Navigation – Plan du site
L’expulsion comme mesure administrative et outil du contrôle migratoire

International railroads and human mobility controls at the Franco-Belgian border (1840s-1860s)

Le contrôle de la mobilité humaine sur la frontière franco-belge et l’essor des chemins de fer (années 1840-1860)
Torsten Feys
p. 35-54

Résumés

L’article analyse l’impact de l’inauguration des réseaux de chemins de fer internationaux sur les contrôles transfrontaliers de la mobilité humaine à la frontière franco-belge. Il remet en question l’idée préconçue que ces réseaux mettaient un terme aux contrôles. Au contraire, cette recherche démontre que la Sûreté publique continuait à s’appuyer sur ces contrôles frontaliers, alors qu’elle développait des mesures d’observation des étrangers à l’intérieur du pays. L’article met en évidence la façon dont la Sûreté publique a joué un rôle primordial dans le rassemblement d’informations qui lui permirent d’expulser ceux qu’elle estimait indésirables. Les chemins de fer facilitaient les expulsions vers certains villages frontaliers sur le réseau, permettant que l’expulsion devienne un pilier central de la politique de migration en Belgique.

Haut de page

Texte intégral

  • 1  Philippe Rygiel, « Indésirables et migrants désirés », in Philippe Rygiel (dir.), Le bon grain et (...)
  • 2  See for instance Christiane Reinecke, Grenzen der Freizügigkeit. Migrations Kontrolle in Großbrita (...)
  • 3  David Scott Fitzgerald, David Cook-Martín, Culling the Masses: The Democratic Origins of Racist Im (...)
  • 4  Gérard Noiriel, La tyrannie du national. Le droit d’asile en Europe, 1793-1993, Paris, Calmann-Lév (...)

1The origins of migration policies, conceived of as a bastion of national sovereignty, has been traced back to the end of the nineteenth century. It was during this period that major immigration countries, like France, the United States and Australia put in place mechanisms to control its migrant communities and introduced processes of selection at the gates of entry to their countries which were influenced by xenophobic ideas. Simultaneously, systems to remove migrants, even those who entered legally and did not necessarily commit a crime, were developed1. Scholars have convincingly argued that World War One was not a turning point, but rather a catalyst that reinforced the dynamics already put in place2. The assumption that major migration nations established this model and subsequently transferred globally to other nations is widely spread3. Other scholars have linked the rise of the restrictive regime with the nationalization of modern societies and the establishment of the welfare state during the 1880s and 1890s, including countries with lower migration rates. Growing bureaucratic powers increasingly stressed differences between nationals and aliens as they became more efficient in excluding the latter and expelling undesirables4.

  • 5  William Walters, « Bordering the sea: Shipping industries and the policing of stowaways », Borderl (...)
  • 6  Hilde Greefs, Anne Winter, « Introduction », in Hilde Greefs, Anne Winter (eds.), Migration Polici (...)

2However, the impact of (r)evolutions in transport infrastructure on this transition has not been integrated in these debates. The role of transport can’t be ignored because of its impact on mobility and migration patterns, but inherently also its influence on migration governance. This article sets out to answer William Walters’ call to place vehicles and transport hubs at the heart of studies of governance of migration and to assess how they affect power relations governing human mobility in a historical perspective. Walters urges us to trace the history of the moment when the policing of routes and vehicles became a central strategic undertaking in the governance of migration, especially regarding expulsions5. This article reviews the case of the Franco-Belgian border and examines the impact of the introduction of railroads on border controls, interior controls and the expulsion of foreigners that were conducted by Belgian authorities between 1840 and 1861. In so doing, it answers Greefs and Winter’s call to focus on the practices, spaces and documents of monitoring migration, yet here we look at border towns instead of major cities6.

  • 7  Frank Caestecker, Alien Policy…, op. cit., p. 4; Nicolas Coupain, « L’expulsion des étrangers en B (...)

3Throughout the nineteenth century Belgium counted more emigrants than immigrants. Its immigrant community averaged at around 3 % of the total population, 90 % of whom came from neighboring countries France, The Netherlands, Germany and Luxemburg. The control of foreigners was entrusted to the Sûreté publique (henceforth S.P.). The only major legal reform regulating immigration during this period dates back to 1835. It established that decisions of the S.P. to expel foreign residents needed to be sanctioned by royal decree. Yet the law failed to define requirements for residency, which the S.P. rarely recognized. That only 4.5 % (15,428) of the foreigners were expelled through this more extensive procedure highlights its exceptional character. The great majority (95.5 %) of the staggering total of 340,000 expulsion orders issued by the S.P. between 1830 and 1914 were based on a mere administrative measure to push back or remove undesirable migrants. An old decree from the period of French rule (23rd Messidor year III) provided the legal base for the massive expulsion of non-residents. At least 77 % were kicked out for lack of means (and/or papers), 11.3 % for crimes and 0.4 % for political reasons, leaving 11.4 % unspecified7. This exceeds the expulsion figures of France and the United States where far more migrants arrived. To start explaining this anomaly the article analyzes how Belgium managed human mobility at its borders with France from the 1840s until the 1860s. This Belgian perspective highlights the importance of transport infrastructure on the implementation of migration policies. The article also stresses that the administration’s ambition to implement policies nationwide were pragmatically adjusted according to available resources, the local needs and transport infrastructure. The railroads and bureaucratic rationalization allowed the S.P. to set a blueprint of modern migration governance combining controls at the gates, in the interior and expulsion of undesirables already in the 1850s.

  • 8  Firmin Lentacker, La frontière franco-belge. Étude géographique des effets d’une frontière interna (...)
  • 9  Firmin Lentacker, La frontière…, op. cit., p. 218, 258; Carl Strikwerda, « France and the Belgian (...)
  • 10  Frank Caestecker, Alien Policy…, op. cit., p. 5; Nicolas Coupain, « L’expulsion… », art. cit,, p.  (...)

4We know very little about how the Franco-Belgian border was managed throughout the nineteenth century. Geographer Firmin Lentacker wrote the only work of reference on this subject in 1974. He clarifies the century long political processes which materialized into a fixed border shortly after the Belgian independence in 1830. Because the 620-kilometer line does not coincide with a natural border, it was very permeable8. In many similar cases such porousness has been perceived as a threat to a nations’ sovereignty, requiring border controls checking the influx of goods and people. But the migrant flow went predominantly from east to west as the Belgian migrant community in France, the largest in the country, peaked at 500,000 by the 1880s. The French presence in Belgium did not exceed 35,000 by then. On top of that, an increasing number of laborers commuted across the borders to industrial and manufacturing centers located near the dividing line9. The increased frequency of travel for business and pleasure also spurred border crossings. Improved transport connections, especially the establishment of a dense railroad network, stimulated higher mobility rates. But, paradoxically, scholars claim that increased mobility went hand in hand with decreased border controls. Some have argued that this was the result of the inauguration of international railroad traffic: Under pressure from railroads companies who feared unreasonable delays, the authorities moved migration controls to the interior10. Such statements are based on little empirical evidence however, and none of these studies have looked at what actually happened at the border. By focusing on the Franco-Belgian border, a busy crossing point for passenger traffic which witnessed the first international railroad connections, this article addresses these lacunae and sheds new light on this pioneering period of Belgian migration policies. The policies balanced between restrictionist and liberal principles. The former aimed to limit migration to reduce first of all the political threats and secondly the socio-economic burdens that migrants could impose on the young nation. They advocated controls at the border and inland to monitor foreigners and exclude undesirables. Conversely the liberals objected to such barriers, favoring unlimited human mobility to spur economic development and international trade relations as central means to consolidate independence. It opposed different state actors advocating commercial interests versus those overseeing national security. Both camps constantly mediated towards a compromise which was influenced by the political and economic conditions and by the rapidly changing practical realities which impacted the implementation of migration policies. During these pioneering decades the Sûreté publique developed a blueprint of a systematic bureaucratic apparatus to monitor foreigners on Belgian territory and a well-oiled machine to expel the undesired.

Inaugurating railroad lines across the Franco-Belgian border 1839-1848

  • 11  Greet De Block, « Designing the Nation: The Belgian Railway Project, 1830-1837 », Technology and C (...)
  • 12  Bernard Gilles, « Les archives de la Compagnie du chemin de fer du Nord », Revue du Nord, CLXI, 19 (...)

