Deportation limbo traces the efforts of two Nordic welfare states, Denmark and Sweden, to address the so-called implementation gap in deportation enforcement. It offers an original, empirically grounded account of how often-futile, injurious policy measures devoted to pressuring non-deported people to leave are implemented and contested in practice. In doing so, it presents a critique of the widespread, normalised use of detention, encampment, and destitution, which routinely fail to enhance deportations while exposing deportable people to conditions that cause their premature death. The book takes the ‘deportation limbo’ as a starting point for exploring the violent nature of borders, the racial boundaries of welfare states, and the limits of state control over cross-border mobility. Building on unprecedented access to detention and deportation camps and migration offices in both countries, it presents ethnographic material capturing frontline officials’ tension-ridden efforts to regulate non-deported people using forced deportation, incarceration, encampment, and destitution. Using a continuum of state violence as the analytical lens, the book offers a uniquely comprehensive account of how the borders of Nordic welfare states are drawn through practices that subject racialised ‘others’ to expulsion, incarceration, and destitution. The book is the first to systematically document the renewed deportation turn in Denmark and Sweden, and to critically examine its implications: for the people targeted by intensified deportation measures, and for the individual officials, institutions, and societies enforcing them. It offers an important, critical contribution to current debates on the violence of deportation regimes, the politico-bureaucratic structures and practices that sustain them, and their human costs.
The chapter focuses on those whose application for asylum has been rejected and illustrates the implementation of the minimum rights approaches adopted by the Swedish and Danish governments. This approach is intended to make the respective countries less attractive for persons seeking protection. While the discussed policies form part of a wider European trend whereby welfare regimes are instrumentalised for the purpose of border and migration control, the author argues that restrictions to minimum welfare services assume particular significance in highly bureaucratised welfare states, and should be understood as a particular form of state violence.
The chapter introduces the significant gap between government fantasies of effective and ‘humane’ deportation enforcement, and the violent, and seemingly counterproductive, realities that deportation policies create – not least during an ongoing pandemic. The chapter situates the research within the growing field of deportation studies, on the one hand, and sociological and anthropological research on bureaucracy and ‘the state’, on the other. It proposes the concept ‘deportation limbo’ as a starting point of analysis as well as the conceptual framework of a continuum of state violence. It introduces the empirical material and discusses the ethics and politics of ‘studying up’ the institutions and organisations responsible for enforcing state violence at the border
The chapter provides an overview of the politics of deportation in Denmark and Sweden and contextualises the expansion of the countries’ respective deportation regimes since 2015. While Denmark and Sweden have been discussed as radically different in terms of their approaches to migration, the chapter traces similarities and continuities between them. They include, first, the social imaginaries of Nordic ‘exceptionalism’, which encompass a denial of complicity in racist global histories and structures, and related narratives of social, cultural, and racial homogeneity. Secondly, the bureaucratised welfare state apparatuses, ostensibly designed to foster and protect the lives of the population, are also mobilised to render the lives of those excluded from the welfare state, including non-deported people, unliveable.
The chapter details the everyday work of prison officers inside Denmark’s deportation prison, which incarcerates foreign nationals awaiting deportation. The prison officers in charge of the prison conceive themselves as marginal players in the deportation regime and take on their work tasks with a mixture of neglectful inaction and anticipation of violent action. The chapter depicts how the predominantly White officers use their prison training in applying ‘force’ and racial matrices to construct incarcerated people as criminal, unreliable, and prone to violence. Officers’ suspicion becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when they use pre-emptive violence and degradation to discipline those detained. The chapter thus discusses how the systemic violence of the deportation prison translates into everyday violence, which dehumanises not only the people detained, but also those who incarcerate them.
The chapter details the work of migration officials in Sweden to enforce so-called voluntary deportations and how ‘voluntarism’ is used to responsibilise non-deported people for their deportation. Drawing on interviews with migration officials, social workers, and police officers, the chapter further examines the effects of a new Swedish law that withdraws access to minimum welfare for non-deported individuals, leaving them destitute. This policy, it is argued, constitutes a form of indirect violence that signals a shift from intensive bureaucratic regulation towards a politics of derecording and formal abandonment. Finally, the chapter shows how non-deported people contest derecording, either by refusing to disappear, or by moving on. Their tactics demonstrate how deportation regimes extend transnationally and the opportunities that emerge from the uneven implementation of immigration law in Europe, including the Dublin Regulation.
If deportation prisons represent the direct violence that states may use to control and put pressure on non-deported people, the Danish deportation camps exemplify how such pressure is also applied through indirect violence. The deportation camps are operated by the Danish Prison and Probation Service and the Red Cross in an uneasy alliance, and are meant to pressure non-deported people to leave by subjecting them to injurious conditions of indefinite semi-confinement, isolation, and circumscribed autonomy. Building on ethnographic fieldwork with prison officers in one of Denmark’s three deportation camps and engagements with resident protest movements, the chapter describes how officers navigate their ‘mysterious’ task of symbolically – but rarely practically – performing authority in the camp. Meanwhile, residents experience being ‘left to die, slowly’, at the same time as staying put and waiting out the state becomes a way of contesting deportation. The chapter discusses the necropolitical logic behind slow violence; its lasting, injurious effects; and its contestations.
In sharp contrast to the Danish deportation prison, the Swedish detention regime is designed to obscure and mediate the violence of confinement. The chapter presents an ethnography of one of Sweden’s six deportation prisons, which at a first glance resembles a caretaking facility rather than a prison. The chapter describes the efforts of detention officials to ensure smooth, ‘humane and dignified’ deportation processes, by offering calming yoga classes, monitoring the attitudes and behaviours of incarcerated people, and using dialogues to ‘motivate’ them to comply with their deportation orders. However, these efforts to redress deportation prisons in a humanitarian guise merely obscure but do not reduce their violent character. The chapter details the tensions that surface when the mostly middle-class, multi-national crew of officials seek to ‘humanise’ the detention environment but where their caretaking gaze and commitment to bureaucratic red tape simultaneously serve to smoothen deportation enforcement. The chapter demonstrates how bureaucratic violence is enforced through staff members’ caretaking intentions.
The chapter revisits the main empirical and analytical arguments of the book, and discusses how deportation regimes, and the continuum of state violence they mobilise, extend transnationally as part of the global apartheid regime, and internally, as one of the mechanisms through which racialised state borders are produced and maintained within societies. It also considers how state violence colonises the identity not only of those who are exposed to it, but also those who enforce it. Finally, it discusses the position of academic research within deportation regimes, and what kind of knowledge is or can be useful for documenting and challenging borders and the violence which sustains them.