Receiving Fantasy and Refugee Dream: Reception of Asylum Seekers in Sweden and Italy
Department of Social Studies Karlstad University Karlstad, Sweden
What are the differences and similarities between Swedish and Italian asylum reception and introduction practices? This study explores how two sharply contrasting migration regimes can be experienced by the local frontline workers and by asylum seekers from East Africa. A theoretical point of departure is to try to capture the emotional aspects of these experiences and the ways that emotions are dealt with by frontline workers and asylum seekers.
During 2006 through 2007 ethnographically inspired observations and qualitative semi-structured interviews were conducted at two locations; one reception/introduction and accommodation centre in North Italy; and at one introductory course and an accommodation centre in mid-west Sweden.
The results show that frontline workers in both cases frame their activities in terms of limited resources and their interactions with asylum seekers in terms of cultural differences that warrant a certain degree of control and discipline. The integrating mission tends to be shaped by normative ideals, aiming at integration into the society that "would be" rather than the society that "is". This receiving fantasy conflicts with the motivation of the asylum seeker to find a job and realize the dream of "a normal life" - a dream that may even be counteracted by the introduction process. From the perspective of the frontline workers the asylum seekers´ dream is ignorant and simplistic. In addition, workers strive to integrate the asylum seekers into the nation state but from the asylum seeker´s perspective the host nation may be contingent and secondary to the dream of a normal life. The conflict is girded by emotions such as anger, disappointment, and shame at both sides. Given the structurally asymmetrical relationship between workers and asylum seekers, emotions are managed and expressed differently. Frontline workers withdraw behind "a professional attitude" prescribing a detached form of engagement whereas asylum seekers embody "the humiliated habitus" struggling to cope with despair while maintaining hope.
Comparison between the two cases raises questions about the prevailing construct of European identity vs "the others"; about the role of emotion in integration; and about the micro level consequences of a converging migration and asylum policy in the EU.