5The first international railroad lines to France transformed the Belgian border towns of Quiévrain (line Brussels-Paris) and Mouscron (line Ghent-Lille) into major passenger hubs. Belgian authorities strongly supported railroad constructions, both in order to unify the country and, at the same time, to promote international mobility through Belgium as a way to consolidate its independence11. The network spurred interior contacts and economic convergence, while at the same time made other countries more dependent of Belgium for trade. These commercial interests would encourage nations to defend Belgian independence if questioned. By 1842 the network that converged in Brussels reached the border towns of Quiévrain and Mouscron. The connections on French soil developed more slowly but received a boost when the Compagnie du Chemin de fer du Nord took control of the railroad networks in northern France between Paris and Belgian borderlands. By 1846 the connections to Paris via Mouscron and Quiévrain were completed. A third major international line opened in 1863, connecting Paris with the main Walloon cities through the border town of Heer-Agimont. Other secondary lines mainly answered the demand for short distance cross -border labor mobility12. But the longer distance travel between Belgium and France occurred on these three main routes.

Practical limits of border control

  • 13  Bart Van Der Herten, België onder stoom…, op. cit., p. 147-217.
  • 14  Alexander Coppens, Tussen Beleid en Administratieve Praktijk: De Implementatie van het Belgisch Mi (...)

6Before the railroads, passenger traffic passed mainly through paved and unpaved land routes. The network in the area had developed strongly under Napoleon. With the advent of railroads Belgian authorities initially continued to invest in the development of the older network even though they quickly became secondary to railroads13. Mobility controls at the border were systemized when falling under the responsibility of the Sûreté publique. The main task of this small centralized police force established immediately after Belgian independence, was to monitor foreigners and expel undesirables. Under the second Administrator, Alexis Hody (1839-1851), the S.P. expanded its powers from monitoring aliens who posed a political threat to controlling all foreigners on Belgian soil. Travelers were kept track of through daily guest lists which lodging housekeepers were required to submit to the local authorities. All foreigners residing more than two weeks in a locality had to be reported with a ‘bulletin des étrangers’ to the S.P who decided whether or not to grant the migrant a sojourn permit. This decision was granted based on antecedents of the migrant, yet could be revoked at the discretion of the S.P. who decided on expulsions. Hody’s systemization of information gathering on foreigners culminated with the opening of individual files at local and central levels alike14. To limit the number of undesirable migrants on Belgian soil, the Administrator hoped to prevent their entry at the borders.

  • 15  Letters between S.P. and mayor of Essen 15, 21 March 1839, Community Archives Essen, O&V, 35.
  • 16  Frank Caestecker, Alien Policy…, op. cit., p. 4-5; Alexander Coppens, Tussen Beleid…, op. cit., p. (...)
  • 17  Letter gendarmerie to S.P. 28 September 1839, Archives générales du Royaume (hereafter AGR), I160, (...)
  • 18  Letter gendarmerie to S.P. 26 June 1839, AGR, I160, S.P., 480; Letter agent Quiévrain to S.P. 11 N (...)

7Hody initially relied on the authorities of local border communities to control the identity documents of foreigners and exchange these for a temporary Belgian passport. Anyone without documents and financial means had to be denied entry. The documents of those granted entry had to be sent to the S.P. for verification and were subject to a background check. If the result of the check was negative the S.P. traced the individuals and expelled them. If positive, the papers were returned to the mayors of the border towns to be collected by their owners on their way out15. This practice was unsatisfactory as local authorities were ill-equipped to carry out such administrative burdens. The S.P. criticized some local mayors for their leniency in granting passports and others for their indifference in enforcing controls. When the State centralized border controls by opening stations to collect customs and equipping them with salaried personnel in 1839, the S.P. tried to transfer the responsibility for identity controls onto customs agents. But they initially refused the job16. The gendarmerie also objected to dispatching men to these stations because they would waste a lot of time waiting for vehicles. Having been responsible for guarding the border for the past decade, experience had showed them that identity controls were more efficient when conducted randomly on patrol. The gendarmerie focused on places popular with foreigners, such as stops of public cars, post offices, lodging houses and inns17. In the end, special passport agents were dispatched to the main border crossing points. The gendarmerie agreed to assist passport agents when the scheduled diligence services passed through. The collaboration of custom agents at less important passages was ensured through a system that granted a premium per intercepted irregular document18. The system of exchanging passports soon proved too burdensome to implement and was revoked. Instead the passport agents verified the authenticity of the documents and summarized the information on lists for the S.P.

  • 19  Letter S.P. to minister of Justice 7 November 1842, AGR, I160, S.P., 47.
  • 20  Circular Hody to passport agents 15 August 1840, AGR, I160, S.P., 56.

8This system prevailed until Quiévrain welcomed the first international railroad passengers with the completion of the line connecting Brussels with Valenciennes in November 1842. The ministers of Public Works and of Foreign Affairs pushed for the abolishment of border controls which could stain the prestigious opening and delay passenger traffic. But the ministers of Interior and of Justice defended the S.P.’s arguments to uphold the controls. Absolving railroad passengers, would mean lifting controls everywhere, because railways quickly took over the traffic from stagecoaches making controls at land roads superfluous. In 1841, 512 undesired foreigners who lacked means or papers were rejected at the border. These people would roam in Belgium until their arrest. Having to defray the transfer costs of these expellees, the State would on top of that lose 16,000 francs in revenues from stamp duties levied from identity controls. Furthermore, the information flow on foreigners would deteriorate. Already one quarter of the 1,593 arrivals reported by local authorities during the last two months did not carry passports. The S.P. feared an increase of undocumented arrivals without border controls. Moreover, information on those leaving Belgium would be lost, allowing foreigners to remain unnoticed on Belgian territory when staying with lodging housekeepers who did not comply with their reporting obligations19. A premium of eight francs awarded to agents who prevented a deserter from leaving, shows that controls of exit also targeted Belgians20. The arguments highlight the level of bureaucratization that Hody achieved, backing his arguments with detailed statistical evidence. Hody stressed the financial repercussions for the State, but he was more concerned about increased undocumented and undesired arrivals and information loss on foreigners entering and leaving the territory.

  • 21  Letter S.P. to minister of Justice 30 November 1842, AGR, I160, S.P., 47.
  • 22  Letter minister of Public Works to S.P. 27 November 1842, AGR, I160, S.P., 47.
  • 23  Letter railroad directors to S.P. 30 December 1842, AGR, I160, S.P., 60.
  • 24  Circular Hody to provincial governors 17 December 1842, AGR, I160, S.P., 45.

9Hody’s arguments convinced the ministers to uphold the controls for a trail period. During the first week the number of daily international railroad passengers did not exceed fifty. Passport controls took two minutes per document, but foreign women and boys under fifteen did not have to carry passports and nor did Belgians who could prove their identity by other means. The latter represented one third of the border crossers. The S.P. assigned three passport agents to keep the controls under thirty minutes, the minimum time required by custom agents to control luggage21. Despite these efforts, the minister of Public Works, who supported the railroad interests, claimed that controls compromised the international railway line as they delayed a number of passengers until the next connection22. Economic interests weighed more heavily than security concerns. A week after the opening of the line, border controls were suspended. The railroad interests applauded the decision and gladly agreed to post information on Belgian registration formalities expected from foreign guests in the main railroad stations23. The S.P lamented the suspension, and recommended expanding the decisions for railroad hubs to all entry points in order to establish a uniform system. It called for new measures to strictly enforce interior registration24.

  • 25  Letter minister of Public Works to S.P. 27 November 1842, AGR, I160, S.P, 47.
  • 26  Letters S.P. to mayors of Liège, Antwerp and Ostend 4, 7, 12, 14 November 1845, AGR, I160, S.P., 4 (...)

10The government answered these calls by suspending identity controls by customs and passport agents at all land border points. Local authorities were ordered to increase their efforts to report foreigners25. Yet passport controls still occurred in inland ports, such as Liège, where international passengers arrived by river steamboats. This was also true of the main maritime ports of Ostend and Antwerp, which welcomed 4,379 and 6,003 passengers respectively during high season from May through September 1842. Until November 1845 the superintendent of the maritime police controlled the documents of passengers and crew of incoming and outgoing ships. Captains needed to report all crew changes and could only enroll new members in Belgian ports with the approval of the superintendent. He gave this only to seamen with identity papers and who were not reported as deserters or refractors. In order to be able to land, passengers needed to obtain a visa in their passports from the superintendent. Undocumented passengers had to obtain certificates from their consul or call witnesses attesting their identity. The superintendent reported to the S.P. from whom he received directives. The minister of Justice revoked passport controls at the maritime ports but only in 1845 after repeated complaints about their lack of uniformity compared to land border points. People without papers could now land in ports, yet those without means or considered to be dangerous were still put at the disposition of the local mayor by the superintendent26.

