Genealogies of Humanitarian Containment in the Middle East

Are John Knudsen

Senior Researcher

Antonio De Lauri

Senior Researcher, 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 Europa in the largest movement of peoples since WWII. To prevent this, the EU and Schengen countries from late March 2016 instituted a new policy of regional containment, especially targeting irregular migration via Turkey with an explicit aim to stop and turn back migrants. In the Mediterranean, search and rescue missions have intensified border patrols and surveillance. The efforts to constrain, deflect and deter migrants are likely to continue and even intensify. This research therefore builds upon the assumption that a policy of humanitarian containment by the EU and Schengen member states effectively establishes the Middle East region as a “catch basin” for refugees and migrants alike.

The project hypothesizes that the region is not only spatial container, a “catch basin” (Peteet 2011), but takes on features of what we term a SuperCamp, where refugees and migrants are not so much hosted as held hostage. To this end, the main hypothesis is that Middle East region forms a zone of containment, a SuperCamp under humanitarian government.

To this end, the project explores the consequences of the policy of containment that can be traced from the late Ottoman and early Mandate period to the present-day host states Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, all destabilized by the Syrian civil war.

Starting from a multi-disciplinary study of humanitarian containment in three historical periods, we pursue the analysis beyond the nation state. By scaling up sites, systems and sources of containment, a bio-political region of forced immobility emerges, one subject to a humanitarian architecture that to keep refugees inside the region and outside continental Europe.

The formation of a SuperCamp as an analytical concept is significant. The novelty of this project is also the combination of specialized research fields that seldom communicate –refugee, migration and humanitarian border studies and history – for a new understanding of regional and, indeed, global forces of humanitarian containment, captured in the term SuperCamp.

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.