Sweden was the country within the EU that received the highest number
of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) and youth in
relation to the country’s population during 2015. Out of the 162,877
asylum-seekers who arrived during 2015, half were children and half
of the children (35,369) arrived unaccompanied. UASC possess spe-
cial rights as children during the asylum process. Whereas their asylum
grounds are assessed by the Migration Agency, the minors’ everyday
whereabouts are under the responsibility of municipalities. Being a
minor gives access to preferential treatment and rights compared to
adult asylum-seekers, both in terms of access to municipal services,
such as health care, schools, housing, social support, and in terms of
considerations of asylum grounds leading to residency in Sweden.
Contestations of the Swedish Deportation
Regime: Civil Mobilisation for and
with Afghan Youth
Ildikó Asztalos Morell
© e Author(s) 2019
M. Feischmidt et al. (eds.), Refugee Protection and Civil Society in Europe,
I. Asztalos Morell (*)
Mälardalen University, Västerås, Sweden
320 I. Asztalos Morell
However, from 2016, austerity measures were put in place that, com-
bined with an intensied and long-running securitisation of migration
management, had serious consequences for these children and youth.
Among the most imperative developments, there has been an increased
suspicion of UASC’s self-declared age in the asylum process, combined
with a medicalisation of age determination. e “writing up” of minors’
age has increased, thereby commonly leading to the rejection of UASC’s
asylum claims and a deportation order. Due to a long processing time
at the Migration Agency and in the Swedish migration courts, many
youths have also turned 18 during their wait for a nal case decision.
In response to these developments, protests have been organised and
Sweden has seen a growing civil societal engagement on behalf of and
together with UASC. is chapter explores civil societal engagement,
both by and on behalf of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children
(UASC) of Afghan origin in Sweden. It focuses on the period start-
ing after 2015, and proceeds through an analysis of the Facebook site:
“Stoppa utvisningarna av afghanska ungdomar!” [Stop the deportation
of Afghan youths!] [Stop deportations]. is site, initiated in the fall of
2016, quickly gathered 20,000 supporters, and brought together youth
from Afghanistan and Swedish civilians engaged in demanding better
asylum procedures for asylum-seeking youth from Afghanistan. is
paper will focus on the interconnections between civil society mobilisa-
tion and UASC mobilisation around the struggles concerning securiti-
sation, anti-deportation and amnesty.1 It will particularly examine how
mobilisation based on dierent types of agencies was mediated through
To start with, the paper sheds light on the emergence of social move-
ments in Sweden. Secondly, it explores how the theoretical frameworks
of “pragmatic voluntarism” and “subversive humanitarianism” contribute
to problematise pro-refugee movements and how pro-refugee movements
could be understood as struggles for reconguring hegemonic perceptions
of refugees. irdly, it discusses the way narrative analysis con tributes
to understand these recongurative processes. Finally, following a brief
reection on the origins and activities of the forementioned Facebook
site, the article explores the activities on this site as expressions of positions
ranging from “pragmatic voluntarism” to “subversive humanitarianism”.
12 Contestations of the Swedish Deportation Regime … 321
It explores also the kind of alternative subjectivities they oer for UASC,
and the kind of space they create between “exclusion” and “inclusion”.
Securitisation of the Asylum Process for UASC
and Civil Societal Resistance
Sweden had been a favoured destination for asylum-seekers. In 2015,
the Swedish Migration Agency (2017) statistics show that 35,369
UASC sought asylum in Sweden. Two-thirds of the UASC came from
Afghanistan. Compared to previous years, these gures represented
a quadrupling of UASC. e reason for Sweden’s popularity as a des-
tination for UASC at the time has its roots in Sweden’s image as one
of the most generous countries in terms of the governance of migra-
tion, including a comparatively child-oriented asylum process for
UASC (Freeman 2000; Shamseldin 2012). Borevi (2014) argued, that
“Swedish exceptionalism” over the last few decades has prevailed against
the backdrop of increasing securitisation within the EU (Schierup and
Ålund 2011; Huysmans 2000; Bigo and Guild 2005; Cantat 2015), in
which migration and asylum became increasingly framed in terms of
surveillance of asylum seekers, non-status migrants and undocumented
workers (Nyers 2010) instead of human rights. is is in spite of the
fact that migration policies have become harmonised with Schengen
and the Dublin Convention, a process that started as Sweden joined the
EU in 1995.