  • 27  Letter S.P. to minister of Justice, 14 March 1843, AGR, I160, S.P., 47.
  • 28  Ordonnance de police de Bruxelles, 15 October 1831, AGR, I160, S.P. 46; Alexander Coppens, Tussen (...)
  • 29  Letter of Brussels mayor to S.P. 30 April 1843, AGR, I160, S.P., 46.

11Special measures to strengthen interior controls were limited to the capital. Brussels attracted the majority of international railroad passengers with 700 arriving per month and anticipated peaks of 2,500 during the summer months27. City orders of 1831 regulated the registration of new arrivals in the city. The keepers of lodging houses had to deposit daily guest lists, containing the names, profession, place of birth and residence of their visitors. Landlords and indeed anyone receiving guests also had to report similar information on new tenants within 24 hours of their arrival. They also needed to report their departure. Stagecoach drivers were not allowed to transport foreigners without passports. The police enforced these measures with fines. Together with civil servants at the city gates, they were responsible for controlling unknown subjects and arresting people who could not prove their identity28. The monitoring of foreigners was a well-established task of the Brussels police, yet they refused to take on the additional responsibilities of the passport agents in 184229.

  • 30 Police report 20 February 1844, Brussels passport division survey 12 October 1876, AGR, I160, S.P (...)

12Therefore, the Belgian government established a Brussels passport division with an annual subsidy of 12,000 francs to enforce identity control at the main place of arrival instead of at the borders. The division fell under the responsibility of the mayor, yet also reported to the S.P. The controls did not occur at the train stations to accommodate transit passengers with immediate connections. This seemed to make sense for those transiting abroad, but appeared less logical for passengers with other Belgian destinations. The S.P. lost an opportunity to control these passengers since it focused on those staying in the capital. Identity controls occurred through the already established controls of lodging housekeepers where agents frequently passed to verify the identity documents and presence of foreigners based on the daily guest lists. The agents timed their visits according to the arrival of the international trains. But the system also allowed them to capture those arriving on foot or by horse-driven transport. The absence of guests, or their refusal to leave their identity documents with the lodging housekeepers, often required repeated visits. Hence controls applied to overnight guests only, not to transit passengers30.

  • 31  Letters S.P. to Brussels’ mayor 20 October 1847, 14 March 1848, AGR, I160, S.P., 46.
  • 32  Alexander Coppens, Tussen Beleid…, op. cit., p. 153.
  • 33  Report on the passport division, s.d. ca. 1849, AGR, I160, S.P., p. 46.

13At times, the S.P. encouraged intermediaries to be more rigorous in the implementation of the rules. After suspecting that the Hotel Univers and Hotel Europe had been housing unreported guest, the S.P. highlighted the dangers of tolerating such practices. It gave hotels who did adhere to the rules a competitive disadvantage if others could easily house irregular undocumented guests. In order not to demoralize law-abiding hotel owners, abusers had to be severely penalized31. Coppens shows that the police collected evidence against recurrent offenders and fined them32. In 1849 the government reduced the subsidy of the passport division to 10,000 francs, 70 percent of which went to wages. The head of the division conducted interviews of all foreigners passing through the station. He issued visas on international passports and kept separate indexes on suspicious cases and on expellees. He worked in close collaboration with the S.P. and was fluent in French, Dutch, Russian, Polish, German and Italian. Below him one agent took charge of the correspondence of the bureau, while another agent managed the archives. Three assistants helped with visas and irregular papers, managing the index of all arriving foreigners and cross checking it with lists of wanted people or those who were signaled at the border33.

The blueprint of combined interior and border controls

14These lists show that border controls by passport agents were reintroduced in February 1848. Before that time, the gendarmerie still controlled passengers in border areas and pushed back the undesired (see table 1). Hence controls were never fully lifted, yet statistics clearly show that the number of rejected foreigners at the borders plummeted after 1842. At the same time the number of people escorted from the interior to the border because lack of means strongly increased. Other categories such as convicted criminals and unescorted expulsion show only minor deviations. The statistics indicate that softening controls at the borders, went hand in hand with tightening controls on people without means in the interior. The steady increase only reversed when border controls were reintroduced. Refusals at the border would not reach their 1842 levels until they skyrocketed to unprecedented levels in 1852 due to the political instability caused by the foundation of the French second Republic. Despite a drop after the exceptional year, high levels were sustained until a period of gradual decline in 1858. These high levels of rejections at the border were not compensated for by a decrease of expulsions from the interior after 1852. Conversely these rates also increased and sustained high levels. The next five years the numbers remained high, revealing a sustained vigilance and tightening of controls both inland and at the border.

Table 1: Expelled removed and pushed back foreigners in Belgium 1836-186335.

Table 1: Expelled removed and pushed back foreigners in Belgium 1836-186335.
  • 34  Frank Caestecker, Alien Policy…, op. cit., p. 6-7; Frank Caestecker, Filip Strubbe, Pierre-Alain T (...)

15The fact that the Brussels passport division was sustained even after the reintroduction of border controls highlights the importance that the monitoring of foreigners attained in Belgian policy. Overseeing them was made easier by the introduction, in 1846, of population registers in which all Belgian communities inscribed personal information of all their inhabitants and their movements. Belgium pioneered this practice, while other states like France considered such registration a violation of personal liberties. France only started imposing this, exclusively on foreigners, in 1888. Population registers spurred record keeping at local levels and this facilitated the reporting of foreigners to the S.P.34. Brussels excelled in this as it invested more in policing than any other city. Many foreigners started their stay in the capital which had around 400 lodging houses.

  • 35  Statistics composed by Nicolas Coupain based on statistical records of the S.P. Nicolas Coupain, L (...)
  • 36  Letters Brussels’ mayor to minister of Justice 9 November, 24 December 1848, AGR, I160, S.P., 46.
  • 37  Report on Brussels passport division 12 October 1876, AGR, I160, S.P., 46.
  • 38  Reader’s letter, La Vigie de l’Escault, 15 September 1850; Letter Antwerp superintendent to S.P. M (...)

16According to the mayor, who complained about the overwhelming correspondence with the S.P., this justified retaining the passport division.35To limit the paperwork, foreigners without means were immediately removed without filling out a “bulletin des étrangers”. Those considered to be dangerous were brought to the prosecutor on charges of vagrancy. These individuals, along with all other foreigners, were reported in a bulletin36. Remarkably even when passport laws were repealed in the 1861, the division continued to be subsidized at least until 1876. They still screened the lodging house registers and reported all foreigners to the S.P.37. The identity controls had also been reinstated at maritime ports of entry. According to the Antwerp superintendent of the maritime police, letting unknown people through without papers went against the basic guidelines of good policing. Others criticized the measures for causing delays and missed transit connections38.

Graph 1: Annual expulsions from the interior and refusals at the border 1836-196339.

Graph 1: Annual expulsions from the interior and refusals at the border 1836-196339.
  • 39  Ibid., footnote 34.
  • 40  Règlement de l’Administration de la Sûreté publique, ca. 1849, AGR, I160, S.P., 46.

17A closer look at the organization of the S.P. details how the monitoring was centralized. The first and most important division was responsible for granting visas and control all incoming “bulletin des étrangers”. This division made alphabetical lists of foreigners entering the country and those residing in it. They crosschecked the information indexes of foreigners to control the reporting accuracy of lodging housekeepers.39This bureau received foreigners visiting or being summoned to the headquarters. It arranged the expulsion of the undesired through a “feuille de route”, an order to leave the country following a certain itinerary by their own means, or under escort of the gendarmerie. The division established monthly list of expellees. It managed all incoming passports and identity documents. Finally, it also kept an index of passports used by foreigners and a list of passports sent to mayors of border towns to be collected by expellees when leaving. The second division took charge of all correspondence with Belgian and foreign authorities on all levels and with private persons. This division created individual files per sojourning foreigner complementing the bulletin with marriage certificates, court and police reports, etc. It made an alphabetical list of foreigners who had been convicted abroad. Agents managed a registry, of foreigners, organized per country of birth, who resided and had resided in Belgium. They formulated advisory reports on naturalization files and requests to carry weapons. Finally, they issued sojourn permits to the eligible. The third division kept a register of all the convicted foreigners in Belgium and another register for all the expellees. Both included an index. The division gave instructions about how to handle accused foreigners. It also prepared reports motivating expulsion by royal decree for the King’s formal approval which was vested to him by the government. This bureau drafted all correspondence with judicial authorities, prison wardens and the gendarmerie to coordinate the expulsion of convicted foreigners. It organized the prison wagons and its agents which brought expellees to the border. The third division crosschecked their information with alphabetical lists of convicts of correctional courts. They also kept information bulletins of Belgians who were convicted abroad. The fourth division took charge of the archives. The fifth division mailed all correspondence, managed transcripts and processed all circulars. Finally, the cabinet managed all exclusive matters of the Administrator and heads of divisions. It managed the bookkeeping, library and material aspects of operations40.

