The politics of uncertainty: producing, reinforcing and mediating (legal) uncertainty in local refugee reception
Migration is a phenomenon that carries multiple uncertainties. This holds especially true for forced migration, about which uncertainty and even physical insecurity are inherent. In fact, the international refugee regime is structured to reduce physical insecurity for (some groups of) forcibly displaced migrants. Nevertheless, (legal) uncertainty arises from the question of who is actually entitled to international protection, and under which circumstances. This uncertainty persists and sometimes even increases during asylum-procedures, i.e. under national and sub-national legislation and through administrative practices. While their asylum case is still pending, but also after a decision has been made, asylum-seekers often experience extreme uncertainty, both in terms of their legal situation and socially. Legal uncertainty touches every aspect of refugees’ lives: from family reunification to access to the labour market or education, from housing to making contacts in their new environment.
Public debates and scholarly research often portray municipalities and other local actors as crucial to the integration of asylum-seekers and refugees. In line with different authors we maintain that it is important to focus on the local context as setting. Uncertainty is experienced most directly at the local level, and asylum-seekers and refugees have to adjust to this uncertainty in local contexts. At the same time, municipalities, local decision-makers as well as local populations face uncertainty, too. The often builtin ambiguity of laws, regulations and norms and a notion of uncertainty about the social and political context of refugee protection also affect the actions of street-level bureaucrats, the practices of (local) refugee politics and even the behaviour of non-governmental organizations. At the local level, there is a vast variety of practices in dealing with legal and political uncertainties. Some actors just pass on the uncertainty, which they experience, to the migrants. Others try to mediate and even reduce uncertainty. For example, in some municipalities, local strategies and guidelines try to guarantee a coherent approach to local refugee protection; some cities even speak out publicly against deportation (movement of “sanctuary cities”) or offer to host more refugees (“solidarity cities”). In consequence, these local and regional variations may be a further source of uncertainty.
The workshop aims at exploring further, what dimensions this uncertainty has; what consequences it has for the participation of asylumseekers and refugees in society, especially at the local level, and how they deal with uncertainty as one aspect of the migration regime in the local context. Also, we are interested in understanding better, how local actors contribute to the production of this uncertainty or what they do in order to reinforcing or moderating its effects.