“They Stopped the Lives of Others”: Stateless Palestinians Facing Bureaucratic Violence in Sweden





limbo, Sweden, ignorance, repressive consent, migration control, deportability, Migration Agency, borders, border police


Official calls for “failed” asylum seekers to leave Sweden ignore the difficulties and harms befalling stateless people who cannot return to previous countries of residence because they lack citizenship. Stateless people are caught in limbo, a position where they have no prospects of return or of attaining a residence permit in a predictable future. To learn the underlying logics and consequences of such limbo and how it is (re)produced in the Swedish migration bureaucracy, this article investigates three data sets: interviews with seven stateless Palestinians, the Swedish Migration Agency’s internal guidelines for the return process, and the same agency’s country reports on stateless people’s situation in the assigned deportation countries. Inspired by Hannah Arendt’s reflections on statelessness and modern bureaucratized societies, the article reveals that there are great challenges to access rights for stateless persons and in holding anyone accountable for decisions adopted by Swedish migration authorities. Moreover, the article shows how limbo induces two interconnected and multilevel technologies in migration authorities: ignorance and repressive consent. As communicating vessels, these technologies form a bureaucratic violence. While diminishing migrants’ access to safety and a dignified life, violence is sustained by legislative changes and insidiously hidden from public debate.


Metrics Loading ...

Author Biography

Anna Lundberg, Sociology of Law Department Lund University, Lund, Sweden

Anna Lundberg is a Professor in Sociology of Law at Lund University and a Professor in Welfare Law at Linköping University. She can be reached at anna.lundberg@soclaw.lu.se.


Achiume, E. T. (2022). Empire, borders, and refugee responsibility sharing. California Law Review, 110(3), 1011–1039. https://doi.org/10.15779/Z38HH6C669

Aliens Act (2005:716) [Sweden]. https://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b50a1c.html

Andersen, B. (2021). Epilogue. In M. Bhatia & V. Canning (Eds.), Stealing time: Migration, temporalities and state violence (pp. 223–227). Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-69897-3

Andersson, H., Ascher, H., Eastmond, M., & Björnberg, U. (2010). Mellan det förflutna och framtiden: Asylsökande barns välfärd, hälsa och välbefinnande [Between the past and the future: The welfare, health and well-being of asylum-seeking children]. Centrum för Europaforskning, Göteborgs universitet (CERGU).

Arendt, H. (1968). The origins of totalitarianism. Harcourt, Brace.

Arendt, H. (1969). On violence. Harcourt, Brace.

Barker, V. (2017). Nordic nationalism and penal order: Walling the welfare state. Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315269795

Borrelli, L. M. (2018). Using ignorance as (un)conscious bureaucratic strategy: Street-level practices and structural influences in the field of migration enforcement. Qualitative Studies, 5(2), 95–109. https://doi.org/10.7146/qs.v5i2.104421

Borrelli, L. M., & Lindberg, A. (2018). The creativity of coping: Alternative tales of moral dilemmas among migration control officers. International Journal of Migration and Border Studies, 4(3), 163–178. https://doi.org/10.1504/ijmbs.2018.10013558

Borrelli, L. M., & Lindberg, A. (2019). Paperwork performances: Legitimating state violence in the Swedish deportation regime. Journal of Legal Anthropology, 3(2), 50–69. https://doi.org/10.3167/jla.2019.030204

Canning, V. (2018). Border (mis)management, ignorance and denial. In A. Barton & H. Davis (Eds.), Ignorance, power and harm: Agnotology and the criminological imagination (pp. 139–162). Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-97343-2_7

Chimni, B. S. (2009). The birth of a “discipline”: From refugee to forced migration studies. Journal of Refugee Studies, 22(1), 11–29. https://doi.org/10.1093/jrs/fen051

Cleton, L., & Chauvin, S. (2020). Performing freedom in the Dutch deportation regime: Bureaucratic persuasion and the enforcement of “voluntary return.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 46(1), 297–313. https://doi.org/10.1080/1369183x.2019.1593819

Coutin, S. B. (2015). Deportation studies: Origins, themes and directions. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 41(4), 671–681. https://doi.org/10.1080/1369183x.2014.957175

DeBono, D., Rönnqvist, S., & Magnusson, K. (2015). Humane and dignified? Migrants’ experiences of living in a “state of deportability” in Sweden. Malmö Institute for Studies of Migration, Diversity and Welfare. https://ssrn.com/abstract=2775599