  • 41  Alexander Coppens, Ellen Debackere, « De toepassing », art. cit., 18; Robin Libert, « In vogelvluc (...)
  • 42  Ilsen About and Vincent Denis, Histoire de l’identification des personnes, Paris, La Découverte, 2 (...)
  • 43  Anne Winter, Migrants and Urban Change: Newcommers to Antwerp, 1760-1860, London, Pickering and Ch (...)

18These rules illustrate how Hody set the blueprint of a highly systematic bureaucratic apparatus specialized in gathering information about foreigners and coordinating the expulsion of the undesired. Lists and indexes of different categories served to rapidly trace individuals and cross check existing data with daily incoming information. Yet Scholars have downplayed the size and functioning of the S.P. due to lack of resources. During the period under study the funds balanced around 60,000 francs, which was 0.5 per cent of the budget of the minister of Justice. The agency, which started off with the administrator and five subordinates, was permanently understaffed. The scarce data on personnel size is estimated at about fifteen to twenty agents after the 1840s41. Innovations were adopted in order to manage and store information, such as index cards or specialized cabinets, and these improved the efficiency of the limited personnel. Even with these limited resources Hody’s designed a meticulous organization to maximize available resources. He compensated for these shortcomings by relying on a great number of institutions to provide the information and carry out orders. This reliance also constituted its greatest weakness, as the monitoring depended on the goodwill of others. The constant reminders to local authorities, and especially to rural communities, about their reporting duties illustrate this. Nonetheless the preserved archives of the S.P. bear witness to a well-oiled administrative machine. Scholars have noted that central states justified the investments in bureaucratization, standardization and identification as a means to protect society from marginalized groups, such as nomads, vagabonds or foreigners. This process served to marginalize migrants from the rest of the population and established paper borders42. Urban studies have shown that national definitions of belonging were translated into administrative practices in bigger cities such as Antwerp or Brussels in the 1840s. At times, this led to conflicts of interests between local and national administrations43. Nonetheless, Hody’s blueprint allowed the S.P. to centralize migration management and monopolize the power to expel according to its own jurisprudence of individual case files.

Consolidating railroad lines in migration management at and beyond the border 1848-1860s

Border railroad hubs and controls of entry

  • 44  Letters S.P. September 8 and 26 1848, AGR, I160, S.P., 60.
  • 45  Frank Caestecker, Alien Policy…, op. cit., 4.

19The passport controls at major railroad border hubs were initially reintroduced as a temporary measure in February 1848. Passport agents resumed identity controls and forwarded lists of entrants to the S.P. With the assistance of gendarmes, the screening was finished before the luggage controls carried out by customs agents. Railroads did not complain until the controls tightened and expanded from foreign travelers only, to also include commuters from border communities. Since many of them were known to border officials, commuters had passed unchecked, and therefore failed to procure papers. The S.P. acknowledged the delays in Quiévrain and Mouscron, yet required these temporary measures for security reasons44. This supports Caestecker’s observation that although all foreigners were required to carry a passport by law, it was applied with a class bias. Only upper-class travelers were subjected to this obligation and controls, allowing common laborers to cross with any identity document which was rarely checked45.

  • 46  Letters between S.P. and préfet du Nord, 16 September, 3 October 1839, 14 September 1840, 20 Janua (...)
  • 47  Letter passport agent Quiévrain to S.P. 8 August 1849, AGR, I160, S.P., 484.
  • 48  Correspondence between passport agent Quiévrain and S.P.15 June and 12 July 1850; 7, 22 April, 27  (...)

20Informal agreements of the 1830s stipulated that inhabitants of the border provinces West-Flanders and Hainault on one side and the Departement du Nord on the other were exempted from border regulation as long as their movements was limited to that area. When abuses of this leniency became too flagrant, or during political unrests, such privileges were momentarily revoked. Yet generally people from these regions, even those from higher classes, could enter the country with any kind of identity papers, or indeed even without papers when they were known to agents controlling the border and in towns they visited. These measures were intended to prevent the border from forming a disruption to trade between local markets46. Correspondence confirms that by the end of 1848, cross border commuters passed relatively unchecked once again. The daytime trains were known to carry mainly Belgian and French commuters who did not go further than Mons. They were not registered on the lists sent to the S.P. Since such trains carried fewer international travelers, passport verification was often much faster. International travelers mainly used the night train coming directly from Paris47. Identity controls of upper-class railroad travelers persisted even when political stability retuned. The agents only withheld those with invalid documents. French nationals were especially vulnerable after the coup in December 1851 when they required a visa from Belgian diplomats to be able to enter. The passport agent offered to send the documents of French travelers without visa, along with a copy of their signature, to the consul of Lille by express mail, at their cost48.

  • 49  Michael Serruys, « Grenzen, wegenbouw en mercantilisme in de Oostenrijkse Nederlanden », Tijd-Schr (...)
  • 50  Letter passport agent Menin to S.P. 23 November 1842, AGR, I160, S.P., 45.
  • 51  Letters between S.P. and minister of Justice 15 June, 12 July 1850, 7, 22 April, 27 August, 1, 11  (...)

21Trains facilitated controls as they concentrated a much higher number of travelers in one vehicle on fixed routes and punctual schedules compared to stagecoach services. The transition of taking over the passenger and postal transport from stagecoaches went very rapidly as witnessed by the passport agent stationed in Menin. As nodal point in road networks Menin had been the most important border crossing point between the Southern Netherlands and France since the seventeenth century49. Yet its dominance quickly declined when the railroad connecting Ghent with Lille opened via the border town of Mouscron. Two weeks after the opening of the railroads the passport agent in Menin reported a serious decline in passengers on the daily stagecoaches between Lille and Courtrai or Ypres. The traffic no longer justified his presence, yet abandoning his post could turn Menin into a hub for people seeking to avoid controls50. And yet even during the political instability caused by the establishment of the second republic ten years later, passport agents were not reappointed at land border points. Railroads denounced the discriminatory effects of border controls on their passengers, yet the S.P. still applied its resources according to traffic density. The problem of uniform controls no longer posed an issue for the S.P., who favored pragmatism over principle. The S.P. dismissed claims that passport controls diverted German tourists from the Belgian to the French coast, arguing that such controls existed all over the European mainland. On the contrary, they argued that, identity checks strengthened the sense of security and actually attracted tourists51.

  • 52  This is still the case today with shipping companies, airlines, lorry drivers, etc. Torsten Feys, (...)

22Political activists and high-profile criminals were the main targets of such controls, which did not prevent vagrants or common criminals from entering. The efficiency of such controls overall is debatable. Travelers could easily pass using someone else’s documents as time constraints did not allow the passport agent to interrogate the border crossers. For instance, Victor Hugo entered undetected at Quiévrain showing a passport of Jacques Lanvin on December 12th 1851. Nonetheless the S.P. considered it worthwhile to uphold the controls and process the lists of entering passengers. Sometimes it also signaled undesired foreigners to obstruct their entry. Security considerations outweighed the commercial interest of railroads in the end. This is not surprising since states have been known to impose migration policies on transport companies. For instance, to compensate for their lack of resources authorities used transatlantic shipping companies as an integrated part of their border control system and did not refrain from using carrier sanctions to ensure their collaboration52. Brussels city rules of 1831 also adopted this policy prohibiting stagecoach drivers from transporting foreigners without passports. Hence, it is striking that Belgian authorities did not impose such responsibilities such as requesting identity checks and composing passenger lists, on railroads.

  • 53  Letters between S.P. and minister of Justice 8, 26 September 1848, AGR, I160, S.P., 60; Letter J-B (...)
  • 54  Correspondence between minister of Justice, Public Works, External Affairs, passport agents, S.P. (...)
  • 55  Correspondence between minister of Justice and Public Works 27 August, 8 October, 17 December 1857 (...)

