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Open Access Publications from the University of California

"A Matter of Life and Death: A Critical Examination of the Role of Official Records and Archives in Supporting the Agency of the Forcibly Displaced"

  • Author(s): Gilliland, Anne J.
  • et al.

Having the necessary documentation to cross borders, claim refugee status or benefits, settle elsewhere or return to sites of origin may literally be a life or death matter for people who have been forcibly displaced. Government and other organizational recordkeeping offices and archives holding official records needed in adjudications regarding identity, status, citizenship, property and so forth may also play integral roles in validating those records. Drawing examples from displacement and migrant crises in the Balkans region in the 1990s and today, this paper argues that "official" archives are neither epistemologically nor structurally oriented to address the immediate needs of the forcibly displaced and other "non-citizens" who often resort to "irregular" forms and uses of records to survive. A theoretical, organizational and practical reorientation is needed that is based in supranational and transinstitutional thinking and proactive humanitarianism. This reorientation should engage at the level of affected individuals and their everyday lives and also account for "irregular" records generated or deployed in exigency or in other forms of radical agency by the forcibly displaced.

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