This project studies how the Middle East is constructed as a refugee region in three historical epochs from 1850 until today and can now be compared to a regional refugee camp, a "SuperCamp". In this concept, the Middle East has become a regional catch-basin for refugees who have had their personal freedom and mobility curtailed. The scope of this varies from refugee camps in several countries to urban refugees in urban areas. Since 2015, improved border control and return agreements have meant that the Mediterranean serves as an external border for the region where refugees and migrants are collected and eventually returned to transit countries in the Middle East. The project is therefore relevant for understanding the Norwegian and European (EU) response to the "migrant crisis" in the Mediterranean. The project's main hypothesis has been developed in seminars and presentions to better understand how the Middle East throughout history has been constructed as a refugee region and therefore a natural place to return and contain refugees and migrants. To this end, the project analyzes the response to regional displacement crises in three historical periods (1850-1950, 1950-2000, 2000-2017). In the first period, the Armenian refugee crisis laid the foundation for the modern humanitarian relief project as we know it today. In the next period, the Palestinian refugee crisis led to the establishment of UNRWA, which over the next few years established refugee camps throughout the Middle East. In the third period, the UNHCR and host states continued the legacy of UNRWA and established formal camps for refugees from Syria, some of them with very strict admission and exit control. Efforts to combat smuggling across the Mediterranean and improve border control in the Schengen area along with stricter control in the transit countries, reinforce this development and contribute to making the Middle East the world's largest refugee region and "SuperCamp". The historical development of a SuperCamp from the 19th century until the present is outlined in an article (babylon, 2019) with special emphasis on the emergence of buffer states and archipelagos where refugees are interned. A historical study on UNRWA (babylon, 2020) shows how the organization assists Palestinian refugees but also how long-term humanitarian aid becomes a substitute for a solution to the refugee problem, thus providing new insights into humanitarian internment and containment. Several academic papers, panels, and popular presentations in international academic forums have helped to develop the supercamp concept further.
In the new anthology published by Berghahn (2023), ten chapters give a detailed historical overview of encampment in the Middle East towards continental encampment, a regional "supercamp". In three new books from the project, two of them in Norwegian, the authors make new contributions to understanding the prominence of refugee camps in the Middle East (Doraï and Dalal 2023), and how this is linked to colonial history and imperialism in Palestine (Berg 2023) and since has provided fertile ground for the development of the Middle East as a refugee region and thus a permanent solution to mass migration (Knudsen, under preparation). A new book describes the Palestine problem and the consequences of the Palestinian refugee question as it unfolds in the struggle over land and property and with places and buildings as prisms for "reading" the conflict on the ground (Berg 2023). A book manuscript (Knudsen, under preparation) describes how the idea of interning marginal groups in camps arose, and the emergence of camps in Asia and South Africa, and later in the Middle East and Europe. Since the 1990s, new obstacles (borders, fences, agreements ) have been put in place to prevent migrants from reaching Europe, with internal borders replaced by external border controls, including transnational solutions where refugees and migrants are either returned (return agreements) or deported to remote islands, countries and "archipelagos". A new anthology (Doraï and Dalal 2023) provides a historical overview of camps and camp types in the Middle East and shows how their architecture and form change over time, in some cases to hybrid "camp cities". In upcoming articles from the project's main partners, various aspects of the refugee response in the countries of the Middle East region are elaborated: Turkey's development of camps and infrastructure along the border with Syria (Bryant); historical changes in the reception and hosting of refugees (Chatty); the first camps for European refugees in the MENA-region during the Second World War (White); the "humanitarian theatre" that limits the mobility of refugees in the Mediterranean and along the Balkan corridor (De Lauri); Syrian refugees who have taken refuge in Gaza and Palestinian refugees in Sheik Jarrah, Jerusalem; and finally, connections between kinship, mobility and the body (Bendixsen).
