SuperCamp: Genealogies of Humanitarian Containment in the Middle East


Are John Knudsen

Senior Researcher

Antonio De Lauri

Senior Researcher, Coordinator; Humanitarianism and Borders

This project advances a new approach for understanding the Middle East refugee crisis that since 2012 has displaced close to five million Syrians to neighboring host states. This has put the countries along the Mediterranean at the forefront of what is now labelled a "migrant crisis". Not only are more people displaced, but more people migrate following displacement, so-called secondary migration. To prevent this, the EU and Schengen countries have from late March 2016 instituted a new policy of containment, especially targeting irregular migration via Turkey with an explicit aim to stop it and turn back migrants. Moreover, European transit countries with Hungary in the lead have erected new fences to deter migrants. In the Mediterranean, search and rescue missions have intensified border patrols and surveillance. The efforts to constrain, deflect and deter migrants are not only likely to continue, but to intensify. The policy of turning back would-be migrants points towards the Middle East as a regional catch basin for refugees and migrants alike, instituted through a policy of regional containment and rebordering by the EU and Schengen member states. To this end, the project studies 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. The main hypothesis is that the Middle East host states form a bio-regional zone of containment, a SuperCamp, under humanitarian government. Starting from a multi-disciplinary study of humanitarian containment in three historical periods (1850-present), we move the analysis beyond the nation state. By scaling up the diverse historical and present-day sites of displacement, a bio-political region of forced immobility emerges, one subject to a humanitarian policy of containment used to keep refugees inside the region and outside continental Europe.