Migrant Smuggling, Reasons for Fleeing, and Uses of Asylum Capital among Afghan Asylum Seekers in Sweden
Type of text: Vetenskaplig artikel
Published by: Nidaba: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Middle East Studies
Author: Admir Skodo
Short description of text
The article focuses on three dimensions of Afghan asylumhood in Sweden: migrant smuggling, the asylum seekers’ reasons for fleeing Afghanistan, and the constraints and opportunities for being granted asylum.
Most important results
– It is being shown that the flight of the interviewed asylum seekers ‘was prompted not so much by a pre-meditated individual choice, but by the combined effect of a worsened security condition in Afghanistan, increasingly harsh measures against Afghans in Iran and Pakistan, and hardened border controls in the EU, which ironically opened the door to Western Europe for the migrant smuggling industry’ (p. 2). ‘Three of the interviewed Afghans learned that Sweden was a country at the time their smuggler told them that they had reached their final destination, while three learned about it haphazardly in one of the transit countries’ (p. 4).
– ‘Regulated inventiveness or deviation within the bounds of Swedish asylum law and regulations have allowed, after 2012, Syrians to be processed faster than Afghans. It has also meant that the asylum capital of Syrians has been recognized seemingly without question … Mona [the executive officer at the Migration Agency] sought to explain this state of affairs by pointing to “ministerial rule” (ministerstyre), which means that the government has unofficially influenced an administrative branch to apply the law in a certain way, namely to give Syrians preferential treatment. According to Mona, the government is only interested in seeing results – fast decisions on asylum applications – without regard for methods and human cost … according to Mona, apart from ministerial rule working for them, the Syrians seemed better equipped than Afghans to navigate the asylum process. Implicitly, she seemed to be saying that Syrians that Syrians possess more recognized asylum capital than Afghans, which in this case means that Afghans often do not speak English, and they do not publicize the moral indignity of their situation to attract voluntary associations and journalists that can advocate on their behalf, that is, “convert” this moral and cultural capital into asylum capital recognized by the Migration Agency’ (p. 8). The interviewed head of the camp ‘entertained the idea of Afghans as passive asylum seekers – as too humble, too shy, too polite – as well. She reflected on the Afghans’ moral disposition and self-presentation and the way these traits present them in the eyes of the Migration Agency as lacking asylum capital’ (p. 8). ‘Whatever their differences, Mona, Martina, and Birgitta all implied that the passive Afghan asylum seeker is in a weak position to traverse the asylum landscape and be granted asylum. This ethnicized thinking about asylum seekers expressed by Martina, Mona, and Birgitta was simultaneously taken for granted and criticized for being paradoxical and problematic … Birgitta, a self-professed liberal who believes in the philosophy of self-help, was acutely aware of the fact that Afghans, under such conditions, need to acquire asylum capital to increase their chances of staying in Sweden. She explained that this capital was comprised of having demonstrated knowledge of Swedish, showing that you are employable, and acting strategically in the new restrictionist environment’ (p. 8).
– ‘Being in Sweden where they could not rely on pre-established networks and information from their close relatives and friends, the Afghan asylum seekers are forced to rely on the Migration Agency, rumors, risky assumptions based on uncertain knowledge, and in some cases knowledge provided by voluntary workers, for their determination of what counts as asylum capital. Unsurprisingly this has led to some instances of acquiring what the Migration Agency can deem to be “counterfeit” capital – such as converting to Christianity … Moreover, being in a situation where the Swedish Migration Agency harbors strong misgivings on whether Afghanistan is even in a condition that causes a well-founded fear of persecution … renders Afghan asylum seekers’ claims inherently dubious. In such an instance, the state agency that determines what counts as asylum capital will have developed an orthodoxy that questions how someone could possibly need asylum when their country or part of the country is safe from persecution. The Afghan asylum seekers did not seem to pick up on this misrecognition on the Migration Agency’s part. Jawid could hardly understand why his application was rejected, because he clearly explained how both army officers and the Taliban threatened his life, forcing him to flee’ (p. 9).
– ‘I argue that a successful asylum application depends on the possession of experiences, narratives, skills, and so on, that are recognized by the Migration Agency as asylum capital, and that such recognized asylum capital is shaped by a variety of preferences, assumptions, and policies that strongly disfavor Afghans. Moreover, I argue that the lack of established Afghan networks and the social and cultural capital of well-off asylum seekers has made it difficult for Afghans to perceive what counts as asylum capital in the eyes of the Migration Agency, leading the Afghans to produce narratives of experience that the Migration Agency deems as “counterfeit” asylum capital. Finally, I argue that there are opportunities, albeit limited, for the Afghans to either acquire asylum capital, or convert their already acquired social and cultural capital into asylum capital, through the help of the voluntary worker and the camp manager’ (p. 2).
The concept of asylum capital, which draws on Pierre Bourdieu’s social theory (Bourdieu 1977), meaning ‘those experiences of human rights violations, cultural and social skills (or social and cultural capital), dispositions, narratives, and documents recognized by a state migration agency – according to the historically malleable norms, rules, and practices governing the field of migration – as sufficient for the granting of refugee status determination or subsidiary protection’ (p. 2).
Nine semi-structured interviews conducted in 2017 with six Afghan asylum seekers, an officer from the Migration Agency, the head of a private asylum seeker camp and a voluntary worker, all connected through an asylum seeker camp in a small Scanian town.