In line with this generous policy framework, as high number of peo-
ple started arriving to Sweden in 2015, the government had a welcom-
ing attitude to start with. As late as September 2015, the Swedish Prime
Minister Stefan Löfven advocated an open-door policy for refugees in
his speech at Medborgarplatsen [Citizenship Square in Stockholm],
and encouraged civil society’s engagement to complement the eorts
by local municipalities and the state. As the case of “Stop deportation’s”
history exemplies, his invitation has been met with positive response
by civil society, hence leading to diverse collaborative eorts between
municipal and civil societal agents.
322 I. Asztalos Morell
is positive governmental attitude changed shortly after the
renowned press conference by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, together
with Migration Minister Åsa Romson, in November 2015, which
announced that Sweden had to adjust its asylum law to the “minimum
EU standard and by this achieving a ‘breathing-space’”. is sharp turn
emerged against the backdrop of right-wing radicalisation against ref-
ugee-friendly sentiments, including attacks against asylum residen-
cies, protests and an increasing popularity of SD, Swedish Democrats,
Sweden’s foremost anti-immigration party. A broad interparty coalition
was formed, with the exception of SD, putting forward substantial cut-
backs through the Temporary Aliens Act, which came into force in July
2016. In the meantime, the Prime Minister argued that the “asylum sit-
uation needs to be taken care of jointly by the EU”, and urged for a
solution that would “make more people chose to seek asylum in other
EU countries” (Löfven and Romson 2015).
e current state in Sweden is a “balancing act between inclusion
through residence permit and exclusion through deportation” (Lundberg
and Lind 2017), which is in line with the securitisation of asylum man-
agement throughout the EU, moving from a more accommodating
regime towards a deportation regime (Peutz and De Genova 2010).
is turn had serious consequences for UASC in the asylum process in
Sweden. One of those was the increased medicalised surveil lance of age
certication by a magnetic resonance imagining test of UASC’s knees.
As a result of this criticised method (Hjern et al. 2012; Eckerman 2018),
the number of unaccompanied minors whose age was “written up”, i.e.
has been reclassied older than they had declared upon arrival, rose in
Sweden. According to FARR [Flyktinggruppernas Riksråd] (Refugees
National Council) (2017b), UASC from Afghanistan were particularly
negatively aected, since the proportion of those who obtained per-
mits among those who were considered children at the time of the deci-
sion declined from 92 to 78%. ose whose age was “written up” have
been clearly disadvantaged in the process. Close to half of those who
had declared themselves to be children upon arrival and who received
decisions between 1 August 2016 and 31 July 2017 had their age “writ-
ten up”. Only 10% of those whose age was “written up” received some
form of residency permit, mainly of a temporary nature. Among those
12 Contestations of the Swedish Deportation Regime … 323
who turned 18 without being written up, the proportion of those who
received a residency permit was 42%.2 From 2016, measures have also
been taken by the Swedish government to help facilitate the deportation
of those who had their application rejected. Simultaneously, many of
the youth who arrived in 2015 had still not received a decision from the
Migration Agency about their case two years later.
Facing the securitisation of the asylum regime, a fear of deportation
and uncertainty over their asylum status, as well as a constant need to
negotiate their identities with those perceiving them (Wernesjö 2014),
constitute well-founded grounds for the psychological ill-being of many
UASC (Manhica et al. 2017; Huemer et al. 2009; Läkare utan gränser
2017). Especially challenging has been the situation of UASC from
Afghanistan. Large proportions of these youth had not been born or
resided in Afghanistan due to a previous displacement as undocumented
refugees in Iran, and were at risk of being sent to Syria as so-called holy
warriors (Children’s Ombudsman 2016). Furthermore, the security sit-
uation in Afghanistan has reportedly been dangerous, and Swedes have
been advised by the authorities not to travel there (FARR 2017a).
