Photo: Kamilla Stølen/UiB
18 May 2021

Exploring the “return turn” in Germany

Since 2015, European countries have increasingly made protection for refugees a temporary matter.  Any chance of getting permanent protection is also increasingly coupled with income and language skill requirements. Kari Anne Drangsland, postdoctoral researcher in the TemPro project, explores how the turn towards temporary protection materialises in Germany and Norway, and how migrants with various forms of temporary protection statuses navigate labour and work in these two different legal, political and economic contexts.

For her PhD thesis “Working to ‘Wait Well’: Exploring the temporalities of irregular migration in Germany” (2020), Kari Anne K. Drangsland conducted fieldwork in Hamburg amongst migrants with temporary protection statuses and migrants living without authorization in Germany. She studied how migrants navigate work and education while living with the constant threat of deportation. She also explored how migration law and bureaucracy work through controlling migrants’ time; through deadlines, for instance, and by coupling regularisation to work and income requirements. In the TemPro project she builds on her research in Germany as well as on previous research on Norwegian asylum and integration policies.

Why is Germany an interesting case in the TemPro project?

It is interesting because the developments we research in TemPro are highly visible in the German context. During the ‘long summer of migration’ in 2015, Germany was celebrated in international media as a “humanitarian bastion” in Europe, but legal and political developments towards temporary forms of protection, return and forms of “earned regularisation” complicate this picture. Since 2015, Germany has made its protection statuses increasingly temporary and conditional on income requirements. For instance, in 2016, a new Act made performance-based rights and conditions relevant for persons found to be entitled to asylum and recognized refugees under the Geneva Convention. Previously, people in this category had to wait three years for a permanent residence permit. Legal reforms between 2014 and 2016 extended this period to five years. However, refugees who prove economic self-sufficiency and manage the language requirements might still apply for permanent residence after three years.

More generally, Germany’s central position within the European Union makes the country highly interesting for the TemPro project’s ambition to understand the changes that we capture through the notion of “the return-turn,” as these unfold more broadly in the European migration regime. In the context of Denmark’s decision to start deportations to Syria, which has received a lot of media and scholarly attention, it can be noted that also Germany lifted its ban on deportations to Syria in December 2020. Yet, it remains to see what the consequences of this will be for the more than 800 000 Syrians living in Germany.

Did you find anything in particular in your PhD that you aim to work on further?

In my PhD project, I explored how migrants navigate work, education and transnational family relations while living with temporary residence statuses or with the so-called “Duldung”. The Duldung, often translated into “toleration permit”, is not a residence permit but regulates a suspension of deportation for rejected asylum seekers. Today, there are more than 170 000 “tolerated” migrants in Germany. In my thesis, I argue that migrants are increasingly expected to be able to “wait well” – that is to endure suspension and uncertainty in ways that society deems to be productive. Actually, the notion of “waiting well” comes from something a young Afghan man said as we spoke about his difficulties with learning German and finding work when the fear of deportation and uncertainty and longing made his thoughts swirl: “My problem is I cannot wait so well”, he said, with reference to how learning German and getting a job was crucial to avoid deportation – and to get a good life and provide for his family in Iran. The coupling of legal and social rights and income requirements within the present migration regime is something I would like to investigate further, also with an eye to the gendered aspects of this development where “waiting well” becomes a normative expectation. I am also interested in what these changes in policy and law might tell us about who is imagined to be a “good” or “deserving” citizen in Germany and Norway.

How will you explore this?

I hope to be able to continue my ethnographic work with some of the people I met in Hamburg in 2017 and 2018, who have been living with the toleration permit or with temporary residence permits since that time. My plan is to go to Hamburg in 2022. Before that I will conduct ethnographic work here in Bergen where I live, and I will also do interviews with public bureaucrats together with my TemPro colleague Marry-Anne Karlsen.

Kari Anne Klovholt Drangsland is a human geographer and holds a PhD from the Centre for Women’s and Gender Research at the University of Bergen, which she defended in January 2021. Her PhD project was a part of the umbrella project "Waiting for an uncertain future: the temporalities of irregular migration", funded by the Research Council of Norway. Before this, Drangsland worked as a researcher, consultant and university lecturer within the field of migration and urban studies.