The Temporary Residence of ‘St. Bazile’ and The Boat to Be as Sites for Speculating about the Future

This text is part of GRIP´s miniseries Speculative Urban Futures. As inequalities rise and cities grow, the need to speculate and probe possible urban futures is more urgent than ever. This miniseries opens up to various types of speculations about potential urban futures.

This text is part of GRIP´s miniseries Speculative Urban Futures. As inequalities rise and cities grow, the need to speculate and probe possible urban futures is more urgent than ever. This miniseries opens up to various types of speculations about potential urban futures.

Photo: Christine M. Jacobsen. The mural ‘Fragment de voyage’ (Fragment of a journey) by street artist Mahn Kloix.

In this blog post, we invite you to think with us about potential futures which are enacted in defiance of violent border regimes and immigration law enforcement. Our aim is to highlight how hospitable futures are created by displaced people, who, despite being ‘left to die’ at sea, abandoned and treated as inferior, evictable, and exploitable, are struggling to emplace themselves, to ‘move into place despite being forced out of it’ (Bjarnesen and Vigh 2016: 10). We use the cases of the Temporary Residence of St. Bazile and the Boat to Be (Navire Avenir) to discuss how displaced people in Marseille enact and actualise potential futures in the present.

Lack of accommodation, caused by a crisis in the reception system and the local housing market is among the most important challenges faced by asylum seekers and undocumented migrants in Marseille (see Jacobsen 2022). The Temporary Residence of St. Bazile was established by a group of asylum seekers as a response to these challenges. Alieu Jalloh, a founding member of the asylum seeker organisation Association for Users of the PADA,[1] describes the difficulties their members faced regarding housing and how they squatted a house to solve the problem of people ending up on the street:

We were confronted every day by the problems of housing of the members of the association. So we thought: Let us invent something to solve the problem. We learned that there are a lot of empty buildings that do not have a project for the next four or five years. So, we decided to squat one building first and then try to get a temporary lease agreement.


The building was owned by the EPF PACA, a state public establishment that implements public land strategies on behalf of the State and the local authorities that are responsible for them, and needed renovation. The squatters set about making the building inhabitable, upgrading the electric system and plumbing, securing the structure, fixing windows, and painting. This was far from the first time asylum seekers had squatted a building in Marseille. This time, however, the asylum seeker association (AUP), with the support of several non-governmental organizations, managed to secure a temporary lease and some political support, Alieu Jalloh narrates:


From that moment the future looked good for us. The Deputy Prefect for Equal Opportunities supported the project as did the deputy mayor. When the agreement was signed, we said now we have invented an alternative housing for asylum seekers, and even the state agreed this could be a model worth continuing for the future. Economically it is cheap compared to hotel nights. Also, for the asylum seekers, it is better because they are able to cook. And it is better for the owner because we took care of the building and did not allow it to deteriorate.



St. Bazile was a ‘temporary residence.’ The lease was only signed until March 31st  2023, so the emplacement in the city that it allowed for the 40 inhabitants, was transient. Scholarship on asylum seekers and irregular migrants have noted how temporariness may forcefully orient people towards the present and preclude future orientations. At the same time, anthropologists working on time have stressed how temporariness and waiting may also be generative of various future orientations (Jacobsen and Karlsen 2020). According to Bryant and Knight (2019: 79), for instance, gaps, intervals, pauses, and delays are generative of particular future orientations, such as hope, anticipation and speculation (Bryant and Knight 2019).


The St. Bazile could be seen as such a generative time-space, which allowed the emergence of both individual and collective anticipations, hopes, and speculations. During a visit, a group of young men showed Christine M. Jacobsen how they organized their living in St. Bazile, pooling resources and cooking together. Although preoccupied by their short-term need for a legal status, housing and income, they talked about some of their hopes and aspirations for what might come afterwards.