Meanwhile, the UASC waiting for their decisions had become active
residents of their local communities because of the long time spent in
Sweden. ey lived in municipal residences or family homes, learned
Swedish, had new friends through school, participated in leisure activi-
ties and had also in other ways created a life, all supported by the welfare
state engagement for UASC. Beyond welfare state institutions accom-
modating UASC, there emerged a country-wide civil society mobilisa-
tion to help promote their establishment (Darvishpour et al. 2017).
Mobilising for and with UASC:
“Pragmatic Voluntarism” vs. “Subversive
Humanitarianism”—A Theoretical Framework
e mobilisation for UACS in Sweden can be contextualised in a
broader context of pro-refugee movements, which rose throughout
the global North as a form of resistance against state sovereignty over
324 I. Asztalos Morell
migration policies, thus exhibiting the collective action “resulting from
individual citizen’s emotional and moral self-reexive sentiments”
(Freedman 2011). ese do typically not follow traditional patterns of
collective organisations, are “not based on any form of traditional par-
tisan or ideological organisation” (ibid., p. 619) and appeal to “normal”
citizens without specic party aliation. ey are typically networked
in non-hierarchical ways. Informal networks play a key role in such
action groups through providing structural connections, socialisation
and dening individual perceptions (Giugni and Passy 2001). e pri-
mary source of motivation is often a “humanitarian” personal concern
based on everyday contacts and an engagement driven by sentiments
of addressing moral injustice (Freedman 2011). Freedman (2011)
described actions taken by these movements as “pragmatic activism”,
replacing a more properly ‘political’ criticism of migration control
policies” (p. 622).
In contrast, others nd that pro-refugee social movements engage
in diverse forms of “subversive humanitarianism” (Vandevoordt and
Verschraegen 2018) to the degree that they engage with activities going
against the dominant terms of exclusion implemented by governments
(Marchant 2007). is perspective emphasises how social movements
reframe the asylum and deportation discourse of illegality into a dis-
course of child welfare and human rights (Dimitrov 2006). By refram-
ing UASC’s claims into “human rights” issue, the movements open up
space for political agency and contestations against hegemonic percep-
tions of citizenship. From a dynamic rather than static perception, cit-
izenship is perceived as an “enactment”. Citizenship is also vindicated
through a collective contestation of rights (Beltrán 2009 on Arendt).
Disruptive acts of citizenship contest the order of stable citizenship
practices and enact new subjectivities (Isin 2009, p. 383). Using this
concept, Nordling et al. (2017, p. 712) “read the struggles of undocu-
mented migrants and their allies as such acts – carrying the potential
to alter overall understandings of processes of inclusion and exclusion”.
ey see these contestations and movements as the exercise of “substan-
tive citizenship”. Actions of solidarity between citizens and denizens in
the struggle for the rights of the latter create new spaces through resist-
ing the control of migration (Squire 2009).
12 Contestations of the Swedish Deportation Regime … 325
An important aspect of social movements of this type is the rever-
sion of the securitisation discourse, a process through which UASC are
oered subjectivity of being righteous individuals rather than being
the suspected objects of securitised asylum process and participation.
e kind of subjectivities oered identied in research vary along a
dimension from subjectivities within a “parental” paradigm (Freedman
2011), through oering refugees participation in dening their needs
and activities (Vandevoordt and Verschraegen 2018) to opening for
UASC’s “enactment of citizenship” (Nordling et al. 2017), hence lead-
ing to autonomous claim making and the organising of resistance to
the securitised asylum regime. Consequently, it is of interest to study
how pro-refugee mobilisations embrace opportunities to create spaces
between “inclusion” and “exclusion” (Nordling et al. 2017), as well
as opportunities for minors’ autonomous agency, voicing and claim
e benets of a narrative approach have been newly discovered for
social movement research otherwise much focused on structure-oriented
analyses (Cantat 2015). According to Yuval-Davis (2006, pp. 201–202),
the “stories people tell themselves and the others about who they are
(and who they are not)” constitute their identity. rough producing
stories in common places, such as social media, people are co-producing
their identities by positioning themselves in the ongoing communica-
tion with others. As Castells (2003, p. 140) argues, the “communica-
tion of values, mobilisation around meaning, become fundamental” for
social movements emerging in the Information Age. Such movements
“are built around communication systems – essentially the Internet and
the media – because they are the main way in which these movements
can reach out to those who would adhere to their values and from there
to aect the consciousness of society as a whole” (Castells 2003, p. 140).
