Project 2017-11-22T15:20:56+00:00

According to the work of Michel Agier, the camps phenomenon concerns about two million people who fled conflict, poverty or environmental disasters. This number is probably undervalued. According to 2015 UN Refugee Agency statistics, there are 65,3 millions of displaced people in the world including 21,3 millions of abroad refugees and 40,8 millions of intern displaced people (remain 3,2 millions of asylum seekers in industrialized countries). The difficulties of estimating number of “encampés” seems to be a sign of the invisibility of this phenomenon.

Increasingly analyzed by the social sciences, the notion of camp is still little analyzed as a legal phenomenon, i.e. as a phenomenon organized by norms and institutions. This project aims at clarifying the very concept of camps, to analyze their governance which can be endorsed by public institutions (international organizations like UNHCR, UN institutions during peace keeping operations etc.), or private organizations (humanitarian NGOs, security private corporations etc.), and to analyze potential legal breaches.

On the basis of the work already done by geographers and anthropologists, first will be identified the contemporary forms of camps in order to provide a legal definition. Then will be identified the key actors involved in the governance of the camps. Finally, the applicable legal standards on camps and in liability regimes, i.e. in the legal consequences of breaches of those obligations and of the human rights of the “encampees”, will be explored.

I – Legal identification of the camps, of the phenomenon of “encampment”

There is a growing use of this term of “camp” which is linked to the growing use of confinement proceedings. The purpose of this research program is to better define the notion of camps and to articulate it with other similar terms. The vocabulary is multiple to designate, and sometimes justify, the organized or spontaneous “encampment” proceedings: irregular settlements, slums, ghettos, detention facilities, closed centers, holding areas, hot spots etc..

First, some contemporary figures of camps are well-known and identifiable. For example, the refugee camps might house between 5 and 7 million people pushed by the war outside their country, e. g. the refugee camps in Middle East or East Africa (Soudan, Kenya with the well-known Dadaab Camp where live 450000 people, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo etc.).

Second, the Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps, that can be evaluated at almost 1500 and they might house at least 6 million of people although no official data can been found so far. The term of IDP appeared in the 90s and it is the opaquest concept. Nevertheless, be an IDP is a condition to obtain the refugee status. Indeed, since the emergence of the “internal asylum” concept, the refugee status is restricted to people who cannot claim for the aforementioned legal status i.e. a “safe” area in their country of citizenship or residence. IDP camps are mostly run by non-governmental organizations and allow the insulation of the undesirable persons far from Europe’s borders. The process of internal asylum is replicated and amplified by the systems set up by European States and the EU to outsource the processing of the application for asylum in third countries. The agreement between the EU and Turkey is the perfect example of this trend: European countries want to delegate to Turkey, seen as a safe country, the processing of the application for asylum seekers who want to access to European territory. This agreement should lead to the creation of a new camp in Turkey partly financed by European countries.

Finally, we shall not forget the most clandestine figures of camps composed of self-settled migrants. Much of them are in Europe. These small groups, also called “ghettos” or “jungles” are set up along international borders or in urban interstices like the jungle of Calais, or the Roms camps in the Paris area.

Similarities between all of these camps are the fact of merging undesirables whereas they are subjects of rights. But these “undesirables” reflect different legal situations. Behind the the notion of “migrants” in camps there are asylum seekers which cannot be expelled to their country of citizenship or residence, thanks to the article 33 of the Geneva Convention of 1951. In the same way, in the Roms camps there are European citizens which have a right to freedom of movement during three months and to a non-discriminatory treatment in the access to economic and social rights in the Schengen space. The common feature of these camps is to gather together the unwanted. The camp then appears to be a legal way to deprive these people form their quality of subjects of law, and to de-territorialize them.

II. The camps governance

the opacity of their governance.

The settlement of refugee camps, supported by the UNHCR, although legally established, raise legal issues regarding the standards governing the proper administration of the camps and the legal responsibility of UNHCR. This project will require the involvement of UNHCR representatives to analyze the legal framework of these structures and to determine how the international organization potentially considers its responsibility in the camps administration. Some camps governance by UNHCR have led to damages for migrants likes in the case of the massacre of dozens of Sudanese refugees by Egyptian policemen in December 2005. In the same way, the subcontracting of the camps governance by the UNHCR to NGOs need to be analyze. The UNHCR seems to be today the major organization in charge of “humanitarian governments” (M. Agier) in each camp.

The recent hot spots set up by the European Union in Greece in order to proceed with the “sorting” of migrants also require a specific analysis. The administrators of these hot spots exercise a power of decision that determines the legal status of people locked up. However, the question remains of who is the incumbent of that power of decision. Is it a decision attributable to the European Union or to the host state of the hot spot?

Eventually, the governance of camps set up spontaneously by some vulnerable groups (such as Roma) remains mainly characterised by the exercise by the host state of administrative police power (i.e. in order to dismantle them). Defined as contrary to public policy (because of public health, safety and sanitation issues) these camps are managed only in an temporary way. They are only understood as an element to dismantle despite of all efforts of NGOs to help “encampés” to have access to their rights (right to social care, right to education for children).

III. Applicable Law and Liability

The question of the applicable law to the camps (humanitarian law in case of armed conflict, refugee law, human rights law) is critical to understand the liability regimes, to identify the legal consequences of breaches of those standards regarding camp management. Nevertheless, international law (in its various branches) do not cover all the figures previously identified. For example, the IDP camps were managed by a specific organ, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), but now they are managed by the UNHCR or the NGOs. Some structures can lead to develop spontaneous organizations with the elections of “encampés” representatives, a division of functions (access to water, to electricity, to education, to health facilities etc.) to private actors without any intervention of the public authority. The camp, as a legal object, appears to be a genuine laboratory for analyzing the phenomenon of legal pluralism, i.e. of the creation of norms and institutions organizing non-state structures of living together.