A l'interieur de l'exterieur et inversement
this text was written for the newspaper 'Movements of Migration' that was published by the Frassanito Network on the occassion of the European Social Forum 2004 in London.
Detention and deportation camps for foreigners have been in function in Europe for several decades. Today, with the externalisation projects and the degradation of asylum and migration policies, they become a major tool for these policies, and a place for migrants struggles and resistance.
In February 2003, Tony Blair sends to his European partners a project for delocalized Transit Processing Centers, camps outside EU borders to confine asylum seekers during the processing of their claims by UNHCR, while IOM takes care of the management. Hungary, Morocco, Ukraine and Albania are mentioned. At Veria informal JHA Council (march 2003), the English project is favorably welcomed by several countries, and above all by UNHCR Lubbers. But Thessaloniki European Council (june 2003) temporarily postpones it without rejecting it: UK is invited to proceed to "smallscale experimentations" with other countries, and a few months later negotiates with Tanzania, of course in exchange of an increase of financial help, the opening of camps for Somalians denied asylum in UK (Tanzania declined). Denmark has considered sending its asylum seekers in East Africa.
What is at stake here is to export beyond European borders the responsibility European member states have towards their international commitments - here concerning refugees protection - and towards the consequences of their immigration policies. Management of the camps, under IOM, will be more and more subcontracted to multinational security companies such as Group4 Falk, which managed Woomera before it was closed, and Yarlswood in UK (employees of these companies are also active in Irak).
These projects have taken a new upward turn during the summer of 2004. Even if they are not immediately implemented, or if their design remains obscure, they represent a capital turning point, a qualitative leap in European lingo and projects. All this in a quite widespread indifference (except for Italian activists and very few associations).
Two tragedies served as pretext, while the European Commission was renewed and Libya became everyone's darling (especially hightech firms).
On July 11th, Cap Anamur, a ship belonging to a German NGO, is authorized for "humanitarian" reasons to dock in Sicily, 20 days after having rescued, in the international waters between Libya and Sicily, the 37 passengers of a sinking ship; the Italian authorities had been forbidding the docking since July 1st, scorning the non turning back principle. Italy, Malta (where the ship had stopped) and Germany handed the responsibility to one another, while scorning Geneva Convention, Nice Carta and Italian Constitution. These three EU member states, with the conniving silence of the European institutions, insisted on the fact that "humanitarian urgency" was impossible to meet for fear of creating a "dangerous precedent which would lead to numerous abuses". They also misinterpreted for their benefice Dublin II, which says that in order to determine the state responsible for examining the asylum request, the request must first be presented in a EU member state.
The refugees are sent from one CPT to another, then eventually deported to Ghana (although ECHR had forbidden their deportation); three members of the NGO are put into jail (then released) for "helping illegal immigration". Roberto Castelli, Italian minister of Justice and member of the Lega del Nord talks of terrorism. Otto Schily, German minister of the Interior, reactivates the English project by asking that EU opens camps for asylum seekers in North Africa.
A few weeks later, on August 2nd, the German cargo ship Zuiderdiep saves the 72 surviving passengers of a small boat which had left Libya a week earlier (with food and supplies for 2 days); they had had to throw to sea the corpses of 28 others. After the docking in Sicily the migrants are imprisoned in CPTs then deported. While Italian extreme right (by the voice of two Lega ministers, Castelli and Calderoli) asks for the strengthening of military interventions at sea, and that illegal entrance becomes a criminal offense, a new "consensus" appears. Beppe Pisanu, Italian minister of the Interior (UDC), asks Europe to help Italy fight migratory invasion, of course for the sake of the migrants themselves, and with the goal of fullfilling Europe's "historical duty towards the thirld world".
Romano Prodi, still officially UE Commission president until Nov. 1st, supports Pisanu: Europe is ready, but there is no agreement between the member states (thus no means), the competent instances must be put in motion (JAI and European Councils).
The Libyan minister of Interior "reveals" that his country is at risk to disappear with the arrival of millions of illegal migrants, most of them terrorists, and appeals to Europe (Libya had just eliminated the last obstacle to the shifting of the embargo by accepting to pay the victims of a bombing in Berlin).
On August 12th, the Italian Director of immigration visits his Libyan homologue; an agreement is signed (mixed sea patrols, now enforced, training, high technologies). Prodi pays a phone call to Ghedaffi to congratulate him.
On the same day, Pisanu and Schily advocate the opening of camps in Libya and North Africa for asylum seekers, immediately supported by Rocco Buttiglione (former Berlusconi minister of European Affairs, UDC), newly appointed vicepresident of the Commission and Commissioner for "Justice, Liberty and Safety", who qualifies illegal immigration "a time bomb". He also indicates that European firms will be encouraged to visit these "portals" (the official denomination for the camps in Libya and North Africa).
