Research project

Camps - Migrants - Refugees

In recent years, the European crisis in migration policies has produced and made visible the migrant camps; as attested by, in France, the history of the slum-camp in Calais and the Parisian street encampments. The survival of migrants in their midst mobilises a plurality of actors with distinct logics.

Recent studies point to the renewal and the extent of civic solidarity in these camps but few studies analyze practical implementation. In order to nourish the understanding of this phenomenon, this article puts into perspective two citizen initiatives born in 2015: the “Espoir” (Hope) association and the “Ensemble” (Together) collective. The aim is to shed light on their similarities in order to identify the potential and limitations of humanitarian improvisation in this highly politicisedfield.

The data presented are drawn from socio-ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Calais during the autumn of 2016 in immersion in the “Espoir” association as well as from a series of interviews and exchanges with independent Parisian “support people” or those affiliated with the “Ensemble” collective in the winter of 2017.

The results are based on the reconstitution of observation sequences and the trajectories of twenty volunteers and support people articulated with the thematic analysis of the coordinators’ interviews. These initiatives are carried out by “ordinary citizens”, which were little connected to public life before, and are located in the gap between specialised humanitarian action and public (in)action. Citizens improvise daily responses to migrants’ unmet primary needs by means of an organizational handiwork based on the flexibility of commitment and the intensive use of social networks. The recognition of migrants as subjects of their existence and holders of agency supports the ethics of this improvisation. However, citizens’ initiatives involve limitations that call their sustainability into questionand, more generally, raise issues regarding the transfer of public action to ordinary citizens, and the realities ofinterventions by major humanitarian NGOs.