Migrant accommodation as a housing question, and how (not) to solve it

Christian Sowa

Published in Issue 2.2 // The Long Read

Keywords: Berlin, camp accommodation, housing, migration


This paper looks at migrant accommodation in Berlin. In recent years, there has been a visible increase in camps to accommodate migrants. Rather than solely considering this as a reaction of repressive state actors aiming to contain the movement of migrants, the paper emphasizes another factor to explain the proliferation of camps: a neoliberal city and the resulting shortage of affordable housing. The budget cuts, austerity and privatizations in the 2000s converge with a border and asylum regime that reacted to an increase in arriving migrants since 2015. In this way, a new relational understanding of the camp and the city is configured: camp accommodation becomes part of a broader housing question. This housing question is materialized in a peripheral and substandard form of accommodation, as well as in the increasing permanence of camps. Based on in-depth field research, this paper adds new empirical knowledge to explore this context. The paper looks at current attempts to solve the housing question and problems of camp accommodation. Official approaches of planning ‘better’ camps are problematized as they do not engage with the roots of the housing question: the political economy of the city, a capitalist city that shapes urban space in terms of exchange rather than use value. Finally, alternative attempts are presented. Some aim to create practical solutions like shared housing projects, while others are targeting broader levels of the housing market in Berlin. By opening the question of camp accommodation to housing movements, another political perspective arises: to include migrants in the call to create a Right to the City and housing for all.


Christian Sowa is a PhD candidate at SOAS, University of London.

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