The first image which the term of "camp" evokes is a closed place, geographically identified, and reserved for the confinement of undesirable people. Today in Europe the camps range from prisons, as in Germany and Ireland, to detention centres in the Greek islands which were not planned and are built in make-shift buildings. Camps are also the answer to high risks of shipwrecks and capsizing of boats transporting migrants across the Adriatic, from Italian Centri di permanenza temporanea e assistenzato French zones d’attente / waiting zonesand centres de rétention, from closed centres for asylum seekers in Belgium, to buffer camps which mark the actual border of the European Union: Morocco, Spain (Ceuta, Melilla, Canary islands), Algeria, Ukraine, Malta, or Lampedusa...
But to stick to this definition of the camps would mask an important part of the reality. The diversity of the administrative procedures and the various technical and humanitarian constraints aimed at regrouping the migrants go beyond the reference to confinement, and lead us to consider the camps as places to keep foreigners at a distance. It can take various forms, sometimes very different from camps with barbed wire.
It then becomes clear that some "open" centres of reception, transit or lodging provide assistance and a roof for migrants, but it hides the fact that the occupants of these centres, migrants and asylum seekers have no other choice but to be there. This is the case in Germany and Belgium where payment of a survival allowance and examination of asylum applications are conditioned by an obligation to reside in a fixed place.
Is not the forced dispersion of exiles, organised in some countries to avoid the creation of new "focal points", the symbol of the multiform character of the exclusion of foreigners? Can we not compare to an informal "compulsory residence order" the obligation, for foreigners, not to be where they are considered to be trouble? Because police harassment and this obligation to stay invisible obviously act as prison bars and trace the boundaries of a place to which foreigners are confined. Thus the camps become a process, a symbol of forced wandering and endless movement of exiles whom European societies refuse to welcome.
The expression "Europe of camps", taken in its wider sense, appears to best suit the relegation systems Europe uses in place of migration policies.
Though internment camps have very diverse features (see map), they also have common characteristics. The first one is their occupants: citizens of non-European countries who have committed no offence other than crossing or trying to cross a border without papers. A second characteristic is that "illegal migrants" are considered and managed as a group, instead of being treated as individuals with a personal history. Thirdly, it seems impossible to ensure the respect of fundamental rights in these places. There is no freedom of movement; basic rights to asylum, to family life and private life, as well as minors rights are not guaranteed, while inhumane and degrading treatments are often perpetrated.
The internment of foreigners in Europe is not aimed (primarily) at punishing them. Instead its goal is to demonstrate to the receiving state population that migrants, who must be controlled, are efficiently managed. It is a kind of tacit contract between State and society, through which the State guarantees the security of its citizens. This is the legitimization of camps. Internment is part of a series of measures that are referred to as "common migration and asylum policies" and aim at subcontracting the control of entry into the European Union to the states at the outer borders of Europe.
Nowadays, border controls and the fight against illegal immigration are central to European immigration and asylum policies. Before September 11, 2001, the question of immigration was treated on the same level as criminality and drug trafficking. Today it is clearly associated with the terrorist threat. More and more, the migrant is depicted as the enemy, and "war" vocabulary is often used to describe the situation and to act against it: military equipment for controls at sea, high technology, walls and barriers, camps and collective expulsions. In this climate which is constantly maintained, the internment of foreigners is a logical response also enforced for asylum seekers.
With such a policy, the European Union chooses to protect itself from asylum seekers instead of protecting them. Therefore the new European standards, based upon the "bogus asylum seekers" notion, make access to asylum procedures even more difficult and contribute to lower the level of protection. Detention of asylum seekers appears as an appropriate answer to the "threat" of the increasing number of asylum seekers.
European proposals increasingly mention the possibility of detaining asylum seekers in camps located outside the European Union. This "externalisation" or "subcontracting" applies not only to asylum but also to the protection of borders. The aim is to make them more and more impenetrable, pushing them beyond their physical materialisation. "Externalisation" is not only based upon visa policy, a key instrument of "remote control" policing. "Externalisation" is also central to the relations between the European Union and third countries, forcing the latter to cooperate in the fight against "illegal" immigration. Morocco is a good example of this policy. The European Union finances the control of Moroccan borders in order to fight "illegal" immigration to Europe. It is a way of transforming this country into a "European border watchdog".
Whatever the functions of the camps ... containing the influx of migrants coming to Europe, organising the deportation of "illegal" migrants or detaining asylum seekers ... camps are a part of the mechanism to exclude those designated by the European Union as a "risk" or as an "enemy".
They are the materialization of a security approach to migration, to the detriment of the fundamental right of free movement.