French History @IHR: Ed Naylor on the origins of immigrant detention centres in contemporary France

Date & Place: Monday 15 December, at the IHR, London.

Speaker: Ed Naylor (Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, University of Portsmouth)

Paper Title: ‘Cet hébergement d’un genre particulier’ Arenc and the origins of immigrant detention centres in contemporary France (1963-2006)

Chair: Andrew Smith (UCL)

IMG_2404 It is with great pleasure that we welcomed Ed Naylor earlier this week to bring the year to a close. Currently a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Portsmouth, Naylor originally did his PhD at Queen Mary and was an ‘habitué’ of the French history seminar. The crowds were present to welcome him back. Naylor’s doctoral thesis examined Algerians in Marseille in 1962-74, and although this new project remains linked to it, it opens new doors of investigation.

In 1975, a scandal broke out in France: a handful of individuals were out to challenge the idea that ‘France did not have gulags’. Indeed, if there were no gulags as such, there was nonetheless a ‘secret’, illegal detention centre in the heart of France’s biggest port town, Marseille. This detention centre had a name: ARENC. Naylor traced the origins of Arenc back to the early 1960s, and gave a vivid picture of how this centre was born within the grey area between legality and illegality. He described the conditions of the immigrants – mostly Algerians until 1968 – who stayed there for one or two nights before they were swiftly (and quietly) expelled from France back to North Africa. After the Arenc scandal broke out in 1975, the centre was not closed – rather, it was slowly transformed into a legalised detention centre for immigrants until its closure in 2006. But if the story of Arenc is one of immigration, detention and (il)legality, it is also one of protest. Indeed, the particular forms of protest undertaken in 1975 showed a shift from street violence or hunger strikes to the mobilisation of the legal system.


We would like to warmly thank Ed Naylor for his intervention which generated so many questions and ideas. We wish him the very best of luck as he continues this project – cannot wait to read about it! Also, thanks to him, we finished the year with a bang – or rather a shnitzel – at a local eatery. Good times.

Happy holidays to all and see you in the new year, when Katherine Astbury (University of Warwick) kicks off by discussing French theatre in the Napoleonic Era.


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