Monday 20 April 2009, by Makaremi Chowra
Security concerns and the tension between the movement of human capital and the will of welfare states to control migration at their borders have led the European Union to set extra-territorial zones of detention for the purpose of border control in the last 20 years. Practices of control over the movement of people have thus created contested spaces of sovereignty at the borders, populated by a «floating population» of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants to be deported. These detention facilities for undocumented aliens involve national political devices for the administration of alien populations as well as security constructions around the notions of citizenship and frontier. While dislocating the topology of the border, practices of border detention have emerged and solidified along two axes: firstly, technical adjustment in the law and the legalization of administrative practices; secondly, the management of alien populations within an hybrid confinement system co-administrated by the police, private companies and humanitarian care. Facing the new modalities and changing spaces of movement, how do states work out their borders and ’thicken’ them into spaces where people live, are confined, selected, displaced? What do these ambivalent processes teach about evolving regimes of government in the liberal rule of law?
Analyses are based on a field study in the «waiting zone» of Charles de Gaulle airport (Paris), and interviews with detainees who were admitted on the territory after facing several attempts of deportation. The waiting zone is an extra-territorial zone of detention, where undocumented aliens are held from a few hours to several weeks while they await decisions on their entry to a given territory, or the recognition of refugee status. Waiting zones are located in international areas, within the building or in a separate building outside of airports, ports, border posts or train stations. Waiting areas are physically located within a given national territory, but legally, they are considered to lie outside. Border detention at the port of entry of the territory is organised by specific legislation and structures, which are complementary, but distinct, from other apparatuses of alien confinement, such as the detention of sans-papiers waiting for their expulsion or the management of asylum seekers in closed centres. The waiting zone at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport (the largest International airport in Europe in terms of air traffic) is a major port of entry to the country, which received 58,87% of all undocumented aliens held at the French borders, and 79,86% of undocumented aliens held at airport borders in 2007.
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