A park is a public space. My life is my own business. These kinds of statements seem self-evident to most of us, unless something comes along to shake us up, make us think more deeply about the world. For those who live in the Moulin quartier of Lille, France, the arrival of several dozen refugees and asylum-seekers—most of whom are minors—in their neighborhood park was exactly that “something”. A public park was claimed as a home. The lives of these minors became a public discussion. And for the members of the community, the so-called “immigration crisis” was suddenly visible through their front windows and reflected in their own lives. This is the story of the Parc des Olieux and the people who have transformed it over the past year—the youth who have been displaced, the community that rallied, the associations that worked, and the government that watched.
This blog is a chance to reexamine the assumptions that many of us have formed about immigration from a safe distance. The Parc des Olieux represents a rare occurrence, a juxtaposition of a “refugee camp” with the normal life of average citizens, and as such, can help us bridge the gap between these distinct places. As part of a seminar for the Anthropology department of KU Leuven, and part of the Intercultural Mediation program of MITRA, we will seek to look more closely at this place and its people, these people and their place, in order to better understand what it means to be displaced and how that reality intersects with the lives of those of us who aren’t.