The Public Safety Organization:
In 1840 the Belgian state, which was founded in 1830, entrusted the Public Safety (in Dutch: Openbare Veiligheid, in French: Sûreté Publique, in German:Öffentlichen Sicherheit) which was an autonomous board under the Minister of Justice, to monitor the aliens on its territory.
Note: Both Dutch, French and German are spoken in specific parts of Belgium as can be seen on the following map:
In order to preserve public order, the Public Safety Organization had to remove undesired aliens from Belgium’s territory. In order to be able to implement this order, they had to rely on the support from the municipal authorities who had in their turn to report each registration of any alien in the register of the municipality as soon as possible to the Public Safety.
This Public Safety organization would then decide whether the person could remain in the country. If this was the case, the Public Safety organization would keep a close eye on the alien citizen during his or her stay in Belgium. All authorities, including the army and the judiciary, were supposed to forward any document about the foreigner to the Public Safety Organization.
How was the information collected:
Most information was obviously gathered from aliens who voluntarily went to the municipalities to register. In addition, information was directly obtained by the police who found foreigners on Belgian territory and of foreigners that had to resort to the use of public services such as hospitals, etc.
Some files were opened on aliens even though they never reached Belgian territory. The organization opened these files preventively for “subversive” and possible criminal foreigners in order to be prepared in case they would enter Belgian territory.
When the foreigner in question passed away or naturalized, the file was closed.
Which files were opened and when:
The first “real” foreigners file was opened in the year 1830, with a number of 24,968. All subsequent files are arranged chronologically through the 19th and 20th centuries.
In 1876 the series covered 300,000 files, in 1889 they covered 500,000 files and in 1904 file number 750,000 was opened. In 1912 file 1000.000 was opened. In recent times, in the year 2000, file number five million was opened.
We should also note that children of aliens were, as long as they were considered aliens too, registered in their parents’ files until they eventually reached the age of 16 or until their aliens files was closed for other reasons then reaching the age of 16 (e.g.:they themselves naturalised, left the country, etc).
Until 1994 the ministry of Justice was responsible for the upkeep of the files and from 1994 and on it changed to the responsibility of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (to be more specific; the newer files are kept by the General Directorate of the Immigrant Affairs at the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Brussels (https://dofi.ibz.be/).
Which files are currently still existing and can these be consulted:
Many files from the 19th century were destroyed at the end of the 19th century to save space (mainly files from aliens who stayed for a short time in Belgium were destroyed).
Concretely, this means that of the 1322 files which were opened in 1884, only about three hundred remained. These gaps in the source material can be partly compensated by the consulting of the immigration records which are kept in local archives. So does the city archives of Antwerp have a comprehensive collection of 134,900 individual immigration records for the period 1842 – 1910 (see here LINK) and the city archives of Brussels have the immigration files from since 1860 fully preserved.
Since 1889 (around file number 500,000), almost all foreigners files are retained. Nevertheless an average of one or two files on one hundred is missing for this period. This is due to the fact that the Public Security occasionally canceled an open file. This could be the case if the alien appeared to have come to Belgium to join his spouse or an already immigrated family member (this allowed the authorities to better trace relationships between immigrants). Likewise aliens which did have more than one identity had their file with the false identity closed (upon discovery by the authorities of the false identity).
The files were deposited in stages at the Belgian State Archives:
- 1948: file numbers 69 – 499.999 (opened between 1835 and Dec. 1889).
- 1965: file numbers 500.000 – 999.999 (opened between Dec. 1889 and May 1912).
- 2008: file numbers 1.000.000 – 1.668.399 (opened between May 1912 and Dec. 1930).
- 2008: file numbers A 1 – A 419.999 (opened between Dec. 1930 and June 1943).
As a general rule, one hundred years after opening a file, the file becomes accessible to each researcher. This means that each year more than 30,000 records are released.
If someone wants to look into his/her own file, this of course will be allowed upon presentation of his/her ID-card. Offspring of the subject in the file however, need to prove their relationship with the person from the file and in case the person is still alive, they will need to get the consent or authorization for consultation of the file.
In the case of historical or genealogical research, approval by the General State Archivist can exceptionally be granted for any file. This happens on the basis of a reasoned application and a formal agreement in which the researcher agrees not to share sensitive information of the individuals involved.
For the newest files which are still kept by the General Directorate of the Immigrant Affairs at the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Brussels, you could try and require permission to see the files.
Visit their website at https://dofi.ibz.be/ for more information or contact them via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In my next article I’ll discuss how to get to the Belgian Statearchive and/or how to contact them.
Sources: The main sources used for this article: My own experience and the following publication:
“De individuele vreemdelingendossiers afkomstig van de Openbare Veiligheid (Vreemdelingenpolitie) (1835-1943) Zoekwijzers” – by CAESTECKER Frank, STRUBBE Filip, TALLIER Pierre-Alain.
Further reading: The following 3 articles on this website attempt to present the reader with a general overview of the Belgian State Archives:
- An introduction to the Belgian State Archives and its immigration files (current page)
- The State Archives in Belgium: Getting there
- Preparing your research at the Belgian State Archives