cross-border regional development. His latest publication in connection with the article is: Malherbe A., Moriau J., Wagener M. and Rosa E., La problématique du sans-abrisme à Bruxelles - limite de la gouvernance multiniveau dans l'application du principe de justice spatiale, in: Justice spatiale/Spatial Justice, October 2019.
alain.malherbe[at]

uclouvain.be

Jean-Paul Sanderson

Jean-Paul Sanderson holds a doctorate in demography. He is a qualified researcher at the Centre de Recherches en Démographie at UCLouvain. As a historian/demographer, he works on demographic issues in Belgium, both in the current period and from a historical perspective. His current work focuses on measuring social inequalities and analysing the mortality rate since the 19th century, with an emphasis on epidemics, including the recent Covid-19 episode.
jean-paul.sanderson[at]

uclouvain.be

Adèle Pierre

Since January 2019, Adèle Pierre has been undertaking doctoral studies at the Centre de Recherche et d'Études pour l'Action Territoriale of the Institut de recherche de Louvain pour le Territoire, l'Architecture, l'Environnement Bâti (LAB). Through the MEASINB (Measuring Invisibility in Brussels) research project, she has been investigating the disappearance of individuals from administrative registers, and more specifically the conditionality of social rights.


adele.pierre[at]uclouvain.be

Alexandre Leclercq

Alexandre Leclercq is a researcher at CREAT-UCLouvain. Trained as a bioengineer, he is furthering his research in the fields of transition and territorial structuring, with a focus on territorial dynamics and interactions, as well as on innovative territorial strategies and concepts. He is responsible for applied geomatics at CREAT, where he develops GIS models which open up new perspectives for territorial analysis and the sharing of spatial information.
alexandre.j.leclercq[at]uclouvain.be

Haut de page

Financement

Innoviris

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

CC-BY-4.0

Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

Haut de page
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search