As a critical discourse analysis elucidates, there is a discursive ght
for dening reality (Fairclough 1995). Bamberg argues (2007, p. 3) that
meaningful standard narratives, also referred to as “master narratives”,
precede us. Counter-narratives emerge in relation to master narratives
and dene the “boundaries of the mainstream” (Delgado 1995, p. 64),
and are formulated within suppressed, marginalised groups. ese
counter narratives, or “storylines”, allow the individual the opportunity
326 I. Asztalos Morell
to formulate his/her identity, thereby belonging to a given category or
subject position. In times of radical social events and traumatising social
circumstances, real-life experiences open up arenas for the reconstitu-
tion of ideals, and form a dynamic eld for potential change. Stories,
telling experiences of injustice, with their culturally and socially imbed-
ded normativity, set against the hegemonic rhetoric and transformative
praxis of the state (Lauristin 2004), position the narrator within or out-
side of this narrative (Bamberg and Andrews 2004). erefore, narra-
tives are always political (Andrews 2007, p. 9) and, as Cantat (2015,
p. 104) notes, narratives “perform a critical social and political function,
and participate in the discursive construction of a sense of identity – “of
who is ‘us’ and who is ‘them’” (Andrews 2014, p. 37).
As explained in the methodology section, in this article, I conduct an
analysis of the “Stop deportation” movement through an examination
of its online presence. Social media are sites that oer an opportunity
for the study of the ongoing production of identities through commu-
nicative acts, in addition to the emergence of social action mediated by
these processes. For the purpose of this study, I dierentiate between
hegemonic narratives external to the social media site, legitimising the
deportation regime and counter narratives within the site, as well as
mobilising against the hegemonic narratives of the state. e speech acts
explored are situated within these counter narratives. As a result, I am
interested in exploring these narrative constructions and these negoti-
ations of identities in order to assess the extent to which they may be
deemed expressions of “pragmatic voluntarism” or, rather, more critical
action-oriented “subversive humanitarianism”.
Furthermore, I also explore how the Swedish adult narrators nego-
tiate the terms of the counter narrative shared on social media with
Afghan youth, what the internal relation is between these two broad
groups and which kind of identities and actions this positioning make
possible for Afghan youth.
is article will borrow tools from narrative studies in order to ana-
lyse the identity construction process underpinning social mobilisa-
tion on behalf of UASC. Narrative studies provide conceptual tools
for the understanding of the processes how the subjectivities of UASC
12 Contestations of the Swedish Deportation Regime … 327
are recongured and how these new subjectivities open for agency on
behalf of UASC in opposition to the hegemonic securitisation narrative.
“Stop deportation” is one of the few pro UASC platforms in Sweden
which includes both Swedish activists and UASC as active participants.
is was an important criteria for me in choosing this movement. is
provided an opportunity to explore the interplay between activists and
youth, for the benet of whom the movements are mobilised. is
group has 20,000 followers, with up to 100 original posts per day. is
paper is based on a sample from this abundant information ow. e
analysis in the paper is based on an inductive approach, which utilises
mixed methods. e primary source has been postings on the web-
site. ese were studied under both a longer period of time through an
eight-month long participation on the site as member. I rst noticed
the site through shared postings by my colleagues. Following the site
provided insight into the situation of UASC and the struggle on behalf
of them. At this stage, I made random copies of some of the texts and
However, my main systematic eort was the consolidation of a data-
base based on a sampling procedure. First of all, I paid particular atten-
tion to the posts on two specic days in May and December 2017,
collecting all postings during these two days. ese postings and accom-
panying conversations were saved in two les. e days were chosen in
connection with two political events intended to create improved condi-
tions for obtaining residence permits for UASC who are to attend high
school studies based on dierent criteria. ese two legal changes were
preceded by political negotiations, and the outcomes were discussed.
