A sense of control: Why rejected asylum seekers move out of reception centres (2012)

A reanalysis of qualitative data from the 2011 Fafo project "No way in, no way out: A study of living conditions of irregular migrants in Norway" (Øien and Sønsterudbråten 2011).

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Executive summary

[The following summary has been reproduced from the report.]

This report is a reanalysis of qualitative data from the 2011 Fafo project No way in, no way out: A study of living conditions of irregular migrants in Norway (Øien and Sønsterudbråten 2011). Both the current reanalysis and the previous project were funded by the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI). The original report was based on qualitative interviews with twenty-nine irregular migrants of various nationalities and ages, who had all experienced having their asylum application rejected. The objective was to produce knowledge about irregular migrants’ living conditions as seen from their personal perspectives.

While the objective of this report is to find out why rejected asylum-seekers move out of reception centres, the reasons for why people stay in centres in the same situation, are an invaluable intake to problematise the motivations for those who move out. Both decisions imply challenges, some are similar and others are different, but all shed light on the decision-making involved in deciding what do if one’s application for asylum is rejected. In this reanalysis the objective is rather to explore the motives rejected asylum seekers have for moving out of reception centres, and the considerations and reflections involved in their decision to do so.

Shifts in policies from 2004 to 2012 regarding what rejected asylum seekers and irregular migrants should be offered in terms of welfare and housing has influenced those respondents who had been in Norway the longest. This was thus not a motive to move out in itself, but the rejection of their asylum application was originally the reason for why persons who had been in Norway without legal residence in the period between 2004 and through July 2010 had originally moved out, when the opportunities for staying in ordinary reception centres for rejected asylum seekers were limited.

In reanalysing the data from our study, it emerged that it was often during the period between the first rejection from UDI (that most had appealed) and the final rejection from UDI that respondents had either moved out or started to consider what would happen if they had a final rejection. This period can thus be considered a decision-making moment for whether or not to leave the reception centre. The findings from the reanalysis highlight that the reasons why (rejected) asylum seekers move out of the reception centres are mixed. Overall they are motivated by evading the control inherent in the reception centre system and aiming to gain control over their own situation as far as possible. Common motives given for moving out of a reception centre included:

  • To avoid risk of deportation
  • Finding work and so escape the passivity they associated with and experienced in reception centres
  • Freedom to choose who to live with and away from
  • The location of the reception centre
  • Trying to get control over their own situation

Reasons why other respondents had chosen to stay were to:

  • Have access to a minimum of welfare
  • Give a signal that one ‘sticks to the rules’
  • Aiming to keep on good terms with the authorities and the ‘system’
  • A hope that they will achieve legal residence with time
  • Not being able to see life outside the reception centre as viable without legal residence because of the costs this would imply.

Living outside reception centres and being without any economic support was experienced as hard for all the irregular migrants we interviewed. Having the responsibility for children or other relatives does, however, add to the challenges in everyday life. The majority of those with care responsibilities therefore chose to stay in reception centres. There was a clear tendency in the empirical material that having a family made people more likely to stay in reception centres because it would be difficult for them to manage even minimally decent living standards if they moved out.

Life outside the reception centre undoubtedly offered a number of challenges, but after moving out very few moved back in to a reception centre again.

In the report I suggest that the role ordinary reception centres play in migration and asylum management in Norway at present is that of internal border control. This relates to control measures in the centres. Two categories of control measures that had influenced respondent’s decisions about whether to continue living in or to leave the reception are defined in the report. First, there are those measures that are directly aimed at limiting the movement and freedom of persons who have had their asylum applications rejected. Examples of such measures are e.g. limiting social benefits and access to health care, and withdrawing the right for temporary work permits for persons who cannot provide passports. Secondly, there are measures (often called incentives) that play on individuals’ self-government or ability to pick up expectations towards them. This can be the focus put on voluntary and forced return in reception centres from the moment people arrive there, or the indirect impact of deportations taking place within a centre. Deportation or forced return can be both kinds of measures, and was reported by respondents to create fear and anxiety. For those who did not see a life outside the reception centre as a feasible solution, living in a reception centre was facing this fear every day not knowing if or when it would happen to them. For those who do not want to live in the suspense such a situation impinges on them, moving out of the reception centre is a strategy to establish a life where they have more control over their own situation.

Carried out by: Fafo

Comissioned by: UDI

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