Post by Heike Drotbohm (University of Mainz) and Ines Hasselberg (University of Oxford). In this post Heike and Ines write about their recently published edited book Deportation, Justice, Anxiety. New Ethnographic Perspectives (Routledge 2017).

In Europe, North America as well as in other areas of the world, deportations of unauthorized immigrants to their countries of origin or third countries continue to occur at record levels. Particularly in the context of the EU’s so-called ‘refugee crisis’, the physical removal of unwanted non-citizens from the national territory is seen as a key instrument of border management and control that complements legal adjustments and political constraints.

In our new book, Deportation, Justice, Anxiety: New Ethnographic Perspectives, we introduce a perspective that moves beyond the mere act of deportation. We understand forced removal as a process that begins long before, and carries on long after, the act of deportation takes place. Comprising six empirical papers, and a discussion note by Susan Bibler Coutin, this collection seeks to complement the present body of literature on deportation in a number of ways: first by establishing a transnational perspective over the deportation corridor; second by reasserting both the emotional and normative elements inherent to deportation policies and practices; and third by presenting ethnographically grounded accounts of different actors’ perspectives and rooms for manoeuvre.

In this post we wish to focus on the second point outlined above and emphasise the interconnections between deportation, justice and anxiety. These go hand in hand with public and individual perceptions of fairness and justice that shape and influence how deportation is experienced, felt and interpreted. As the papers to the special issue show, the situation of deportable and deported populations cannot be separated from the perspectives of governments, agents of border control, the media and citizens of host societies, all of whom produce and struggle with conflicting feelings of anxiety that are channelled to irregular(ised) migrants who are perceived as a diffuse threat in the pursuit of security. As migration is increasingly tied to security concerns it becomes vital to look at how such concerns and anxieties are produced and operationalised both in the management of border control and how they are translated into migrants’ own daily lives.

Writing about the treatment of self-mutilations in French detention centres, Nicolas Fischer analyses the tension between a facility’s aim to repress and protect immigrants. His ethnography shows clearly that the anxiety felt by detainees can become an object of debate as well as of control. Detention and medical staff have to assess the emotional stage of detainees, they have to prevent or justify their suffering and their wounds. And—as Fischer shows—these judgments and interactions can also produce anxieties among those who are supposed to manage detention and deportation.

A comparable struggle between humanitarian concerns and xenophobic tensions is examined in Barak Kalir’s chapter which looks at deportation in the context of asylum in Israel. Here, Kalir argues that a specific Jewish-Israeli ideology of ‘fearism’, nourished by the Israeli experience of historic persecution and need to protect a Jewish nation-state, underlie the construction of the non-Jewish immigrant Other. Similar to many other national contexts, these tensions are used by policy-makers for justifying the exclusion and deportation of immigrants and asylum seekers.

Migrants too and their social environment can struggle with feelings of anxiety while coping with their irregular or contested residence status. This is so whether their deportability is enacted in anticipation on account of irregular immigration status and translated into active invisibility and evasion strategies, as emphasised in many illegality studies (see here and here), or is experienced only once deportation proceedings against them are initiated, as is the case for those with previously regular immigration status (see here and  here). Research on the social consequences of deportability has shown that not only those under threat of deportation but also their close social and family networks suffer from fear of detection (in the case of irregular residency) or denied immigration appeals (in the case of contested claims)— both cases often leading to involuntary family separation. Due to these constraints, some families try to avoid any contact with state officials, health care or even the school system and this sociopolitical mode of existence works to shape migrants’ ‘subjective experiences of time, space, embodiment, sociality and self’ (Willen 2007). In this book, the contributions by Treasa Galvin and Barak Kalir pay special attention to these matters, by detailing the importance of social networks in developing coping strategies as well as outlining public perceptions of informal or clandestine spaces of childcare, work and residence.

