European Commission - 7th Framework Programme European Museums and Libraries in/of the age of migrations last updated: February 2015

Terre d’Asile / Terre d’Exil

10 October 2015

Paris, France | University of London Institute in Paris

The School of History at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and the University of London Institute in Paris (ULIP) are organising the 1st Joint Postgraduate Colloquium, Terre d’Asile / Terre d’Exil: Historical Perspectives on Refuge and Asylum in 20th Century France, set to take place at ULIP in Paris, France on Saturday, October 10th, 2015. Professor Gérard Noiriel, director of the EHESS and authority on the history of immigration in France, will be the keynote speaker.

As the current migrant crisis has shown, many consider European shores worth the risk of a dangerous journey through international waters, much to the detriment of their personal safety. The arrival of migrants is continuously publicised, politicised and problematised in public discourse, revealing a need to reflect upon the historical implications of Europe’s long legacy as a land of refuge and asylum during the twentieth century.

France is certainly no stranger to these issues. Championed as a land of asylum by Chateaubriand, the pays d’hospitalité has long viewed itself as a safe haven for political exiles and refugees, expatriates and émigrés. Anchored in two key historical moments, the French Revolution and post-Second World War reconstruction, the legal frameworks and political structures that have emerged from population movements to the French metropolis are factors that have shaped the practices and particularities of refuge and asylum in twentieth-century France. The rural exodus and colonial migrations of the early twentieth century paved the way for mass immigration during the Great War, as well as the postwar industrial boom and great social, political and economic migrations of the interwar period. The death and destruction of the Second World War and its aftermath, furthermore, engendered massive waves of civilian displacement, expulsion and resettlement that forever altered the European demographic. The population influxes that followed decolonisation, European integration and mondialisation have also further transformed France into a land of refuge and asylum.

Although notions of refuge and asylum are anchored in specific historical contexts, they are frequently omitted from historical study; these terms are often conceptualised through an anthropological or sociological lens, and such approaches fail to consider how historical factors shape scholarly understanding of the processes of refuge and asylum seeking. The arrival and reception of migrants, refugees and exiles on French soil throughout the twentieth century provided a convenient platform for reframing domestic concerns about social inclusion and exclusion, and about rights and acceptance. In many ways, viewing France as a “terre d’asile” or a “terre d’exil” exposes its dual nature as a land of tolerance and persecution on racial, political, social, ethnic, religious, sexual or gendered grounds. Just as France can be viewed as a land of refuge, it can also be seen as its own antithesis, as debates surrounding these issues often framed the acceptable limits of tolerance while naturalising its deficits. While twentieth-century France was a place of economic, political and conscientious refuge for many, it was also a land of deportation and persecution, a site of political extremes and extremism, and home to dark legacies of occupation and collaboration. The dual nature of France as a land of tolerance and persecution, and the challenge that this binary imposes on contemporary issues, can be appropriated onto a wider historical framework and provide a fruitful topic for historical enquiry.


For further information, please contact:

Katherine Rossy, Ph.D Candidate
Queen Mary University of London

Dr Anna-Louise Milne
University of London Institute in Paris

Eoghan Moran, Ph.D Candidate
Queen Mary University of London