23Only on one occasion were railroads more directly involved. This occurred following repeated unanswered requests by railroad bosses to transfer passport agents on board to conduct controls while moving. The S.P. granted such concession for the inauguration of the Express service connecting Cologne with Paris via Belgium in fifteen hours. To reduce travel time, the Belgian railroads pleaded, successfully, to expedite border controls in order to fight off new competition from the Chemin de Fer de Strasbourg for traffic between Germany and France53. The S.P. considered appointing a passport agent in Brussels. Yet as the station fell under local police authority, the S.P. feared a conflict of interest. It also objected to appointing agents on the train, and suggested that train conductors take over the tasks. The S.P. trained conductors to control passports and send reports. The express trains carrying exclusively first-class passengers successfully conducted their maiden voyage in August 1853. During the limited stop at Quiévrain conductors initially requested assistance from the passport agent. He denounced conductors for being too lenient allowing people without regular papers to remain on board. The S.P. warned that this leniency may attract dangerous subjects to the express service. People with irregular papers needed to be handed over to the gendarmerie in Quiévrain, or better yet, ordered to leave the train before the border, in French stations54. The experiment did not last long, as passport agents took the responsibility for controls on the express trains once again. However, it did inaugurate the practice of enforcing them on board these trains55.

  • 56  Circular S.P. to passport agents 1 August 1860, AGR, I160, S.P., 56.
  • 57  Ibid., footnote 15. Luc Keunings, Des polices si tranquilles. Une histoire de l’appareil policier (...)
  • 58  Correspondence between the Quiévrain passport agent, gendarmerie and S.P. 21 December 1848, 16 Feb (...)

24When passport laws were revoked in February 1861, passport agents were recalled from the land border points of Quiévrain, Mouscron, Hertain, Erquelinnes, Vierves, Quévy (France) Essen, Lanaken, Lieze (The Netherlands) Sterpenich (Luxemburg) Verviers (Germany) and maritime ports of Antwerp and Ostend56. These coincided with the major transport nodal points, of which all but two were railroad hubs. Of course, recalling the agents did not mean the end of border controls. Customs agents were asked to step in again and push back people without means. But, surveying the borderlands was predominantly a task of the gendarmerie who received orders to tighten their patrols in 1861. This centralized police force, responsible for security in the countryside, accounted for ninety per cent of the recorded offenses in rural areas by 1850. With core tasks including border patrols, controlling foreigners and supervising traffic, gendarmerie stations were located near the border on important transport axis. The gendarmerie assisted the passport agents, yet their main responsibility for border inspection was patrolling land roads and pushing back common criminals, vagrants and beggars. With only 1,600 agents the divisions were small from three to five people covering various communities57. For instance, the division of Quiévrain also patrolled six adjacent towns. Aside from border patrols, it also had to control lodging houses for undesirable subjects and escort expellees across the border. This was in addition to their regular duty to safeguard public security in their area. The workload greatly increased with the opening of the railroad which attracted new businesses. Local factories now employed up to 800 laborers. Quiévrain alone had more than 3,000 inhabitants, yet many also commuted from France. These population movements made it easy for French criminals to take refuge in the borderlands. Some took advantage of the territoriality restrictions of law enforcers to commit crimes and immediately return across the border. The gendarmerie complained about the lack of collaboration of the local mayors who generally failed to report immigrants to the S.P. obstructing their monitoring58.

  • 59  Correspondence S.P. October 26, December 21, 27 1848, January 2 and 9 1849, August, 2, 23, 27 1853 (...)

25In addition to being understaffed, the division faced other problems linked to the organization of the gendarmerie. Gendarmes could only marry if the couple proved to be in possession of a certain amount of capital. The head of the division in Quiévrain lamented that his entire corps left to get married in less than a decade. The high turnover rate of personnel inherently affected the efficiency of the border stations as new staff required training and adjusting to the local environment. Low wages and minimum height requirements (173 cm) further limited the pool of potential recruits. Until the 1870s ten per cent of the vacant positions remained open due to lack of candidates. The narrow recruiting base had repercussions on the skills of the recruits, including literacy. Language issues were reinforced in a multilingual country with many dialects. As appointments and relocations occurred on the national level gendarmes sometimes ended up in regions with little affinity to their native tongue. Finally, the housing of the gendarmerie often obstructed their efficiency. Although gendarmes were paid by central authorities, provincial authorities provided their working and housing spaces. For the latter, budgetary concerns outweighed the logistical concerns of the gendarmes themselves. Hence their barracks were not necessarily located near the train station or the village center, costing gendarmes much transit time. The division in Quiévrain resided in a villa at the edge of the village on a street with no passage. The gendarmerie asked to buy a building formerly reserved for customs. Real estate prices on the main paved route to France collapsed since many businesses had closed down after the arrival of railroads. The building was ideally located close to the train station and only one hundred meters away from the border. Vagrants or international travelers without adequate papers getting off at the final French train station of Blanc Misseron two kilometers away, would no longer pass unnoticed on the main road. Yet their pleas remained unanswered. To keep the gendarmes motivated and committed to border controls, the S.P. transferred an annual bonus of 100 francs to the Quiévrain division59.

Border railroad hubs as expulsion gateways

  • 60  Little is known on expulsions before. Possibly it was more common to work with a feuille de route. (...)
  • 61  Circulars S.P. 18 April 1850, 21 January 1852, AGR, I160, S.P., 602.
  • 62  Alexander Coppens, Tussen Beleid…, op. cit., p. 224-225.

26The gendarmerie’s workload was further increased because border railroads hubs also developed into expulsion gateways. An 1843 ministerial decree entrusted the transport of detainees in prison wagons to the S.P. and appointed special agents to escort them. The gendarmerie now only took care of other means of transport. The source is ambiguous as to whether these were horse-driven or railroad prison wagons. It seems likely that the latter already took over from the former as railroads in general quickly took over passenger traffic everywhere. The acquiring of six new railroad prison wagons in 1847 leaves no doubt that at least by then the railway network was systematically used for transporting prisoners and expellees60. To expedite removals of foreigners without means of existence, the S.P. ordered the gendarmerie and police to immediately expel them out of the country without appearing before a court for vagrancy and without prior approval of the S.P. in 1850. The S.P. only expected to receive a police report of the event. This expanded the measure already enforced in Brussels nationwide. This alleviated prison overcrowding and lowered the costs of detention and administration. Reforming them in beggar workhouses had proven ineffective and too costly. To protect the freedom of the individual and prevent deserters or refugees from falling into the hands of state authorities from which they fled, expellees were allowed to choose the border of expulsion, rather than being sent to the most accessible border town61. Coppens calculated that removals under escort from the interior represented 87 % of the cases between 1835 and 1890. The gendarmerie pushed back another 7 % near the border. Finally, 6 % were entrusted to leave the country by their own means with a feuille de route62.

  • 63  See entire file on expulsion practices 1832-1913, AGR, I160, S.P., 663.

27The gendarmerie executed 94 % of the expulsions. The escort was on foot or animal-driven carts only from places where railroads proved less practical, especially near the border. Most travelled with prison wagons on fixed lines and weekdays, as the S.P grouped the expellees to reduce the costs and logistical burden. Gendarmes escorted expellees to the nearest train station directly or the nearest state prisons, which were gradually connected to the railroad network. From there, when the scheduled trains with prison wagons passed, they were entrusted to special agents escorting the wagons to the border point. The primary border hubs through which group expulsions occurred had strategic connections to the railway network: Mouscron, Quiévrain, Heer-Agimont (France), Arlon/Sterpenich (Luxemburg), Welkenraedt (Germany), Essen and Lanaken (the Netherlands). Mouscron was the most popular destination requested by the expellees because of the better employment perspectives in nearby French industrial centers. Two prison wagons from Brussels and one from Ghent passed weekly. Other hubs received one or two groups per week. On rare occasions secondary lines with irregular schedules were used such as Momignies or Erquelinnes63.

  • 64  Ibid.

28The agent of the prison wagon made reports of each trip after signing off the expellees to the local gendarmerie in the border town. The gendarmerie accompanied them to their barracks to fill out the expulsion report confirming their exit to the S.P. From the barracks the expellees walked under escort to the border. The gendarmes of Quiévrain sometimes used chains because the route passed through a populated agglomeration where many French people lived, some of whom had helped fellow countrymen to escape. In Mouscron they needed to walk nearly three kilometers to avoid crowded streets via the road to Molière up to Couet. The trip was humiliating and limited the amount of luggage carried by expellees. At the border their identity papers were returned as they were ordered to cross “freely”64.