Subsequent to this, there was also an ongoing debate around age-
determination methods and the writing up of youth over 18. e data
collection from these two specic days was complemented by a random
selection of postings during the months of May and December to help
cover thematic clusters that might have not been present during the two
specic days in focus.
328 I. Asztalos Morell
Finally, the analysis was complemented with interviews aimed at con-
textualising the activities of the website and to further drive the analysis.
Most importantly, I conducted an interview with the leader and initia-
tor of the site, Ingrid Eckerman. is interview led to critical reections
on the analysis, bringing forth the understanding of agency by Swedish
participants of the website and the youth. Complementary issues
were also added to a second round of data gathering. At this stage,
one important agent for the mobilisation of Afghan youth, Fathemeh
Khavari’s personal postings, was collected. I have also listened to two of
Fathemeh Khavari’s speeches and had a personal conversation with her
about her engagement with UASC from Afghanistan.
Blomberg (2010, pp. 84–85), along Bamberg (2004), dierentiates
among three stages in a narrative analysis, which allows to make visi-
ble the identity work of the narrator. In the rst stage, the main agents
of the narrative are identied in time and space and how they are pre-
sented in the story, what the relation between them and narrative is
about, and how categories can be used to position the agents.
In this rst stage, the consolidated data have been categorised
along thematic clusters of narratives, i.e. “storylines” (Bamberg and
Andrews 2004) following the above outline. In the second stage of the
analysis, one focuses on what is realised through the interactions between
the participants in the speech, and between the storyteller and listener.
In the nal stage of the analysis, the focus is on exploring how the story-
teller positions him/herself in relation to the discourse or storyline.
“Stop Deportation of Afghan Youth!”: The Rise
of a Social Movement
e revision of the asylum policy in Sweden met a pro-refugee move-
ment already organised along diverse civil societal and professional net-
works. Dierent networks promptly responded with counteractions in
the form of formalising networks into associations collecting petitions,
in addition to activities challenging the new policy and organising on
behalf of refugees. As of May 2017, the dierent petitions organised
12 Contestations of the Swedish Deportation Regime … 329
by diverse groups on behalf of refugees had approximately 50,000 sig-
natures. Several initiatives started simultaneously, such as “We cannot
stand it but will never stop ghting!” [Vi står inte ut men vi slutar aldrig
kämpa], with 60,000 followers mostly formed along networks of profes-
sionals engaged with asylum-seeking youth.
e initiator of “Stop deportations”, Ingrid Eckerman, herself a
retired medical doctor, relied partly on her personal and professional
networks, and on a conscious strategy, aimed at enrolling people with
the ability 335 to give voice to issues, as well as people with a personal
engagement for the youth. Many of the enrolled members were retired
professionals and academics, civilians who took on semi-professional
roles as legal guardians or family home providers for UASC. “Stop
deportations” was articulated through social media networks, which
gave a unique platform for expanding networks and organising around
fundamental values and shared goals. According to Ingrid Eckerman
[Interview 20180114], the roots of this movement go back to the
period when Sweden had a welcoming attitude towards immigration.
“Stop deportations” is connected to a public petition, with
10,000 signatures demanding a stop to the deportation of youth to
Afghanistan. e activities of the network range from solidarity actions,
such as helping UASC on a personal basis both economically and emo-
tionally, to collecting funds for the benet of UASC (Stöttepelaren) to
actions of a more critical character, such as forming public opinion via
media, organising manifestations in support of the cause (Flyktingarnas
dag), addressing MPs and local politicians via letters.
anks to its open-ended approach and personal engagement with
UASC, “Stop deportations” has succeeded in engaging an increasing
number of UASC from Afghanistan. With the increased enrolment of
youth, the forum even functions as an arena where those engaged for
the youth from Afghanistan can interact with youth from Afghanistan
in complex ways. e youth can voice their private concerns, but with
the emergent self-organising eorts of the UASC, they also utilise the
site to voice their own collective concerns. e most important forum
to autonomously mobilise the youth has been “UngiSverige” [Young
in Sweden], a forum that was founded by Fatemeh Khavari, “Sweden’s
own Malala”, a 17-year-old Afghan girl, who had been herself an active
330 I. Asztalos Morell
member of “Stop deportations”, especially prior to her initiation of the
independent movement by—and for Afghan youth.