Meanwhile the Italians reactivate a 2003 proposal: the building in Malta of a "super jail" for all the migrants illegally staying in Europe for whom it can be proved they had transited via Malta.
An "unofficial" UNHCR position seems to indicate that it will be more or less involved in the management of the externalized camps. At the informal JHA meeting (Sept 30th-Oct.1st), France, Sweden and Belgium voiced their opposition to the project, while it was backed by Italy, UK, The Netherlands and Germany. Antonio Vitorino announced that the European executive, backed by the Dutch presidency, will finance five projects for refugees pilot agencies in North Africa, in order to modernize the facilities in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania (what the European lingo calls "capacity building").
In each of these steps, no precise information is given, and official press releases remain vague (a prefiguration of the Constitution "operational cooperation", where JAI matters will be processed by experts). It would be no surprise that externalisation, with or without explicit camps (or rather behind euphemisms such as "active cooperation with countries of origin" or the implementation of "protection systems in countries of origin" and "procedures for crossing protected borders") be at the agenda of the november European Council which must define (with an emphasis on migrations and asylum) the main axes of EU policy for 2005-2010, a period already called "Tampere II", in reference to the 1999 Tampere meeting which launched a five years programme achieved in 2004.
"The map is not the territory", Borges wrote: as Europe borders cast their shadow beyond EU limits, "Europe" camps are far more than camps "in Europe".
Far from being all circled by walls with barbedwire, camps are often delimited by invisible technological networks. A camp is also a process (control, filtering), not only a physical space.
Whatever their names, we call "camps" these "present time Lagers" which evoke German camps for "asocial" in the 30's or the "camps on the beach" that France opened for the Spanish Republican army. Camps are not as exceptional as has been said: the domination logic which functions there is also to be found in society at large, as an administrative mechanism to control migrants mobility and to assess a national sovereignty shattered by the making of Europe.
Camps have common characteristics, in spite of their differences (size, duration of stay, status, functioning): their inmates are exclusively extracommunitarian foreigners, whose only crime is to have infringed (or tried to infringe) the rules States determine for the crossing of their borders; they are considered not as subjects but as categories, or even numbers; the violation of fundamental rights is frequent, as well as physical and moral violences.
They have common functions: as well as a place for confinement, they act as a deterrent towards migrants, and serve as as a filter for illegal work (the only issue for those who escape or are released).
They can be official or informal, built for asylum seekers, sans-papiers, foreigners awaiting deportation or a decision which will allow them (or not) to cross a border. The internal regime, the average duration (fixed by a law or arbitrary, reminding of the "indefinite detention" in Guantanamo), the status of the foreigners inside vary. There are border-camps, waiting zones for asylum seekers near airports, harbours and international railway stations, such as French "zones d'attente", some Italian Centri di Permanenza Temporanea e d'Accoglienza (CPT) or the Spanish Centros de Internamiento de Extranjeros (CIE - Internement Centers for Foreigners). In the Belgian "centres fermes" (closed centers) and the French "centres et locaux de retention", foreigners await deportation. There are sieve-camps where arrive migrants trying to reach Europe from East or South: 20-some in the Greek islands, 5 or 6 in Malta, others in Canary Islands, Sicily, Hungary, Slovenia. In Ceuta and Melilla, Spanish towns enclosed in Moroccan territory, steel walls more than 3m high have been erected, with barbedwire, captors, cameras, searchlights, along a no-man's land 5m wide.
Camps localisations vary: in the heart of the towns or in their peripheries (via Corelli in Milano, Zapi3 in Roissy); on the national territory but more remote than if they were on another planet (Woomera, now closed, in the Australian desert, 400km from the nearest town; Lampedusa, on an island surrounded by a dangerous sea).
In Italy, CPT were created by a "left" government (Turco-Napolitano law, 1998), and their functioning settled by Berlusconi government (Bossi-Fini law, 2001).
In France, the legal concept of administrative retention goes back to 1810 ; the centres de retention (detention centers for foreigners waiting to be deported) were created in 1981 by the socialist loi Questiaux. Some of them already existed in the 30's or the 50's, as a proof of the permanence of the administration.
In French, Italian and English camps, there are riots and escapes, there are scarce and hectic communications between the inmates and the activists outside. "Ne qui, ne altrove" ("neither here nor elsewhere"): the motto of the Torino demonstration against CPT (Nov 30th, 2002) is indissociable from freedom of movement, "here and everywhere".