  • 65  Letters between S.P. and Gendarmerie 3 January, 12 February, minister of Justice to Foreign Affair (...)

29They soon realized the irony of crossing the border as free people. Because trains discharged expellees at fixed moments in the week, law enforcers at the other side of the border knew when and where to await them. This converted expulsions into “hidden extraditions”. Extradition distinguished itself from expulsions because they occurred only for certain crimes, on request by foreign states and the extradited were delivered directly into the hands of law enforcers. Yet because of the railroad network, expulsions acquired the last two characteristics. First, even if the expellees were not kicked out on specific requests of neighboring authorities, states officiously agreed to facilitate the interception of grouped expulsions. Secondly, foreign law enforcers at both sides of the borders knew each other’s procedures and exchanged the groups without much effort to avoid direct contact. That Belgian authorities did not mind the infringements of the individual rights is illustrated by plans to let stagecoach prison wagons of the gendarmerie coincide with that of neighboring countries in 1842. Yet due to the lack of regularity of stagecoaches’ schedules, such plans failed. Railroads lifted these barriers and for decades this practice raised so little controversy that German bound expellees were transported across the border to the first German train station of Hebersthal until the 1870s65.

  • 66  Letter passport agent Quiévrain to S.P, 21 June 1856, AGR, I160, S.P., 484.
  • 67  Letters between S.P., special agents and border divisions of the gendarmerie, 9, 16, 17, 25 Februa (...)

30Sources do not indicate that such transports took place on French territory. Yet at least since 1856, the passport agent of Valenciennes dispatched agents to Blanc Misseron each time the prison wagon was scheduled to arrive in Quiévrain, to intercept the expellees at the border. Those without regular papers were escorted to Valenciennes for further inspection66. To refute repeated accusations of hidden extraditions after the 1870s, the S.P. instructed the gendarmes to avoid any direct contact with their foreign counterparts and not to set foot on foreign soil. If these guidelines were respected, the Belgian authorities could not be blamed as they had no sovereignty on law enforcers across the border. Despite repeated reminders, secret observance missions disclosed that groups were transferred across the border with direct contact between law enforcers. Expellees were immediately intercepted and led to nearby inns or police stations to screen their identity, criminal record and itinerary67.

  • 68  Various letters 1882, Letters 5 January 1884, 28 July 1888, 3, 8 February, 16, 17 April, 5 June 18 (...)

31French authorities proved far less concerned about hidden extraditions. The Belgian gendarmerie divisions of Erquelinnes and Momignies reported on mixed groups of expellees and extradites delivered directly at their train stations or barracks by French special agents. The bigger groups posed problems especially when arriving on late evenings or weekends. Due to the limited capacity of the makeshift prison, only some could be locked up leaving others to roam and terrorize locals. Avoiding direct contact with the French colleagues was impossible. Not until 1893 did the Belgian authorities raise the issue of breaches of territoriality by French agents. French authorities stated that this occurred under a long-standing mutual agreement consolidated in 1877. Since then they paid for the expellees’ tickets to Momignies instead of Anor, the closest French station. Belgian authorities admitted that having tolerated the practice for such a long time presented them with a fait accompli. By 1906 the system was still adopted in Erquelinnes, Momignies and Mouscron68. State authorities favored direct exchanges of expellees because they discouraged immediate returns. Those with pending sentences would at least be first obliged to suffer their punishment, while others would hopefully try their luck elsewhere. If expellees returned, gendarmes had few repressive means at their disposal to dissuade them. Only those expelled by royal decree could be arrested for violating their expulsion order which carried a prison sentence of up to six months. Yet the great majority expelled through administrative measures could legally return and would only risk to being pushed back, or being expelled again.

  • 69  AGR, I160 479, Letters July 5 1861; March 9, April 9, May 2 1858; I160, 484, Letter November 2 186 (...)
  • 70  Luc Keunings, Des polices…, op. cit., p. 62-70.
  • 71  Paul-André Rosental, « Migrations, souveraineté… », art. cit., p. 335.
  • 72  See for instance: AGR, I160, S.P., Individual File 443881.

32Revoking the passport laws put an end to identity checks of international passengers, but it did not mean the end of border controls. Conversely authorities reinforced gendarmerie divisions at the border to increase their border patrols. For instance, plans to open a division at Quévy with the opening of an international railroad in 1858 were not questioned when the passport agent was recalled. Conversely it made the opening of a new division to monitor the increased flow of foreigners passing through or settling in the area and to manage expellees dropped across the border from France a more pressing need. Quévy customs agents complained that they sometimes had to detain rapists69. The meagre reinforcements were boosted when the gendarmerie’s budget quadrupled and its personnel tripled between 1875 and 1914. The corps became better equipped and professionalized. Their presence increased in particular around industrial centers, transport routes and along the border70. It provided the necessary means to fully develop a repressive policing tactic with regards to migration, of the type which spread all over Europe at the end of the century71. Figures of people rejected at the border were no longer differentiated in national statistics after 1861, yet the gendarmerie and customs agents still conducted identity controls and pushed back undesirables. Even after 1900, printed police reports retained the question of whether identity documents had been asked for when crossing the border72. Although the question was rarely filled out and if so generally answered negatively, it shows that more research is needed on human mobility controls after the 1860s.

Conclusion

33The evidence corroborates the claim that border controls were loosened when international railroad connections opened. The commercial success of railroads was deemed more important than security issues. Identity controls targeting upper-class international male travelers were suspended for railroad passengers first, quickly followed by travelers on paved routes and eventually also for entrants via ports. The S.P. strived for uniform border controls independent of transport modes of entry, yet the practice soon forced them to revise this policy. To compensate the porousness of the borders, authorities opened a passport division where transport routes converged in Brussels, intensifying identity controls at the main place of arrival. It established a special security regime for foreigners in the capital which persisted even when border checks were reinstated and permanently abandoned. To maximize resources, the S.P. reappointed passport agents in 1848 at railroad border hubs, discarding major paved routes. It highlights the fast transition from stagecoach to railroad travel and the resignation of the S.P. of implementing a uniform national border regime. Railroads facilitated controls as they concentrated a higher number of travelers on fixed routes and punctual schedules. That identity checks at the border persisted beyond the political crisis of 1848 and 1852, up until repealing of passport laws in 1861, highlights that security concerns regained the upper hand from commercial interests. Nevertheless the S.P. took the economic consideration of railroads into account, making sure that controls did not slow down the traffic. Moreover, it claimed to provide a higher sense of security to travelers which stimulated, rather than discouraged, international human mobility.

34The gender and class-biased identity checks sometimes differed according to nationality, as for instance was the case when French citizens required visas from Belgian diplomats to be able to enter. Yet even those measures still made it relatively easy to enter with someone else’s documents. The efficiency of such border controls was further undermined because labor commuters riding on the same trains passed the border unchecked. The responsibility of patrolling the borderlands and controlling the entry of commoners fell predominantly to the gendarmerie. The fact that the gendarmerie redoubled its vigilance over the borders when passport agents were recalled, indicates that the latter were complementary to the former. The gendarmerie assisted passport agents when operative, but never took over their tasks. Gendarmes focused their effort on poorer people traveling on foot and pushed back those without means. They also left laborers commuting by train unchecked. Nevertheless, the opening of divisions in railroad border hubs were prioritized by the government, as railways attracted new businesses, migrants, commuters, vagrants and travelers alike. Hubs such as Quiévrain were also used by French and Belgian authorities to dump their expelled foreigners. Railroads provided the infrastructure to organize expulsions on a large scale. The gendarmerie played an important role in escorting expellees from Belgium to the border and preventing their immediate reentry. They also intercepted the expellees arriving from France to screen their identity and antecedents.

35The limited resources affected the effectiveness of the gendarmerie’s border controls. The S.P. was aware of the porousness of the border and so it relied mainly on mechanisms to control foreigners at their place of arrival. The bureaucratic rationalization of the S.P. during the 1840s set the blueprint for a well-oiled institution gathering information about foreigners and coordinating the expulsion of the undesirables. Individual files on each foreigner combined with lists and indexes of different categories served to trace individuals and cross check existing data with daily incoming information. This depended on the goodwill of often ill-disposed local authorities, yet the creation of population registers improved the record-keeping of foreigners. The S.P. adjusted its desire to impose uniform interior controls, similar to those at border points, by focusing resources where foreigners concentrated. But the elevated numbers of refusals at the border and expulsions from the interior during the 1850s highlight that the S.P. established a well-oiled model to select foreigners at the gates, control them where they stayed and remove those who were deemed to be undesired; even those who did not necessarily commit a crime. A similar model has been said to have emerged first in major immigration countries decades later and subsequently spread globally. The case of Belgium questions this hypothesis and calls for further transnational research, incorporating bilateral agreements based on reciprocity. It highlights that expulsion became a central pillar of modern nation-states’ migration policies at an early stage.

