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Sager, 2015 🔗

Constructions of deportability in Sweden: refused asylum seekers’ experiences in relation to gender, family life and reproduction

Year: 2015

Type of text: Academic article

Published by:  NORA – Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research

Language: English

Author: Maja Sager

Pages: 16

Available at: [Fulltext inte offentligt tillgÀnglig]

Short description of text 

The article examines how deportability has been experienced by refused asylum seekers in Sweden and how these experiences connect to and are shaped by migration policies, social and welfare policies and notions of gender and family, drawing from interviews with a heterosecual couple and a single woman from Kosovo. It critically discuss how migrants’ experiences of deportability clash with the notion of Sweden as a women-friendly welfare state, and further argues that the gendered production of deportability as experienced in the specific cases tends to depoliticize the interviewees’ experiences of forced migration. It also reflects upon the provisional legislation of 2005/2006, that regularized some categories of refused asylum seekers, and the way in which it came to privilege families with children above single migrants and/or couples without children.

Most important results

– The analysis highlights that gender and norms around family and reproduction are central differentiating processes that can have varied, and sometimes similar, consequences for men and women in different political and legal contexts.

– It is being argued that the provisional legislation resulted in a situation in which asylum seekers in heterosexual families with children indirectly were privileged. It puts forward how in ‘the cut-out of the realities of migration politics that is populated by the informants in my study, their experiences have been that some forms of families have been disadvantaged due to humanitarian categorizations of forms of vulnerability [
] Families with children have in this context been focused on specifically as families-with-children and been included within the provisional legislation’ (p. 39)

– It highlights that the position as refused asylum seekers in Sweden is ‘marked by the withdrawal of most of the social and political rights that have contributed to relative equality and freedom for many (although far from all) women in Sweden’, thus ‘the gendered production of deportability as experienced by the interviewees clashes dramatically with notions of Sweden as a gender-equal and women-friendly welfare state’ (p. 39).

– It puts forward how the gendered production of deportability tends to depoliticize experiences of forced migration since; ‘the understandings of what is political tend to be restricted to a putatively universal idea of political activities and political persecution—while activities and forms of persecution that do not fit into the universalist idea are often understood as being private or cultural—e.g. gender-related forms of persecution (Bexelius, 2001, 2008; Crawley, 2001; Folkelius & Noll, 1998; Spijkerboer, 2000). The ways of doing politics, being political, or being exposed to political reactions that are more often embraced by women are consequently not interpreted as “fear of persecution, based on political opinion” (in Sweden: Bexelius, 2001, 2008; Folkelius & Noll, 1998; Zamacona Aguirre, 2008; in the UK: Crawley, 2001; in the Netherlands: Spijkerboer, 2000)’ (p. 38). It is being argued that the two female interviewees experiences ‘were not recognized and hence not read as political experiences’ and thus ‘the experiences of violence—in war and in the local community—were depoliticized and silenced’ (p. 38). 

– The consequences of this depolitication is further discussed; ‘many of the families with children who were included during the provisional law carried stories that, with a more inclusive perspective, could have allowed them to be included as refugees [
] but now they were instead included as families with children—as generally destitute and deserving. While the former form of inclusion would have entailed recognition of the political circumstances that the applicant understood as decisive, the latter form of inclusion instead denied such recognition. For those who got a permanent residence permit, this critique might look like a game with words, but the difference between the different forms of inclusion should be taken seriously: firstly, because of the different signals they send to people seeking asylum and to the public, and, secondly, because of what the difference between the two forms of inclusion means for those who could not be included as families with children’ (p 39-40), and further that; ‘one consequence of that seems to be that depoliticized grounds—such as vulnerability, dependence, and normality (as in “normal” families, relationships, reactions, and victimhoods)—rather than rights and the political circumstances of migrations tend to be put at the centre of the authorities’ production of a subject regarded as worthy of inclusion. Further, ideologies about motherhood enter into the field, saving women as mothers whilst excluding non-mothers—that is to say making women a specific category. But this is contradictory, as at the same time women, men, and children who remain in irregular status suffer from no or limited access to social rights, child care, health care and protection against violence. Women are made special at a symbolic level, something that in other situations also can lead to a privileging of women migrants above men, but in the business-as-usual of migration politics many women’s experiences of war, violence, scarce social rights, and precarity are effaced’ (p. 40).

Theoretical perspective/framework

A feminist approach to the concept of ‘deportability’, as conceptualized by de Genova (2005), that goes beyond an understanding of the concept as mainly a labour migration issue.


‘Ethnographic material consisting of in-depth interviews, field notes, memory notes from activist experiences, and debate and information material from asylum rights organizations as well as from authorities and politicians, gathered through interviews with refused asylum seekers and/or asylum rights activists, observations, and participation and activism in migration rights movements’ (p. 32). Focus on interview accounts of one heterosexual couple and one woman from Kosovo seeking asylum in Sweden, conducted between 2006 and 2008. 

Suggestions for further research

– The processes and intersections between policy areas, family norms, gender, and subjective experiences need to be further explored in order to enhance the knowledge of their complex consequences in the field of migration and border control.

– An intersectional analysis of migration, along with nationality, legal status, race, class, etc., is needed to further feminist understandings of the ways in which categorizations of migrants through ideas about vulnerabilities produce different kinds of effects, experiences, and exclusions in different political and legal contexts.

– Further investigating the feminist conceptualization of the welfare state, conducted in a way that also takes the intersections of migration status, citizenship, and non-citizens’ access to welfare services and social rights into account along with other central principles structuring differences in access to power, welfare, and recognition.

Summarized by: Alva Nissen