Prosjektet har gitt resultater på flere nivåer: først ved å kombinere felt akademiske disipliner som ofte ikke kommuniserer på tvers av disipliner; som historie, antropologi og geografi for en ny forståelse av regional og kontinental inneslutning. Prosjektet har, til tross for lange reiserestriksjoner under COVID 19-pandemien, produsert en rekke akademiske resultater (antologier, tidsskriftartikler, spesialutgaver, kapitler), i tillegg til populævitensksaplig formidling (blogginnlegg, panel, podcaster). Prosjektet har i tillegg produsert monografier og manuskripter på norsk som går utover det man vanligvis finner i et slikt prosjekt. På denne måten har prosjektet bidratt til å utvide den vitenskapelige debatten om hvordan man skal håndtere, snarere enn å begrense, massemigrasjon og bringe innsikt fra prosjektet inn i offentlig debatt i Norge. Betydningen av innelukking («containment») av flyktninger og migranter har gradvis gått inn i den vitenskapelige debatten, men dette prosjektet er den første systematiske analysen av dets opprinnelse («genealogi»), med fokus på konsekvensene for både vertsland og lokalsamfunn. Slik sett representerer antologien en milepæl i historisk utforskningen av "inneslutning" (containment) i Midtøsten (Knudsen og Berg 2023). Sentrale bidrag fra prosjektet er under publisering og inkluderer som vist under antologier, monografier, spesialnummer (journal, special issues) og utstillinger:
Berg, Kjersti. 2023a. Palestina: Fakta på bakken (Palestine: Facts on the Ground). Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.
Berg, Kjersti, 2023b. «Det humanitære blikket» («The Humanitarian Gaze»). Photo exhibit curated by Kjersti Berg in cooperation with University Library Bergen (UiB), January–May 2023.
Qato, Mezna and Kjersti Berg (eds). 2023. Special issue: “Camp histories. New studies of Palestinian migrations”, Journal of Refugee Studies, 2023, https://www.humanitarianstudies.no/events/camp-histories-new-studies-of-palestinian-migrations/
Fakhoury, T, Kjersti Berg and Sarah Tobin. 2023. “Unusual Places of Refuge and Sanctuary”. Special journal issue workshop (CMI and Univ. of Aalborg), https://www.cmi.no/news/2990-call-for-papers-for-a-special-issue-on-unusual-places-of-refuge-and-sanctuary
Doraï, Kamel and Ayham Dalal (eds). 2023. Tracing Camps: A Genealogy of Refugees Spaces in the Middle East. Paris: Presses de l’Ifpo.
Knudsen Are John and Kjersti Berg (eds). 2023. Continental Encampment: Genealogies of Humanitarian Containment in the Middle East and Europe. London: Berghahn, https://www.berghahnbooks.com/title/KnudsenContinental
Knudsen, Are John. forthcoming. Continental Containment: Creating Middle East “host states”. In: Refugee Governance in the Arab World: The International Refugee Regime and Global Politics, edited by Tamirace Fakhoury and Dawn Chatty (eds). London: I.B. Tauris.
Knudsen, Are John. under preparation. Superleiren: Leirenes historie (Supercamp: A History of Camps). Manuscript prepared (275s) for U-forlaget.
This proposal advances a new approach for understanding the Middle East refugee crisis that since 2012 has displaced close to five million Syrians to neighboring host states. This has put the countries along the Mediterranean at the forefront of what is now labelled a "migrant crisis". Not only are more people displaced, but more people migrate following displacement, so-called secondary migration. To prevent this, the EU and Schengen countries have from late March 2016 instituted a new policy of containment, especially targeting irregular migration via Turkey with an explicit aim to stop it and turn back migrants. Moreover, European transit countries with Hungary in the lead have erected new fences to deter migrants. In the Mediterranean, search and rescue missions have intensified border patrols and surveillance. The efforts to constrain, deflect and deter migrants are not only likely to continue, but to intensify. The policy of turning back would-be migrants points towards the Middle East as a regional catch basin for refugees and migrants alike, instituted through a policy of regional containment and rebordering by the EU and Schengen member states. This project studies the consequences of the policy of containment that can be traced from the late Ottoman and early Mandate period to the present-day host states Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey), all destabilized by the Syrian civil war. The proposal's main hypothesis is that the ME host states form a bio-regional zone of containment, indeed a SuperCamp, under humanitarian government. Starting from a multi-disciplinary study of humanitarian containment in three historical periods (1850-present), we move the analysis beyond the nation state. By scaling up the diverse historial and present-day sites of displacement, a bio-political region of forced immobility emerges, one subject to a humanitarian policy of containment used to keep refugees inside the region and outside continental Europe.