Having presented the background of “Stop deportations”, this article
will now turn to explore the type of agency the site is engaged with.
Between “Pragmatic Voluntarism” Rooted
in Moral Commitment and “Subversive
Humanitarianism” Challenging Authorities
e numerical majority of those posting on the site are Swedish people.
Many of those active on the site are personally engaged in dierent ways
with the youth: some as volunteers, others as professionals or having
a semi-formal engagement as legal guardians, or care families (familje-
hem ). e data collected and analysed suggests that their engagement is
rooted in emotional and moral commitment.
“I Am Keeping an Eye on Him”
One of the typical postings is written by a woman engaged with a par-
ticular youth, who has been “written up” and lost his child status and
ability to stay in municipality (A), where the youth has lived for the
past two years and where he has become rooted. e youth went under-
ground after having received the refusal on his application, and is now
homeless. He has left the residence he was assigned to by the Migration
Agency in another town (B), came back to town A and is now living
“underground”. She is “keeping an eye” on him, even if he is not staying
at her place:
He is around on the streets in A until the night and then sleeps over at a
friend’s place. He was placed in A until he was 18, and was then moved
to B. But he became afraid there.
In her story, she achieves to express a number of concerns. First of all,
she is critical of the deportation regime, which by means of securitising
12 Contestations of the Swedish Deportation Regime … 331
age determination has detrimental consequences for the life of the
youth. She also refers to the psychological instability of the youth: “He
became afraid there [in city B]”, and that he became rootless by losing
his access to support as a child. “He is around the streets”, because he
lacks money, which prompts her concern. She is forwarding the posting
about the boy, asking for advice and help. e commentaries respond to
the multifaceted message of the posting, some with emotional support
and others with voicing a demand for amnesty and blaming the depor-
tation regime. e community of values is therefore reinforced.
In this account, the storyteller is positioning herself as representing a
sense of humanity in opposition to the Migration Agency’s bureaucratic
dehumanising practices. Meanwhile, she legitimises the choice of the
boy of leaving the residence he was assigned in city B, since he “became
afraid there”. is boy is positioned as both a victim and a ghter with
self-determination. She is praising the solidarity among the boys, and
shares her compassion for the boy and others in similar situation.
e above case exemplies the kind of “pragmatic voluntarism” that
grows out of personal engagement with the fate of particular youth. She
puts forward the victimhood of the youth as well as his determination
to stay with his friends. Meanwhile, she mobilises the support of other
“Hurray! My 12-Year-Old Has Received a Temporary
In this story, a family home provider (familjehem ) woman is telling
about the fate of a UASC under her guardianship: “Hurray! My
12 years old has received a temporary residency permit, and work
permit!!!!! I got permission to post the photo of my sweetheart
[gullunge].” e note includes background information, stating that the
child’s application was refused at rst by the Migration Agency and it
was the Migration Court that changed it to a temporary residency.
Such notications imply a strong personal commitment to the youth.
is notice was followed by over 100 comments within a few days.
Many simply congratulate or comment on the ne picture of the child.
332 I. Asztalos Morell
Others criticise why such a young child has not received a permanent
residency. Yet other people comment on the work permit. “Why should
a 12-years-old child have a work permit?” As it is explained by the sto-
ryteller, to obtain the work permit should be seen a “special gesture” by
the state, allowing even those with a temporary permit to work. ere
are many 13-years olds who will get summer work, and this boy is also
interested in that.
us, these conversations form “many-to-many” (Simons 2016)
threads, allowing a free ow of comments. In these postings and con-
versations, the deportation regime is questioned, while youth are oered
an alternative subjectivity based on supportive “parent-child” like
bonding. Postings refer to the youth as “our unaccompanied youth”.
