Compassion and Repression: The Moral Economy of Immigration Policies in France



Immigration policies in Europe in the last three decades have become increasingly restrictive. During the 1990s, political asylum lost much of its legitimacy, as new criteria based on humanitarian claims became more common in appeals for immigration. Asylum seekers were increasingly identified as illegal immigrants and therefore candidates for expulsion, unless humanitarian reasons could be found to requalify them as victims deserving sympathy. This substitution of a right to asylum by an obligation in terms of charity leads to a reconsideration of Giorgio Agamben's separation of the humanitarian and the political, suggesting instead a humanitarianization of policies. Sangatte Center, often referred to as a transit camp, became a symbol of this ambiguous European treatment of the “misery of the world” and serves here as an analytical thread revealing the tensions between repression and compassion as well as the moral economy of contemporary biopolitics.