Lost in transit? Deconstructing the il/legalization of migrants dwelling in ‘transit zones’ in the Brussels and the Calais regions.

01 January 2022 → 31 December 2025
Regional and community funding: Special Research Fund
Research disciplines
  • Social sciences
    • Ethnicity and migration studies
    • Political and legal anthropology
    • Social movements and collective action
    • Voluntary associations, participation and civil society
    • Human rights law
    • Citizenship, immigration and political inequality not elsewhere classified
ethnographic analysis of European border regimes social and political construction of migrant il/legality borders
Project description

Over the last few years, large groups of migrants have ‘stranded’ in places like Calais and Brussels. Recent research has
documented two main developments in these so-called ‘transit zones’. On the one hand, the French and Belgian governments have
tried to deter migrants from dwelling in these places, by destroying make-shift refugee shelters, and by arresting, detaining and releasing
migrants. On the other hand, numerous grassroots initiatives and NGOs have offered all kinds of humanitarian and social support to
these migrants. We know very little, however, about how the specific socio-legal processes through which migrant, state and civic actors illegalize migrants in these transit zones, and how they attempt to legalize migrants instead. How do the policies of some EU member states contribute to the illegalization of migrants in transit zones (e.g. under which conditions do some member states refuse to process specific types of asylum applications)? And how do migrant, civic and state actors try to counter this process and legalize migrants instead (e.g. by providing information on asylum procedures, or by providing intensive counselling)?

Drawing on a multisited socio-legal ethnography, this project will provide an innovative case study of how migrant il/legality is produced in the particular context of North-European ‘transit zones’. On the one hand, we offer a timely contribution to the growing body of work on the production of migrant illegality, most of which has focused on long-term undocumented migrants’ exploitation as a precarious labour force (Chauvin & Garcès-Macarenas 2018; De Genova 2002). On the other hand, by shifting our gaze to socio-legal support practices, we push recent research on these ‘transit zones’ beyond describing migrants’ protracted living conditions within these zones and the different forms of humanitarian and political support provided by civic actors (Davies et al 2018; Della Porta 2018; Sandri 2018; Vandevoordt 2019).