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RHEA & ETHU Seminar: Welcome to Maximiliaan Park! Philosophical reflections on the relation between humanitarianism and politics: the case of a refugeecamp in a parc at the heart of Brussels

Monday, 25 April, 2016 - 11:00 to Monday, 25 April, 2016 - 12:00
Campus: Brussels Humanities, Sciences & Engineering campus
Building C
5th floor, 5C402 (professorenzaal)
Research Seminar

Recently Europe has witnessed the emergence of several new refugee camps within its territories, as well as the rapid growth of well-known camps  in Calais and Dunkirk. This paper critically analyses the meaning of a (refugee)camp in today’s public imagination and public space. We explore  the relations, interactions and tensions between (medical) humanitarianism and politics in a context of immigration.

Drawing on a language of emergencies, states and humanitarian actors govern the situation in camps with temporary measures focusing on the  basic and medical needs of an essentialized victim.  Recent scholars showed that applying a humanitarian discourse and a superficial version of human rights (by exclusively focusing on the right to access 
healthcare and physical survival), allows to obscure that the vulnerability of the migrants intersects with state, capitalist, racialized and gendered power relations, as well as it allows to silence more explicit political responses about migration and asylum policies. Contrary however, the empathy and emotions surrounding a particular public space can also make a camp peculiarly politisized.

In this paper we investigate how humanitarianism interacts with politics of immigration by applying these concepts to a case-study. In September 2015 we witnessed the sudden appearance and disappearance of a refugee camp in Maximiliaan Parc in the heart of Brussels. Based on semi-structured in-depth interviews, conducted with humanitarian actors and beneficiaries we explore how tensions between humanitarian discourses and potential collective/political agency were negotiated in this particular setting. We show that the particular spatial and temporal dimensions of the setting, as well as the hyperpoliticization of the events, impacted on the way the ‘crisis’ was governed by the state and the humanitarian actors.