Accepted Paper:

Control, pity and illicitness: Seeking asylum in Czech refugee camps  


Alice Szczepanikova (Department of Sociology, University of Warwick)

Paper short abstract:

This presentation discusses European refugee camps as an expression of institutional culture of the refugee systems as well as concrete social spaces where particular refugee identities and practices are produced with wider implications for refugees' position in receiving societies.

Paper long abstract:

Refugee camps embody the present European ambivalence towards refugees: are they true suffering subjects of human rights in need of protection or rather threatening needy immigrants who try to abuse the European welfare system? Following Didier Fassin, I conceptualise refugee camps in Europe as materialized combination of policies of order and politics of suffering, oscillation between sentiments control and pity. Based on an ethnographic fieldwork carried out in the Czech Republic between 2004 and 2007, I discuss how the institution of a refugee camp shapes the concept of "a refugee" at a more general level and how it influences actual "being a refugee" through everyday practices of confinement. I argue that, among other things, camps socialise asylum seekers into particular perceptions of law and rules that more or less directly nourish illicit practices. While refugee camps can certainly be perceived as territories of exception (Agamben), they also constitute highly heterogeneous spaces that allow for multiple uses of the refugee label by refugee migrants and various forms of resistance to the system of migration control.

Panel W043
Alien confinement in Europe: field perspectives