Building spaces of conviviality? Infrastructures and intimacies in asylum seeker reception in Utrecht, the Netherlands

Authors: Caroline Oliver*, University of Roehampton, London, Karin Geuijen*,
Topics: Migration, Human Rights, Cultural Geography
Keywords: migration; asylum; infrastructure; care
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Virginia A, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The paper interrogates the evolution of the development of an alternative approach to asylum seeker reception in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Asylum seeker centres (AZCs) are semi-carceral institutions designed to contain mobile populations while their claim to asylum is resolved. The Plan Einstein initiative held disruptive aspirations for intimacy between asylum seekers and the apparently hostile local population in the marginal neighbourhood where the new centre was placed. By selecting local youth to live within the AZC complex, and inviting neighbourhood residents to attend social and educational activities together, its premise was to challenge hostile discourses of competition for scarce resources, create convivial connections and build community. In this article we examine the implications of the spatial and material aspects of the centre and its compliance with traditional AZC architecture. We explore how the logics of the AZC, governed by containment, security, economic efficiency and temporary management of large numbers of bodies jarred with the care-driven aspirations of the initiative. We examine consequent challenges for space-management within the complex, deriving from the prescriptive materiality of the site (fences, security guards, temporary fixtures etc.) and consequent debates about a shared entrance, access to a common space and the negotiations of inequalities in living conditions between the local and asylum seeker rooms. In so-doing, we consider how the materiality of the centre and debates about locks, keys and kitchens affected relations, prescribed ‘adjacent’ rather than ‘co’-living and ultimately influenced the chances of developing more intimate knowledge of the other.

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