After the forced return, anxiety remains through family separation, the experience of ‘home’ communities ambivalent or even hostile, or the prospect of a life under conditions of exclusion, lack of opportunities and spatial immobility. Liza Schuster and Nassim Majidi in their chapter show that families and communities tend to stigmatise those who return involuntarily from distant countries, and that deported migrants have to respond to a notion of failure. Heike Drotbohm also takes into account the perspective of family members who continue to live in the (former) destination country and who have to cope with the absence of their deported relative(s): within transnational family networks, anxieties are felt not only among those who remain behind and have to cope with feelings of guilt and lack of information but also among those living where deported migrants are returned to and where the particularity, the involuntariness and unpreparedness of their return can produce mistrust or even fear. At the same time, deportees have to find means to cope with their involuntary separation from family members remaining in the country of destination and the prospects of a life under conditions different than expected or planned. Deported parents, for instance, may fear that they might lose custody of their children and cannot control or influence the respective legal procedures.

Treasa Galvin’s chapter offers a contrasting perspective to most accounts of post-deportation, where, in the context of migration from Zimbabwe to Botswana, anxiety arises mostly from the need to establish strategies that allow migrants to retain their work and possessions in Botswana in the very likely event of forced removal. In this context, deportation has become an intrinsic part of Zimbabwean migrants’ lives—and a disquieting interruption of their lives—but has not succeeded in hindering their mobility as they return to Botswana and pursue with their livelihoods. This book thus points to the need to look not only to the dramatic effect of deportation but also to processes of normalisation and routinisation. This is also emphasised in Susan Bibler Coutin’s discussion note. In her commentary to this special issue, Coutin highlights crucial legal paradoxes stemming from deportation. Protection or control, compassion or justice, individual or collective rights, humanitarianism or enforcement prove to be highly contradictive, ‘double bind’ categories in the context of deportation.

As mentioned above, national security concerns are evermore used as a rationale for the expansion of deportation. Seen through the lens of the state, deportation could be a ‘just’ measure, understood as a duty of surveillance that protects deserving citizens from dangerous border-crossers and potential terrorists. But it can also be seen as a disproportionally harsh and unforgiving form of state punishment that expels individuals who have already served their sentence. As Heike Drotbohm has showed in an article on the notion of citizenship, deportation produces an ambivalent quality. Citizenship proves to be powerful, as it draws deportees back to their alleged countries of origin, while at the same time it appears decomposed and weak, as the position of migrants, after their involuntary return is questioned and their exclusion is justified. Deportation, although never legally conceptualised as a punishment, is often experienced as an archaic and deeply unjust measure: it punishes not only deportees through banishment but also those who remain behind as well as their societies of origin, which are often incapable of integrating migrants who return involuntarily and empty-handed.

Deportees and their families, lawyers as well as activists fighting deportation draw on their own perceptions of ‘justice’ in attempting to redefine more humane and rightful lines of social belonging in a globalised world. Yet, these are not uncontested or necessarily consistent as exemplified in several chapters of this book. In the Israeli context, Barak Kalir shows how different actors, making use of national history, will resort to different, and often competing, discourses on human rights, belonging and security to make their case for/against the inclusion of asylum seekers. In the British context, Ines Hasselberg’s chapter reveals how migrants’ own perceptions of justice related to deportation may be self-conflicting and not in line with those of other actors, including their families and migrant support groups. In her chapter, Heike Drotbohm shows how protection of ‘the family’, which is supported by international law, may conflict with the state act of deportation, which separates family members, sometimes for good.

Human rights groups refer to this paradox and try to distinguish between the ‘good’ migrant, who deserves to remain with his family and should not be deported, and the ‘bad’ one who committed crimes and lost his individual eligibility to society’s mercy. Generally, deportation appears as a senseless state action, bearing emotional suffering and economic costs, which needs to be compensated again by actors such as states, civil societies, families or other collectivities. ‘Justice’ proves to be constantly shifting between moral lines of inclusion and exclusion, which can appear arbitrary and circumstantial. Furthermore, what constitutes an act of resistance is often dependent on positionality and intention, which is also well captured in Nicolas Fischer’s chapter with regard to detainees’ acts of self-mutilation. According to our understanding, it is the diversity of emotions as well as the diversity of normative standards inherent to the ‘corridor of deportation’ that shed light on the complexity as well as the inconsistencies and contingencies of deportation.

Note: This edited collection was first published in 2015 as special issue with the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.

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