Winner of the

Interrupted Journeys – Disrupted Control. Male Migrants with Precarious Legal Status and the European Migration Regime.

Anna Wyss


Despite increasingly sophisticated border control technologies and political and public pressure demanding the control of ‘unwanted’ migration, migrants continue to arrive and stay in Europe and thus challenge states’ attempts to control and contain their mobility. This thesis is an ethnography of male migrants with precarious legal status in Europe. It traces the interrupted journeys of some of those many migrants classified as ‘unwanted’ and denied legal residence who nevertheless remain and endure the harsh living conditions and hostile political rhetoric they are subjected to. This thesis provides a nuanced and sensitive portrait of an often-demonized group of migrants: namely, male migrants with precarious legal status entering Europe unauthorized or by seeking asylum, though with little or no chance to obtain refugee status. It thus critically investigates the intersection of the asylum regime and so-called irregular migration in Europe.
The thesis addresses the pressing question of how – and at what costs – migrants with precarious legal status navigate the migration regime on their interrupted journeys throughout Europe. The ethnographic study seeks to understand the consequences and implications of migrants’ everyday resistance both for themselves and for migration governance. The focus on migrants’ experiences goes beyond a single nation-state and reveals the ineptitude of limiting research to actors in one country. Instead, the long-term and multi-sited research design allows capturing the inherent transnationalism at play when it comes to migrant practices, repercussions of supranational policies and national policies as well as social networks. Based on participant observation, narrative interviews, follow-up interviews and expert interviews, the thesis thus investigates the interrelationship between the European migration regime and individual migrants
Importantly, this thesis lends much-needed complexity to the representation of migrants with precarious legal status. From an intersectional approach, it demonstrates how the heterogeneous group of persons at the centre of this study is discursively, legally and politically constructed as the ‘undeserving other’ and how their negative representations provide ground for more restrictive policies and amplify experiences of everyday exclusion. Furthermore, it explores how the migration regime operates through and is challenged by migrants’ mobility. On the one hand, migrants navigate and subvert migration control through exhibiting a high degree of mobility. On the other hand, they are subjected to forced mobility as a result of migration governance. From a socio-legal perspective, the thesis disentangles migrants’ ambivalent relationship with the law. It is the law that produces the illegality that migrants find themselves in – but it is also the law that has the power to regularize an individual’s status. However, the unpredictability and ‘illegibility’ of law implementation create much uncertainty. It is argued that rumours, shared and passed on among migrants, play a significant role in migrants’ navigation of Europe. The thesis concludes by demonstrating how migrants’ endurance to sustain precarious living conditions challenges the smooth implementation of migration law. However, migrants’ endurance is not just to be understood as a way of resisting migration control but as a direct effect of state policies that keep them in a precarious and marginalised condition.

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