Doebbler, C. F. (2002). A human rights approach to statelessness in the Middle East. Leiden Journal of International Law, 15(3), 527–552. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0922156502000250

Düvell, F. (Ed.). (2006). Illegal immigration in Europe. Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230555020

Ellermann, A. (2020). Discrimination in migration and citizenship. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 46(12), 2463–2479. https://doi.org/10.1080/1369183x.2018.1561053

Elsrud, R., Gruber, S., Häyhtiö, S., Lundberg, A., Söderman, E., & Vestin, S. (2022, August). Asylarkivet [Asylum archive]. Asylkommissionen. https://asylkommissionen.se/wp-content/uploads/asylarkivet.pdf

European Migration Network. (2016, October 31). EMN synthesis report for the EMN focussed study 2016—The return of rejected asylum seekers: Challenges and good practices. https://emn.gov.hr/UserDocsImages/EMN_studije/06-The-Return-of-Rejected-Asylum-Seekers-Challenges-and-Good-Practices.pdf

Gibney, M. J. (2008). Asylum and the expansion of deportation in the United Kingdom. Government and Opposition, 43(2), 146–167. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1477-7053.2007.00249.x

Grant, S. (2007). The legal protection of stranded migrants. In R. Cholewinski, R. Perruchoud, & E. MacDonald (Eds.), International migration law: Developing paradigms and key challenges (pp. 29–47). TMC Asser Press.

Gren, N. (2020). Living bureaucratisation: Young Palestinian men encountering a Swedish introductory programme for refugees. In D. Abdelhady, N. Gren, & M. Joormann (Eds.), Refugees and the violence of welfare bureaucracies in Northern Europe (pp. 161–179). Manchester University Press. https://doi.org/10.7765/9781526146847.00018

Gupta, A. (2012). Red tape: Bureaucracy, structural violence, and poverty in India. Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822394709

Kapiszewski, A. (2005). Non-indigenous citizens and “stateless” residents in the Gulf monarchies: The Kuwaiti bidun. Krakowskie Studia Międzynarodowe, 2(2), 61–78. http://hdl.handle.net/11315/24444

Khatib, L. (2019, September 26). A state of less. European Network on Statelessness. https://www.statelessness.eu/updates/blog/state-less

Khosravi, S. (2009), Sweden: Detention and deportation of asylum seekers. Race & Class, 50(4), 38–56. https://doi.org/10.1177/0306396809102996

Khosravi, S. (2020). Afterword: Waiting, a state of consciousness. In C. M. Jacobsen, M.-A. Karlsen, & S. Khosravi (Eds.), Waiting and the temporalities of irregular migration (pp. 202–207). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429351730-15

Lietaert, I., Broekaert, E., & Derluyn, I. (2017). From social instrument to migration management tool: Assisted voluntary return programmes—The case of Belgium. Social Policy & Administration, 51(7), 961–980. https://doi.org/10.1111/spol.12185

Lifos. (2019a, May 22). The situation in Palestine—Westbank and Gaza. https://lifos.migrationsverket.se/dokument?documentSummaryId=43126

Lifos. (2019b, October 15). Palestinians in the Middle East—Right of residence and documents. https://lifos.migrationsverket.se/nyhetsarkiv/2019-10-15-lifosrapport-palestinier-i-mellanostern---uppehallsratt-och-dokument-version-1.1.html

Lifos. (2022). Om Lifos [About Lifos]. https://lifos.migrationsverket.se/aboutelifos/om-lifos.html

Lindberg, A. (2023). Deportation limbo: State violence and contestations in the Nordics. Manchester University Press. https://doi.org/10.7765/9781526160881

Lindberg, H. M. (2020, February 4). De som inte får stanna [Those who cannot stay]. Delmi. https://news.cision.com/se/delegationen-for-migrationsstudier/r/de-som-inte-far-stanna---ny-delmi-rapport-om-implementeringen-av-svensk-atervandandepolitik,c3024870

Lindholm, A. (2022, May 11). Får uppehållstillstånd efter åtta år i Sverige [Obtains a residence permit after eight years in Sweden]. Dagens Nyheter. https://www.dn.se/sverige/far-uppehallstillstand-efter-atta-ar-i-sverige-nu-kan-lynn-traffa-familjen/

