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Forgotten heroes

Vergeten helden : tien portretten van vrouwen over migratie
Sema Yildiz

Heusden-Zolder: RIMO Limburg, 2012 

ISBN: 9789081899406

Much has been written about migration. Very often it was then about men who worked in coal mines, among other things, as part of labour migration. Rarely were women discussed.


The Steenveld neighbourhood association in Beringen therefore launched a heritage project focusing on the life stories of women from the neighbourhood. The result of numerous interviews and the collection of private documents and photos is a publication with the women’s stories. While their husbands were able to develop social contacts through their work in the coal mines, the women went through a very different journey. Their stories are little known.


Ten women from the Steenveld district in Beringen shed the veil of their souls in this book. Each of them tells strong life stories that offer a surprising insight into their world of experience. Travel stories with in one hand a suitcase full of memories and in the other one full of hope for a better future, stories about having to say goodbye, gnawing homesickness, fear of the unknown, and the unconditional love for the children that makes every sacrifice acceptable. Flemish women are also featured, as migration was a profound event for both migrants and natives.


The non-profit organisation Rimo Limburg conceived the plan to record life stories of older women to gauge their existential experience of migration. ‘I focused on the experience of women because they occupied a totally different position from the men,’ says Sema Yildiz. ‘While the men had many contacts through work in the mine, the women had fewer opportunities for integration.’

The women interviewed are all from the Steenveld district in Koersel. Sema Yildiz worked there as a community worker and has a trusting relationship with them. Steenveld was a small mining district four kilometres from the Beringen mine. In the 1970s, the neighbourhood was taken over by the Cantonal Construction Company. It expanded the neighbourhood with social housing, which was mainly occupied by residents of Turkish origin, some 75 per cent. In the old neighbourhood, mainly Belgians, East and South European migrants live there. But in recent years there has been an influx of Turks here too. The neighbourhood had 260 families in 2012 . Yildiz interviewed 10 women: three Turkish, one Spanish, one German, one French, two Belgian, one Italian, one Dominican and a local kindergarten teacher. ‘First-generation migrant women speak little Dutch. That is why the stories are printed in two languages each time: Dutch and a summary in their own language.