Scaling up from these individual future orientations, the initiators saw St. Bazile as the invention of a prototype for a more hospitable reception of asylum seekers in France. St. Bazile, they suggested, was the first in its kind of ‘self-organized asylum reception centres’ (CADA auto-géré). This vision of a horizontal space of hospitality and mutuality, organized on the basis of the needs and knowledges of asylum seekers themselves, and replacing the present abandonment of asylum seekers by the state, could be seen as a form of ‘speculation.’ According to Bryant and Knight (2019) speculation as a future orientation emerges in particular when the end point is not clear. While the temporary lease secured for St. Bazile implied an end, it remained unclear indeed what would in fact happen, whether there would be eviction, extension of the lease, or whether this was the beginning of a new and more hospitable way of organizing the reception of asylum seekers in Marseille.

Photo: Christine M. Jacobsen

Artistic investments further inscribed the St. Bazile as a space-time of future orientation and speculation. When Christine M. Jacobsen first visited the residence, she observed a model of a sea rescue ship and a text entitled Navire Avenir (Boat to Be) on display in the common room. The exposition was created by PEROU (Pôle d’Exploration des Ressources Urbaines), a research-action laboratory focusing on processes of urban exclusion. On the one hand, PEROU’s work reflects the increasing hostility in cities, focusing in particular on the housing conditions of displaced communities, and on the other, it carries out social and architectural actions to implement hospitality and solidarity. The laboratory especially works in the temporary places of displaced people, enabling contact with local inhabitants and political spaces of collaboration. They had invested in the Temporary Residence of St. Bazile as precisely such a site of temporariness and displacement – but also of potentiality.


The text accompanying the rescue ship model was an extract from a performed inaugural speech of l’Avenir (The future) to be held by a Minister of Culture in 2024 in Marseille.[2] The public reading of this collectively produced text was said by the initiators to have the potential to ‘project us into a future finally rich in our enthusiasm’.[3] In the speech, the Boat to Be is described in this way:


Designed with citizens, with architects, with designers, with artists, with researchers, with rescue sailors, with students from all over Europe, with migrants, with those who make Europe a continent in the process of enlargement. It is a ship built to build hospitality, assembled to assembly our differences together, dreamed to dream together again. It is a ship to save, to shelter, to inhabit, to share, to tell. …It is a ship called by the sea that can no longer bear to be the graveyard it has become. It is a prototype ship for a fleet that we will build with the European youth who are building it. It is a ship designed not to take over the world, as were the ships armed in past centuries for conquering European migrants, but a ship designed to establish a relationship of friendship at last with those far away.


In their introduction to a special issue on utopian confluences, Blanes and Bertelsen (2021: 13) suggest that utopian time-spaces ‘act on the present in order to redeem the past and open up the future’. The inaugural speech of l’Avenir invokes the haunting past of ships used in colonial conquest and slave trade. It also invokes images of the Mediterranean having turned into a graveyard for those shipwrecked due to violent border regimes and immigration law enforcement.[4] As a redemption of this past, it suggests inscribing ‘acts of hospitality’ in the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage, claiming hospitality as a heritage to be transmitted to future generations. To the inhabitants of the Temporary Residence of St. Bazile the Boat to Be also represented their own experienced past, opening up to a different future, the inauguration of which they were eager to participate in: ‘We are the people who would have used this boat that was not yet built when we needed it,’ Alieu Jalloh clarifies, ‘And we participate to share our experience about what is needed to improve hospitality. We do not want other people to suffer the way we have suffered.’


Photo: Christine M. Jacobsen


Presently, around 500 designers, artists, lawyers, students, and researchers from some 50 European and South American schools are designing and building the Boat to Be – the ‘saviour ship’ as it was dubbed in St. Bazile – which is ‘due to set sails in 2025’. As Alieu Jalloh speculates, ‘Now it is becoming a reality. It is supposed to be there, so we are imagining that it is even there now. All sorts of people are participating in the realisation of that. It is supposed to be, so it will.’ What exactly the Boat to Be will bring into being remains open. It is not imagined as an end point, but rather as ‘a path, a sill, a door, a roof, and all the necessary windows.’[5] The topos of emplacement of the future represented by the Boat to Be remains floating, fleeting, fix‐less and multiple (cf. Blanes and Bertelsen 2021). As the inaugural speech envisages: ‘It is a ship that goes out to sea as a high place of hospitality. It is a ship like a maritime extension of all the cultural places that have come together to accompany its creation.’


