Page 7

CIM37

international. Add to that the economic stagnation of countries in the southern hemisphere and all the conditions for mass displacement are there. Faced with this situation, a number of governments, especially in Europe, resorted to camps as a default policy, for lack of alternatives to prevent what they see as a problem: the movement of these populations across borders. Camps are the last resort for people who have slipped through all the filters. And we can be sure of one thing: no law will ever prevent human migration. You mention detention centers and work camps. M.A.: These camps are also proliferating, and they have a lot in common with those we’ve just mentioned: poor living conditions, temporary accommodation… More than a thousand detention centers, where governments ‘park’ illegal immigrants pending their hypothetical return to their country of origin, exist across the world. Of all the categories mentioned, these camps are the most sealed off, and the tendency—especially in Europe—is to extend the detention periods. Workers’ camps, which are mostly found in emerging countries like Brazil, China, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates, but also in the south of the US and Europe, are a purely economic setup. In some regions, the development of agribusiness, with sugarcane plantations for example, and the launch of colossal infrastructure projects such as roads and dams create a huge demand for labor, drawing large numbers of foreign workers. Camps make it possible to accommodate these people, who are economically useful but socially undesirable. Some camps have been in existence for decades. Can they still be called ‘temporary’? M.A.: That is the other distinctive characteristic of these settlements: they are supposed to respond to an emergency, but they tend to last over time, while displaced individuals cling to the hope of an eventual return to their homeland—an illusion shared by the organizations and governments that run these sites. Camps gradually become familiar to their inhabitants who see them as a home away from home. This is obvious from the material transformations brought by the residents as they settle in, turning the camps into a hybrid feature, halfway between a village and a shantytown. Some have even been rebuilt, which is no small paradox! One example is the Nahr al-Bared camp in Lebanon, destroyed in 2007 as a result of a conflict between the Lebanese army and an Islamic organization, and subsequently rebuilt at the refugees’ request. The new site was carefully laid out with the help of Palestinian and international architects and urban planners—an unprecedented situation, as these people are officially ‘encamped,’ but their living space is granted urban recognition. By the same author FOCUS Managing the Undesirables Michel Agier, (Cambridge: Polity, 2010). In a situation of permanent catastrophe and endless emergency, “undesirables” are kept apart and out of sight, while the care dispensed is designed to control, filter and confine. How should we interpret the disturbing symbiosis between the hand that cares and the hand that strikes? A radical critique of the foundations, contexts, and political effects of humanitarian action. On the Margins of the World Michel Agier, (Cambridge: Polity, 2008) Whole new countries are being created, occupied by Afghan refugees, displaced Columbians, deported Rwandans, exiled Congolese, fleeing Iraqis, Chechens, Somalians, and Sudanese who have witnessed wars, massacres, aggression, and terror. These populations are the emblem of a new human condition that takes shape on the very margins of the world. Michel Agier sheds light on this dislocation and quarantine process affecting an ever-growing proportion of the world’s population. Camps also play an important economic role… M.A.: Yes, and in more than one way. Firstly, because many of the residents work, even though they are not supposed to, and therefore contribute to the local economy. Secondly, because these infrastructures involve complex logistics. Building a camp in the middle of the desert means erecting tents or barracks, providing a water supply, arranging food deliveries, laying down tracks… It’s a fullfledged industry, with dedicated companies and NGOs. In France, some detention camps are set up and operated on the public-private partnership model, in cooperation with construction companies like Vinci and Bouygues. Does this mean that certain parties would have a vested interest in keeping camps alive? M.A.: Let’s not make unfounded accusations: the NGOs active in this field have the best intentions. Indeed, some studies show that gathering so many people in vast infrastructures is more expensive than it seems, and they advocate alternative solutions. To this end, an interesting experiment is now underway in Lebanon: even though thousands of people have crossed the Syrian-Lebanese border to flee the fighting, the country refuses to set up UNHCR3 camps for Syrian refugees. In the absence of official settlements, private parties have been offering their own land for a fee. While some see this as an exploitation of human suffering, it could pave the way towards a better integration of refugees in the host country. What if the UNHCR itself paid local residents for sheltering refugees? Attitudes seem to be evolving: even this UN agency, which has built hundreds of settlements, is beginning to consider alternatives to the ‘all-camp’ model. ii 7 SPRING 2015 N° 37 michel.agier@ehess.fr


CIM37
To see the actual publication please follow the link above