A Scientific Initiative on/for Border Abolitionism

Node 05 - Antenna


November 2023 - February 2024

Belgium - Brussels

Squatting, Solidarity, and the Right to the City in Brussels: Unraveling the Nexus

Belgium is a crucial space for secondary movements, circulations, as well as for the attempts to settle many people on the move who have not succeeded in obtaining asylum in other EU countries.

Introduction: Belgium serves as a crucial space for secondary movements and settlement attempts of individuals who have not secured asylum in other EU countries, resulting in State authorities imposing restrictions on illegalized migrants. The SOLROUTES research team focuses on squatting and the right to the city to understand the interplay between solidarity and unauthorized movements, particularly in Brussels, a key node for observing border control mechanisms and autonomous forms of dwelling and mobility.

Context: Brussels is a significant hub where NGOs collaborate with local authorities to provide essential support for refugees, while urban movements, as an expression of solidarity, occupy buildings to accommodate migrants overlooked by official channels. Squats, viewed as autonomous spaces, have been recognized globally for fostering alternative citizenship, generating knowledge, survival tactics, and sociability.

Research Objectives: The SOLROUTES research team in Belgium aims to explore the nuances of squats in Brussels and the emerging forms of solidarity within these spaces. Squats are considered pivotal in understanding mobile commons and how they contribute to alternative ways of existing in the city, asserting the right to the city through squatting and building occupations.

Analysis: Squats and autonomous spaces accommodating illegalized migrants result from the convergence of migration and border control measures, intertwined with solidarity efforts supporting movement and settlement. These spaces serve as generative environments, fostering interpersonal relationships, promoting solidarity, politicizing subjects, and asserting urban space for illegalized migrants. The encounters in these social spaces create a distinct realm for (re)producing and extending solidarity.

Exploration Questions: The study delves into the relationship between autonomous accommodation spaces for illegalized migrants and their right to the city. It aims to trace the forms of dwelling and mobility that arise from these nodes, investigating how squats act as crucial settlement and information spaces that facilitate further movements.

Conclusion: The choice of squats accommodating illegalized migrants as a focal point stems from their potential to act as vital hubs for settlement, information exchange, and movement support. These autonomous spaces are perceived as assemblages of resources, facilitation, support, and frictions influencing the control over migration. The research aims to unravel the intricate dynamics of solidarity and the right to the city in the context of Brussels’ squats, shedding light on the alternative narratives woven within these social spaces.

Generative Narrative Workshops: Generating Narratives in the workshop and beyond: adapting to mistrust and uncertainties, drifting in the city with informants and the artist.

The Generative Narrative Workshop in the Antennae of Brussels was envisioned to involve an artist, a researcher and people directly concerned with realities of autonomous accommodation spaces for undocumented migrants. For the GNW to take place, concerned people are expected to develop a common interest not only with the artist and the researcher but also with the general framework of the project, a project funded by the European research Council.

Despite the researcher having developed interpersonal relationships with individuals involved in contentious and criminalized practices like squatting over a period of two months, there appear to be limitations when trying to transmit these relationships to an artist who is not familiar with the people involved and has only come to Brussels for 6 days of fieldwork.

As the workshop flyer was distributed bearing the tagline ‘funded by the European Union’ to the four individuals committed to attending, it sparked a range of reservations. Some voiced concern saying “how can the European Union be responsible for my situation, and yet send a workshop to fix it?” Despite our efforts to emphasize that our academic and artistic work operates independently from European institutional agendas and is critical of EU migration policies, some participants opted to withdraw from the workshop.

To mitigate the limitation of mistrust with people bearing experiences relevant to our artistic and research interest, we privilege drifting in different realities not only through observing related situations in action and speaking to people but also circulating in the city of Brussels with two bearers of experience who told stories on their experience of the city, their experiences with squats and occupation but also with police violence and expulsions. Drifting with these individuals and passing through spaces of their everyday life have allowed a narration of given situations with multiple voices, gazes and languages (that of the person directly involved, the artist and the researcher).

I. Oubad (researcher), A. Ferraris (Illustrator)

Generative Narrative Workshops Report


L. Amigoni, I. Oubad