Photo: Christine M. Jacobsen


The redemption of the boat as a vessel of seaborne empires and nations and their exclusionary mechanisms through a ‘maritime extension’ of hospitality certainly brings to mind Paul Gilroy’s (2017) notion of ‘offshore humanism’. Gilroy (2017, 2021) sees acts to save the shipwrecked in the Mediterranean as part of a wider struggle to endow a sense of reciprocal humanity and culture of hospitality, which includes also the establishment of sanctuary cities and ‘the creation of supportive, independent, vernacular connections with fugitives, incomers and settlers via the work of dedicated non-governmental bodies as well as less formal and more fluid local coalitions and activist bodies’ (2017: 19).


To Alieu Jalloh, the hospitality of the Boat to Be, which ‘goes out to the sea,’ is imbricated with the struggle of displaced people in Marseille to emplace themselves: ‘The activities we do here on the ground is also about hospitality. So they are the same project. We are not only thinking about how to save people at sea, but also how to keep them safe when they arrive.’ However, while the Boat to Be is (imagined as) in the process of actualization, the Temporary Residence of St. Bazile has ceased to exist as of March 31st, and its inhabitants have been displaced to public emergency housing structures. Awaiting a ‘permission to anchor,’ the model of the Boat to Be now stands in the temporary office of the Association of the PADA Users in Marseille, embodying the tenacity of Alieu Jalloh and his companions: ‘We will never give up our struggle for the future.’




[1] The acronym PADA refers to the Plateforme d’accueil de Demandeurs d’Asile (The first reception desk for asylum seekers). The main objective of the Association for users of the PADA (AUP) is to give a voice to asylum seekers who suffer from the dysfunctionality of the French reception system, and in particular the first reception office (PADA). The association offers free legal advice by peers and organizes food distribution. It gathers more than 500 members from over 50 different countries.

[2] PEROU-Actions-Mediterranee-Avenir-Workshop_Paris-Septembre_2021.pdf (


[4] This resonates with Sharpe’s (2016) discussion of the ways that it the slave ship lives on, marking and haunting the now, including in the ongoing disasters in the Mediterranean Sea.

[5] Here, one is reminded of Derrida’s distinction between the Future and “l’avenir” [the ‘to come], where the latter is the unpredictable future that cannot be anticipated (Lawlor 2023).


  • Bjarnesen J. and H. Vigh. (2016). Introduction: The Dialectics of Displacement and Emplacement, Conflict and Society, 2(1), 9–15.
  • Blanes, R. L., & Bertelsen, B. E. (2021). Utopian confluences: anthropological mappings of generative politics. Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale, 29(1), 5-17.
  • Bryant, R. and Knight, D. M. (2019). The Anthropology of the Future. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK.
  • Gilroy, P. (2017). Where every breeze speaks of courage and liberty: Offshore Humanism and Marine Xenology, or, Racism and the Problem of Critique at Sea Level. Antipode, n/a-n/a. doi:10.1111/anti.12333
  • Gilroy, P. (2021). Antiracism, Blue Humanism and the Black Mediterranean. Transition, 2021, No. 132, pp. 108-122, DOI 10.2979/transition.132.1.09
  • Jacobsen, C. M. (2022). Kollaps, utkastelse, okkupasjon: migranters boligsituasjon i Marseille. Norsk Antropologisk Tidsskrift 33 (3-4): 244-261.
  • Jacobsen C. M., Karlsen, M.-A. 2020. ‘Introduction’. In Jacobsen C. M., Karlsen, M.-A. & Khosravi, S. (eds.). Waiting and the temporalities of irregular migration. Routledge: London and New York.
  • Lawlor, Leonard, “Jacques Derrida”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2023 Edition), Edward N. Zalta & Uri Nodelman (eds.), URL.


About the Authors:

  • Alieu Jalloh is a Marseille-based migrant-rights activist and a primus motor of the cases we discuss.
  • Christine M. Jacobsen is a social anthropologist who has worked ethnographically for more than a decade on the situation of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants in Marseille.