Haut de page

Notes

1  Philippe Rygiel, « Indésirables et migrants désirés », in Philippe Rygiel (dir.), Le bon grain et l’ivraie. La sélection des migrants en Occident, 1880-1939, Paris, Aux Lieux d’être, 2006, p. 21-22.

2  See for instance Christiane Reinecke, Grenzen der Freizügigkeit. Migrations Kontrolle in Großbritannien und Deutschland, 1880-1930, München, R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 2010.

3  David Scott Fitzgerald, David Cook-Martín, Culling the Masses: The Democratic Origins of Racist Immigration Policy in the Americas, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2014; Adam McKeown, Melancholy Order: Asian Migration and the Globalization of Borders, New York, Columbia University Press, 2008; Aristide Zolberg, « The great wall against China: Responses to the first immigration crisis 1885–1925 », in Jan Lucassen, Leo Lucassen (eds.) Migration, Migration History, History: Old Paradigms and New Perspectives, Bern, Peter Lang, 1996, p. 291-315.

4  Gérard Noiriel, La tyrannie du national. Le droit d’asile en Europe, 1793-1993, Paris, Calmann-Lévy, 1991; Paul-André Rosental, « Migrations, souveraineté, droits sociaux. Protéger et expulser les étrangers en Europe du xixe siècle à nos jours », Annales. Histoire, sciences sociales, LXVI, 2011, n° 2, p. 335-373; Frank Caestecker, Alien Policy in Belgium, 1840-1940. The Creation of Guest Workers, Refugees and Illegal Aliens, New York, Berghahn Books, 2000.

5  William Walters, « Bordering the sea: Shipping industries and the policing of stowaways », Borderlands, VII, 2008, n° 3, p. 8.; William Walters, « On the road with Michel Foucault: Migration, deportation and viapolitics », in Sophie Fuggle, Yari Lanci, Martina Tazzioli (eds.), Foucault and the History of Our Present, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, p. 94-110.

6  Hilde Greefs, Anne Winter, « Introduction », in Hilde Greefs, Anne Winter (eds.), Migration Policies and Materialities of Identification in European Cities: Papers and Gates, 1500-1930s, London, Routledge, 2018, p. 3-4.

7  Frank Caestecker, Alien Policy…, op. cit., p. 4; Nicolas Coupain, « L’expulsion des étrangers en Belgique (1830-1914) », Revue belge d’histoire contemporaine, XXXIII, 2003, n° 1, p. 7; Jean Stengers, Émigration et immigration en Belgique aux xixe et xxe siècles, Bruxelles, Académie royale des sciences d’outre-mer, 1978, p. 69-70.

8  Firmin Lentacker, La frontière franco-belge. Étude géographique des effets d’une frontière internationale sur la vie de relations, Lille, Librairie Giard, 1974, p. 16-24.

9  Firmin Lentacker, La frontière…, op. cit., p. 218, 258; Carl Strikwerda, « France and the Belgian Immigration of the nineteenth century », in Camille Guerin-Gonzales, Carl Strickwerda (eds.), The Politics of Immigrant Workers: Labor Activism and Migration in the World Economy since 1830, New York, Holmes & Meier, 1993, p. 101-104.

10  Frank Caestecker, Alien Policy…, op. cit., p. 5; Nicolas Coupain, « L’expulsion… », art. cit,, p. 8; Alexander Coppens, Ellen Debackere, « De toepassing van het Belgische immigratiebeleid in de negentiende eeuw. Omzendbrieven als schakels tussen het centrale en lokale beleidsniveau (1830-1914) », Revue belge d’histoire contemporaine XLV, 2015, n° 2, p. 30.

11  Greet De Block, « Designing the Nation: The Belgian Railway Project, 1830-1837 », Technology and Culture, LII, 2011, n° 4, p. 703-732; Bart Van Der Herten, België onder stoom Transport en communicatie tijdens de 19de eeuw, Leuven University Press, 2004, p. 312-314.

12  Bernard Gilles, « Les archives de la Compagnie du chemin de fer du Nord », Revue du Nord, CLXI, 1959, n° 41, p. 39-51; Firmin Lentacker, La frontière…, op. cit., p. 54, 152.

13  Bart Van Der Herten, België onder stoom…, op. cit., p. 147-217.

14  Alexander Coppens, Tussen Beleid en Administratieve Praktijk: De Implementatie van het Belgisch Migratiebeleid in Negentiende-eeuws Brussel, unpublished Ph.D. dissertation: Vrije Universiteit Brussel, 2017, p. 99-100.

15  Letters between S.P. and mayor of Essen 15, 21 March 1839, Community Archives Essen, O&V, 35.

16  Frank Caestecker, Alien Policy…, op. cit., p. 4-5; Alexander Coppens, Tussen Beleid…, op. cit., p. 105; Nicolas Coupain, « L’expulsion… », art. cit., p. 7; Alexander Coppens, Ellen Debackere, « De toepassing… », art. cit., p. 29-30.

17  Letter gendarmerie to S.P. 28 September 1839, Archives générales du Royaume (hereafter AGR), I160, S.P., 484.

18  Letter gendarmerie to S.P. 26 June 1839, AGR, I160, S.P., 480; Letter agent Quiévrain to S.P. 11 November 1842, AGR, I160, S.P., 46; Note S.P. 13 November 1842, AGR, I160, S.P., 45.

19  Letter S.P. to minister of Justice 7 November 1842, AGR, I160, S.P., 47.

20  Circular Hody to passport agents 15 August 1840, AGR, I160, S.P., 56.

21  Letter S.P. to minister of Justice 30 November 1842, AGR, I160, S.P., 47.

22  Letter minister of Public Works to S.P. 27 November 1842, AGR, I160, S.P., 47.

23  Letter railroad directors to S.P. 30 December 1842, AGR, I160, S.P., 60.

24  Circular Hody to provincial governors 17 December 1842, AGR, I160, S.P., 45.

25  Letter minister of Public Works to S.P. 27 November 1842, AGR, I160, S.P, 47.

26  Letters S.P. to mayors of Liège, Antwerp and Ostend 4, 7, 12, 14 November 1845, AGR, I160, S.P., 45; Loi sur la police maritime, 1843, Bruxelles, Imprimerie du Moniteur belge, 1843, AGR, I160, S.P., 59.

27  Letter S.P. to minister of Justice, 14 March 1843, AGR, I160, S.P., 47.

28  Ordonnance de police de Bruxelles, 15 October 1831, AGR, I160, S.P. 46; Alexander Coppens, Tussen Beleid…, op. cit., p. 150-151.

29  Letter of Brussels mayor to S.P. 30 April 1843, AGR, I160, S.P., 46.

30 Police report 20 February 1844, Brussels passport division survey 12 October 1876, AGR, I160, S.P., 46; Instructions aux vérificateurs de passeports, AGR, I160, S.P., 56.

31  Letters S.P. to Brussels’ mayor 20 October 1847, 14 March 1848, AGR, I160, S.P., 46.

32  Alexander Coppens, Tussen Beleid…, op. cit., p. 153.

33  Report on the passport division, s.d. ca. 1849, AGR, I160, S.P., p. 46.

34  Frank Caestecker, Alien Policy…, op. cit., p. 6-7; Frank Caestecker, Filip Strubbe, Pierre-Alain Tallier, Individual Files on Foreigners Opened by the Sûreté publique,
1835-1943
, Brussels, State Archives, 2010, p. 3.

35  Statistics composed by Nicolas Coupain based on statistical records of the S.P. Nicolas Coupain, L’expulsion des étrangers en Belgique (1830-1914), unpublished MA thesis, Université libre, Bruxelles, 2000, p. 174-175.

36  Letters Brussels’ mayor to minister of Justice 9 November, 24 December 1848, AGR, I160, S.P., 46.

37  Report on Brussels passport division 12 October 1876, AGR, I160, S.P., 46.

38  Reader’s letter, La Vigie de l’Escault, 15 September 1850; Letter Antwerp superintendent to S.P. May 21 1851, AGR, I160, S.P., 59.

