Sammanfattning av publikation

Khosravi, 2010 🔗

An Ethnography of Migrant ‘Illegality’ in Sweden: Included yet Excepted?

Year: 2010

Type of text: Academic article

Published by:  Journal of International Political Theory

Language: English

Author: Shahram Khosravi

Pages: 22

Available at:

Short description of text 

“This article examines how migrant ‘illegality’ is experienced in the Swedish context. How do ‘illegal’ migrants manage work, housing, healthcare, safety and a family life in the absence of access to formal provisions? What are their survival strategies?” (95)

Most important results

“My informants usually found work in their ethnic communities through personal networks. Former Iranianin formants, it was relatively easy to find work thanks to a well-established ethnic economy (see Khosravi 1999) and broad local media networks (see Graham and Khosravi 2002), such as local radio stations, an annual Iranian Yellow Pages, and popular local websites. “ (100)

“The undocumented migrants’ precarious position in the labour market is un/wittingly ‘sanctioned’ by the authorities. First, informal work is criminalised in Sweden, so an undocumented migrant is vulnerable to detention and deportation if she or he turns to the authorities because of abuse by the employer. Second, the criminalisation of informal work means that migrant mobility in the labour market is restricted, so opportunities to change jobs to increase earnings or leave abusive employers are limited. Third, the presence of undocumented migrants in the labour market is seen as a threat by the trade unions, which argue that undocumented migrants’ sub-market wages undermine collective agreements and are a threat to welfare. (Arbetaren 10/02). Trade unions have cooperated with the police for a long time, in efforts to catch ‘illegal’ migrants (see Zaremba 2006, Dagens Nyheter 9 October 2003, Arbetaren 07/02 and 42/03).” (102)

“Women felt more vulnerable in relation to their employers than men did. Sahel,ayoungBangladeshiwoman, was the live-in maid of a family; she cleaned and cooked for room and board, but received no salary. Sexual harassment by employers or co-workers was also frequently mentioned by my female informants. “ (102)

“Many of my informants (15 people) mentioned that, despite their low wages, they regularly remitted money to their families. Some of them had been able to repay the debts incurred, usually to a human smuggler, to cover the cost of emigration (cf. Ohlson 2006: 149). My informants never missed the chance to show their pride in working hard. They frequently mentioned their desire to be able to work in the formal labour market and pay taxes. They generally believed that hard work would increase their chances of eventual legalisation.” (103)

“As in the case of work, the ethnic network is the most usual channel for finding housing. Undocumented migrants generally live in less-attractive areas with huge concentrations of migrants from the same region. Only one of all my informants lived outside an ‘immigrant area’. Ethnic networks, however, do not necessarily mean ethnic solidarity. My informants lived in over-crowded conditions and paid unreasonably high rents. Moreover, they were sometimes not allowed to use the kitchen or bathroom and two even mentioned sleeping in the workplace.” (104)

“The vulnerability of undocumented migrants also exposes them to blackmail and sexual abuse. Bahman, an Iranian man in his late twenties, was forced to give sexual services to his landlady under the threat of being reported to the police. Another young and handsome Iranian man, Hamid, reluctantly had sex with his lawyer for one year for fear that she would otherwise diminish his chances of regularisation. Pari, an Iranian woman in her mid-thirties, hoped for regularisation through marriage; she entered a relationship with a man and would be ‘with him’ on the weekends for two years.” (104)

“Undocumented migrants are also recurrently subjected to fraud and swindling by charlatans pretending to be ‘lawyers’ or immigration ‘experts’. “ (109)

“In a strong welfare state, like Sweden, where large parts of social life, such as the labour market, housing, healthcare, and education, are regulated through the state, migrant ‘illegality’ means an even harsher everyday life than in countries with weaker welfare systems.” (111)


Theoretical perspective/framework

Willen’s (2007) ‘critical phenomenology of illegality’ (95)


“This study is based on consecutive ethnographic fieldwork among undocumented migrants in Stockholm between May 2004 and December 2006.” (96)

“My first field contact was made via a clandestine healthcare clinic for undocumented migrants organised by Médecins du Monde which opened one night a week and also offered legal services.” (97)

“Despite the initial intention not to limit the survey to any one ethnic group, due to language barriers the group came to be dominated by Iranians” (97)

“Throughout the fieldwork, I worked with some 50 people. Although I met most of them regularly, I followed 33 longer and more intensively. In addition, I interviewed 10 undocumented Iranian families. I also obtained valuable information from the siblings, friends, and employers of the informants as well as from volunteers, Migration Board staff, police, and lawyers. The participants were not selected as representative, but as a specific group, whose experiences contribute to insight into the condition of ‘illegality’ as ‘a mode of being-in-theworld’ (Willen 2007).” (97)

“Of the 33 informants in my group, 24 entered Sweden ‘illegally’ and nine were overstayers. Of my informants, only four people had not previously sought asylum. “ (99)

Summarised by: Josefin Åström