Welfare and Aid

Citizens of welfare states, particularly in Scandinavia, can rely upon a variety of institutions offering economic security (see Ugelvik and Barker, Chapters 10 and 13 respectively in this volume). Refused asylum seekers are not eligible for financial support of this kind (Vevstad and Brochmann 2010). In some emergencies, they may qualify for ad hoc aid, but this has been politically unclear (Sovig 2013) and, reportedly, this form ofsupport is rarely used.[1] Residents in asylum centres receive a small amount of money each week (60 euros). Though primarily filled with individuals whose cases are yet to be decided, such places also hold some who have already been rejected. Families with small children and the seriously ill are also eligible for food, shelter, and pocket money (Utlendingsdirektoratet 2008). Effectively, such groups are deprived of permanent housing facilities (0ien and Sonsterudbraten 2011; Valenta 2012; Fangen and Kjsrre 2013).

In countries with weaker welfare states, families constitute the main social and financial security net. For refused asylum seekers, people from the same region or country and acquaintances may count as a network with similar potential. Some refused asylum seekers use contacts in this way, sleeping on the sofas of acquaintances in a more stable situation (Kjellberg and Rugeldal 2011). However, they are often reluctant to talk about how they actually cope (Valenta 2012). They are anxious not to overburden their relationships by asking for too much (0ien and Sonsterudbraten 2011), reportedly preferring to sleep outside than stay too long. They also withdraw from relationships so as not to bother others in their surroundings with their concerns (Kjsrre 2010; Valenta 2012).

Some ethnic Norwegians assist refused asylum seekers. Idealists have set up networks of ‘helpers’ (Dahl 2008; Kjellberg and Rugeldal 2011) and there are several examples of local communities throughout the country embracing ‘their’ refused asylum seekers. According to newspaper reports, communities are frequently willing to disobey politicians and authorities when their local neighbours are threatened with deportation.

As in other European countries, supporting refused asylum seekers has been partly criminalized (Sovig 2013). Citizens who profit from their work with refused asylum seekers or aid such people in obstructing the enforcement of a legal decision, ie by hiding them, may be subject to criminal penalties. Although there was a heated political debate in parliament, where strong voices were heard forwarding the message that all help was detrimental in making migration politics efficient, most forms of individual aid to irregular migrants were decriminalized in 2012. Obstructing police is still punishable (Sovig 2013).

In contrast to the loosening of controls over personal aid to refused asylum seekers, the provision of health care to this group is closely regulated and heavily restricted. For the most part, health care is for citizens. Only children of refused asylum seekers and adults in need of emergency medical attention can obtain it.[2] Even then, they are treated differently, generally directed to health centres run by NGOs and local municipalities, rather than allocated to a doctor.

Together, exclusion from the labour market, health care, and welfare institutions operate as effective mechanisms of control. There are nevertheless loopholes that undermine their capacity to determine people’s behaviour. Control is not, in other words, absolute. The labour market absorbs an unknown quantity of labour from unregistered residents, and some hospitals do (informally) accept patients without payment. Politically, a limited amount of health care and non-profit aid for foreigners seems to be accepted by the population. Informal organizations and individual idealists combine to produce substantial (but typically unknown amounts of) aid. We might even say that to be ‘irregular’ activates some sort of rights (Fangen and Kjsrre 2013). This aid does not dramatically relieve their life situation or reach all who need it. Nevertheless, it is enough to justify a more detailed scrutiny.

  • [1] Conversation with the leader of the health centre for irregular migrants in Oslo.
  • [2] Emergencies include abortion, childbirth, and cases of contagious diseases (Arsmelding 2011;Sovig 2013).
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