Genealogies of Humanitarian Containment in the Middle East

Are John Knudsen

Senior Researcher

Antonio De Lauri

Research Professor, Coordinator; Humanitarianism and Borders

Kjersti G. Berg

Post-doctoral fellow

Runa Sekse Aarset

Master's student

Synnøve Kristine Nepstad Bendixsen

Associate Professor, University of Bergen

Rebecca Bryant

Professor, Utrecht University

Dawn Chatty

Professor, University of Oxford

Benjamin Thomas White

Lecturer, University of Glasgow

Kamel Doraï

Researcher, ifpo & CRNS

Jeff Crisp

Associate Fellow, International Law Programme, Chatham House

In 2015, more than one million migrants reached Europe. In response to this, the EU and Schengen countries instituted a new policy of regional containment from March 2016. The policy specifically aimed to stop and turn back migrants and especially targeted irregular migration through Turkey. Border patrols in the Mediterranean increased and surveillance and border patrols intensified. In so doing, the EU and Schengen countries effectively established a “catch basin” for refugees and migrants in the Middle East.  

This project analyses this “catch basin” and hypothesizes that the Middle East takes on features of what we call a “SuperCamp – an area where migrants are not so much hosted but held hostage. It addresses one of the most pressing problems facing nation states: the movement of refugees and migrants from the global south to the global north. By reflecting on the positionality of the migrants in the “south” and the perceived threat to the “affluent north,” the project provides a more nuanced understanding of and theory on the historical and bio-political sources of containment. The project thus focuses on the consequences of displacement 

The project explores the consequences of the policy of containment over time, particularly focused on three historical periods:  

  • Resettlement and relief in the period 1850-1950 
  • Encampment and control from 1950 to 2000 
  • Reordering and return, 2000 to 2017

Thus, the project allows for a tracing of policy of containment from the late Ottoman and early Mandate period to the present-day host states destabilised by the Syrian war: Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. 

The project moves beyond the traditional analysis centred on the nation state to encompass sites, systems and sources of containment 

The project brings together a combination of specialised fields – refugee, migration and humanitarian border studies, history and anthropology  to provide a new understanding of regional, and global, forces of humanitarian displacement. The formation of the SuperCamp as an analytical concept is significant and brings a new concept into the realm of refugee and migration studies. 

The project is funded by the FRIPRO-programme of the Research Council of Norway, and it runs from 2019-2022.

The Advisory Board: Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Professor of anthropology, University of Oslo, Michel Agier, Professor of anthropology EHESS, Paris, Sari Hanafi, Professor of sociology, American University in Beirut, Maja Janmyr, Professor of International humanitarian law, University of Oslo.