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Khosravi, 2009 🔗

Sweden: Detention and Deportation of Asylum Seekers

Year: 2009

Type of text: Academic article

Published by: RACE & CLASS

Language: English

Author: Shahram Khosravi

Pages: 19

Available at:

Short description of text

Based on ethnographic fieldwork among undocumented migrants in Stockholm, interviews with police officers, deportation escorts and staff at Swedish detention centres and fieldwork in Tehran, the article examines the impact of Sweden’s more restrictive asylum policy, arguing that undocumented migrants and asylum seekers are being increasingly criminalised, in relation to a securitization agenda. The confinement and expulsion of asylum seekers are being investigated, with a particular focus on the techniques used by the detention apparatus to ‘humanise’ and ‘rationalise’ these measures. 

Most important results

‘The use of an ethnically diverse workforce in the ‘rationalising’ and ‘humanising’ of the detention process came up frequently during interviews with detention centre staff’ (p. 45). 

Through so-called ‘social conversation’ ‘the authorities put the responsibility for long-term detention entirely on the detainees. They argue that, if the detainees choose not to co-operate, they should accept the consequences of their choice. Conversely the detainees are told that they have the power to ‘rescue’ themselves if they so desire’ (p. 46). 

‘The detention apparatus in Sweden does not operate in the form of simple acts of violence but as a complex and ambiguous set of regulations. Built on ‘hostile hospitality’ [‘hostipitality’] is is partly caring, partly punitive; partly endangering (deportation), partly saving (protecting deportees from police brutality); partly forced, partly empowering; partly a site of hospitality, partly a site of hostility. It sees the detainee as a child in need of guidance and at the same time as an adult responsible for his or her deeds and choices. Nevertheless, the removal system is based on a distinction between who is desirable and deserving and who is not, between those whose lives are useful (legitimate) and those whose lives are wasted (illegitimate)’ (p. 52). 

‘The immigration detention centre … is a pre-modern prison – nothing more than a site for punishment and the permanent removal of ‘wasted’ bodies. The removal system regulates national ‘purity’ through confining and deporting undesirable non-citizens … while prison is associated with ‘ disciplining’ and ‘normalisation’, detention is associated with exposing undesirable non-citizens and risky anti-citizens to abandonment, or even death’ (p. 52). 

Theoretical perspective/framework

  • How the criminalisation of undesirable non-citizens and notions of ‘failed citizens’ and  ‘anti-citizenship’ constitute citizenship and the ‘ideal citizen’. 
  • How unidentified asylum seekers, understood as ‘polluted and polluting because of their very unclassifiability’(p. 52) challenges the sovereignty of the nation-state system, in relation to Mary Douglas exploring of how ‘distinguishing between purity and impurity is a mechanism for preserving the social structure’ (p. 52). 
  • ‘Hostile hospitality’ [‘hostipitality’] (p. 44).


The article is based on ethnographic fieldwork among undocumented migrants (including asylum seekers) in Stockholm between 2004 and 2006, interviews with police officers, deportation escorts and staff at Swedish deportation centres and fieldwork in Tehran in June 2005 and August 2007.

Summarized by: Alva Nissen