39  Ibid., footnote 34.

40  Règlement de l’Administration de la Sûreté publique, ca. 1849, AGR, I160, S.P., 46.

41  Alexander Coppens, Ellen Debackere, « De toepassing », art. cit., 18; Robin Libert, « In vogelvlucht: De geschiedenis van 175 jaar Veiligheid van de Staat », in Marc Cools et al. (eds), La Sûreté: essais sur les 175 ans de la Sûreté de l’État, Brussels, Politeia, 2005, p. 27.

42  Ilsen About and Vincent Denis, Histoire de l’identification des personnes, Paris, La Découverte, 2010, p. 56-70.

43  Anne Winter, Migrants and Urban Change: Newcommers to Antwerp, 1760-1860, London, Pickering and Chatto, 2009, p. 64-65; Alexander Coppens, Tussen Beleid…, op. cit.; Ellen Debackere, Tussen Stad en Staat. Het Lokale Beleid ten aanzien van Buitenlanders in Antwerpen, 1830-1880, unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Universiteit Antwerpen, 2016.

44  Letters S.P. September 8 and 26 1848, AGR, I160, S.P., 60.

45  Frank Caestecker, Alien Policy…, op. cit., 4.

46  Letters between S.P. and préfet du Nord, 16 September, 3 October 1839, 14 September 1840, 20 January 1842, January 5 1843, July 14 1849, 14 May, 13 October 1852, circulars S.P. 24 August 1836, October 1 1839, 23 March 1841; AGR, I160, S.P., 22.

47  Letter passport agent Quiévrain to S.P. 8 August 1849, AGR, I160, S.P., 484.

48  Correspondence between passport agent Quiévrain and S.P.15 June and 12 July 1850; 7, 22 April, 27 August, 1, 11, September 1852, AGR, I160, S.P., 60.

49  Michael Serruys, « Grenzen, wegenbouw en mercantilisme in de Oostenrijkse Nederlanden », Tijd-Schrift, IV, 2014, n° 1, p. 24-28.

50  Letter passport agent Menin to S.P. 23 November 1842, AGR, I160, S.P., 45.

51  Letters between S.P. and minister of Justice 15 June, 12 July 1850, 7, 22 April, 27 August, 1, 11 September 1852, AGR, I160, S.P., 60.

52  This is still the case today with shipping companies, airlines, lorry drivers, etc. Torsten Feys, « Bounding mass migration across the Atlantic: European shipping companies between U.S. border building and evasion 1860s-1920s », Journal of Modern European History, XIV, 2016, n° 1, p. 98-99; William Walters, « Bordering the sea… » art. cit., p. 8.

53  Letters between S.P. and minister of Justice 8, 26 September 1848, AGR, I160, S.P., 60; Letter J-B. Nothomb 8 September 1852, AGR, I160, S.P., 61.

54  Correspondence between minister of Justice, Public Works, External Affairs, passport agents, S.P. and chief engineer of railroads 27 September, 8 October 1852, 6, 12, 18, 20, 21, 30 August, 2, 3, 7 September, 8, 12 October AGR, I160, S.P., 61.

55  Correspondence between minister of Justice and Public Works 27 August, 8 October, 17 December 1857, 12 January 1858, AGR, I160, S.P., 61.

56  Circular S.P. to passport agents 1 August 1860, AGR, I160, S.P., 56.

57  Ibid., footnote 15. Luc Keunings, Des polices si tranquilles. Une histoire de l’appareil policier belge au xixe siècle, Louvain-la-Neuve, Presses UCL, 2009, p. 16.

58  Correspondence between the Quiévrain passport agent, gendarmerie and S.P. 21 December 1848, 16 February and 18 April 1849, 26 July, 17 September 13, 24 December 1858, AGR, I160, S.P., 484; Circular to customs agents April 11 1861, AGR, I160, S.P., 879.

59  Correspondence S.P. October 26, December 21, 27 1848, January 2 and 9 1849, August, 2, 23, 27 1853, 9 August 1854, December 30 1856, 21 April, 1, 7, 18 May 1860, AGR, I160, S.P., 484. Luc Keunings, Des polices…, op. cit., p. 30-35.

60  Little is known on expulsions before. Possibly it was more common to work with a feuille de route. Note S.P. 2 May 1876, AGR, I160, S.P., 663. Michel Laffut, Les chemins de fer belges, 1830-1913. Genèse du réseau et présentation critique des données statistiques, Brussels, Chauveheid, 1998, vol. 1b, p. 605-609.

61  Circulars S.P. 18 April 1850, 21 January 1852, AGR, I160, S.P., 602.

62  Alexander Coppens, Tussen Beleid…, op. cit., p. 224-225.

63  See entire file on expulsion practices 1832-1913, AGR, I160, S.P., 663.

64  Ibid.

65  Letters between S.P. and Gendarmerie 3 January, 12 February, minister of Justice to Foreign Affairs 15 February, Prefect of Valenciennes to S.P. 15 February 1842, AGR, I160, S.P., 706; See the whole file on expulsion practices 1832-1913, AGR, I160, S.P., 663.

66  Letter passport agent Quiévrain to S.P, 21 June 1856, AGR, I160, S.P., 484.

67  Letters between S.P., special agents and border divisions of the gendarmerie, 9, 16, 17, 25 February, 25 June 1896, 15, 16, 17 February 1899, 8 July 1902, AGR, I160, S.P., 663.

68  Various letters 1882, Letters 5 January 1884, 28 July 1888, 3, 8 February, 16, 17 April, 5 June 1893, 21 April 1906, AGR, I160, S.P., 706.

69  AGR, I160 479, Letters July 5 1861; March 9, April 9, May 2 1858; I160, 484, Letter November 2 1861.

70  Luc Keunings, Des polices…, op. cit., p. 62-70.

71  Paul-André Rosental, « Migrations, souveraineté… », art. cit., p. 335.

72  See for instance: AGR, I160, S.P., Individual File 443881.

Haut de page

Table des illustrations

Titre Table 1: Expelled removed and pushed back foreigners in Belgium 1836-186335.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/diasporas/docannexe/image/3305/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 252k
Titre Graph 1: Annual expulsions from the interior and refusals at the border 1836-196339.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/diasporas/docannexe/image/3305/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 97k
Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Torsten Feys, « International railroads and human mobility controls at the Franco-Belgian border (1840s-1860s) », Diasporas, 33 | 2019, 35-54.

Référence électronique

Torsten Feys, « International railroads and human mobility controls at the Franco-Belgian border (1840s-1860s) », Diasporas [En ligne], 33 | 2019, mis en ligne le 01 septembre 2019, consulté le 16 octobre 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/diasporas/3305 ; DOI : 10.4000/diasporas.3305

Haut de page

Auteur

Torsten Feys

Torsten Feys obtained his PhD in History at the European University Institute in Florence (2008). His dissertation and FWO-postdoc research analysed the commercialisation of transatlantic migrant transport from the business perspective of the shipping companies. It detailed how shipping cartels organised the passenger market and subsequently focused on how they influenced the enactment, enforcement and evasion of migration laws (The battle for the Migrants: The Introduction of Steamships on the North-Atlantic and its Impact on the European Exodus, 2013). Since 2015 he’s been working at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel as a postdoctoral fellow coordinating a research project ‘IMMIBEL’ which analyses migration patterns and policies in Belgium (1830-1914). His research is centred on expulsion practices, transport infrastructure and migration governance. Torsten Feys a soutenu son doctorat à l’Institut universitaire européen de Florence en 2008. Sa thèse s’intéressait à l’organisation du marché de transport des migrants transatlantiques par les compagnies maritimes et à la logique d’entreprise derrière les flux migratoires, montrant comment les compagnies se sont interposées dans l’adoption des lois de migration, leur application et leur transgression (cf. The Battle for the Migrants: The Introduction of Steamships on the North-Atlantic and its Impact on the European Exodus, 2013). Depuis 2015, il travaille comme chercheur postdoctoral à la Vrije Universiteit Brussel et coordonne le projet IMMIBEL qui analyse les flux d’immigration et leur contrôle en Belgique au xixe siècle. Sa recherche concerne plus particulièrement les pratiques d’expulsion.

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
Diasporas – Circulations, migrations, histoire est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Haut de page
  • Logo Presses universitaires du Midi
  • Logo Framespa
  • Logo CNRS - Institut des sciences humaines et sociales
  • Logo DOAJ - Directory of Open Access Journals
  • OpenEdition Journals