Lindholm, H. (2021). Refusing refusal: The struggles of stateless Palestinians in the Swedish migration regime. The Statelessness and Citizenship Review, 3(2), 267–286. https://doi.org/10.35715/scr3002.111

Lundberg, A. (2020). Pushed out in limbo—The every-day decision-making about “practical impediments to enforcement” in the Swedish management of return migration. Retfærd. Nordisk Juridisk Tidsskrift, 3(3), 13–31. http://liu.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2%3A1555625&dswid=-5456

Mulinari, L. S. (2019). The spectrum of repression: Swedish Muslims’ experiences of anti-terrorism measures. Critical Criminology, 27(3), 451–466. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10612-019-09462-8

Noll, G. (1999). Rejected asylum seekers: The problem of return. International Migration, 37(1), 267–288. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-2435.00073

OECD. (2019). OECD economic surveys: Sweden 2019. https://doi.org/10.1787/c510039b-en

Prasad, B. D. (2019). Qualitative content analysis: Why is it still a path less taken? In Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 20(3), Article 36. https://doi.org/10.17169/fqs-20.3.3392

Schultz, J. (2020). An end to asylum? Temporary protection and the erosion of refugee status. In C. M. Jacobsen, M.-A. Karlsen, & S. Khosravi (Eds.), Waiting and the temporalities of irregular migration (pp. 170–185). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429351730-13

Siklawi, R. (2019). The Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon post 1990: Dilemmas of survival and return to Palestine. Arab Studies Quarterly, 41(1), 78–94. https://doi.org/10.13169/arabstudquar.41.1.0078

Slominski, P., & Trauner, F. (2018). How do member states return unwanted migrants? The strategic (non‐)use of “Europe” during the migration crisis. JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies, 56(1), 101–118. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcms.12621

SOU 2017:84 [State enquiry]. (2017). Uppehållstillstånd på grund av praktiska verkställighetshinder och preskripition [Residence permit on grounds of practical obstacles to enforcement and prescription]. https://lagen.nu/sou/2017:84

Stenergard, M., & Roswall, J. (2023, February 9). DN debatt: EU-rätten får inte bli ett hinder för svensk migrationspolitik [DN debate: EU law must not become an obstacle to Swedish migration policy]. Dagens Nyheter. https://www.dn.se/debatt/eu-ratten-far-inte-bli-ett-hinder-for-svensk-migrationspolitik/

Swedish Migration Agency [Migrationsverket]. (2017, July 18). Ett nej ska vara ett nej [A no should be a no] [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aj4oYdKlGOU

Swedish Migration Agency [Migrationsverket]. (2020). Internal return and travel guidelines [Internal documentation].

Tidöavtalet: Överenskommelse för Sverige [Tidö Agreement]. (2022). Liberalerna. https://www.liberalerna.se/wp-content/uploads/tidoavtalet-overenskommelse-for-sverige-slutlig.pdf

Tucker, J. (2017). The indefinite statelessness of refugees in Denmark and Sweden: Comparing the impacts of the temporary asylum laws (MIM Working Paper 17:8). https://muep.mau.se/handle/2043/24877

Tucker, J., & Bahram, H. (2021). “I must be from somewhere. I’m not from the moon”: Navigating the politics of labelling for stateless Palestinian refugees from Syria. Statelessness & Citizenship Review, 3(2), 330–346. https://doi.org/10.35715/scr3002.114

UNHCR. (2016, December). Mapping statelessness in Sweden. https://www.refworld.org/docid/58526c577.html

van Houte, M., & Leerkes, A. (2019). Dealing with (non-)deportability: A comparative policy analysis of the post-entry migration enforcement regimes of Western European countries. UNU-Merit. http://www.arjenleerkes.nl/Van%20Houte%20and%20Leerkes%20Dealing%20with%20(non)deportability.pdf

Webber, F. (2011) How voluntary are voluntary returns? Race & Class, 52(4), 98–107. https://doi.org/10.1177/0306396810396606



How to Cite

Lundberg, A. (2023). “They Stopped the Lives of Others”: Stateless Palestinians Facing Bureaucratic Violence in Sweden . Refuge: Canada’s Journal on Refugees, 39(2), 1–16. https://doi.org/10.25071/1920-7336.41063

Similar Articles

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 > >> 

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.