Commentators ask for amnesty for “our children”. Referring the youth
as “my” is indicating both a type of paternalistic bond, and an indirect
gesture of making the youth pass as a kind of self-adopted “citizen”.
e storyteller provides subjectivity to the youth by incorporating the
permission of the youth to share his picture.
e use of possessive term can be seen as a way to enact a sense of
community. Extending support relies on a process of full assimilation of
the youth into a family-like community. But this “adoption” is perhaps
not reecting on the fact that these youth have a past and other family
“What Should I Say?”: Professional Contestations
One type of posting concerns ethical issues that professionals, teachers,
psychologists, social workers, librarians, etc., engaged with UASC face
in their professional practice. A teacher in the note below expresses anx-
iety about how she can provide support for UASC in her professional
role, when she meets youth full of anxiety:
What should I say to all of those who are going to be implicated by the
[draft] law only if they had not been deported before it comes into power
[in the summer of 2018], to those whose fate right now depends on a
temporary residence permit or a contestation of the deportation order?
12 Contestations of the Swedish Deportation Regime … 333
She also implicates how these uncertainties negatively impact the pro-
fessionals engaged with these young people:
e government does not really know what this does to all these youth,
and all those who are around them, and all who are implicated indirectly
due to stress-related sick leaves and so on.
Some of the commentators are critical against making high school stud-
ies, as legislative changes propose, a precondition for residency per-
mits: “A failure in mathematics should not lead to deportation!” Border
control should not be moved into the classrooms and make teachers
is post illustrates how the legal outcome of the deportation regime
reinforces the vulnerabilities of the children. Furthermore, it juxtaposes
the moral commitment of professionals to work for the children’s best,
with the deportation regime. us, the deportation regime adversely
impacts not only the youth, but also those working for their benet
as professionals. In this juxtaposition, professionals are the guardians
of civilian, humanitarian values and compassion against the inhuman
“The Caseworker Should Be Reported for This”
e practices of authorities are challenged to various degrees in
many of the postings. Some of the responses are spontaneous expres-
sions of feelings, while others are more systematic, collecting cru-
cial knowhow information, reecting on new laws or the current
situation in Afghanistan. One of the postings made by a supporter to
a youth explicitly challenges the content of a hearing of a UASC by the
Migration Agency, and is calling for a collection from the accounts of
the youth regarding inhumane questions asked:
e caseworker should be reported for this…. Another question (asked by
the caseworker): Why did you not discuss with the Taliban instead of ee-
ing? Yes, what does a caseworker think about a 14-year-old boy and his
father going to the Taliban and saying to them that they do not like this.
334 I. Asztalos Morell
In this posting, the arbitrary and uninformed asylum assessment prac-
tices of the Migration Agency are elucidated, while it is inviting for
mobilisation to collect similar testimonies to challenge the legal reliabil-
ity of the authorities.
is account turns around the hegemonic practice of the authori-
ties which challenges the credibility and deservingness of the claims of
the youth, by questioning the credibility of the ocial process itself. In
turn, the storyteller positions him/herself as a responsible citizen taking
on the duty to safeguard the legal procedures on behalf of the jeopard-
ised youth, positing the authorities as the one lacking credibility.
“Experts Say… . Sweden Has Been More Restrictive”
One cluster of postings contributes by sharing research articles. One such
research-related post compares asylum systems in dierent EU countries.
Here, it is argued that according to a new report by DELMI (Parusel and
Schneider 2017), Sweden has been a part of the EU average in the pro-
portion of giving residency permits to asylum seekers. However, in case of
applications between 2008 and 2016, Sweden has been more restrictive
compared to the EU average in case of permits for those coming from
Iraq. is is also the case with applications from Afghanistan between
2015 and 2016. Others share updates on the situation in Afghanistan.
One important resource in more consolidated forms of resistance is
access to critical information on the legal regulation and implementa-
tion of the deportation regime. One example of this is a member shar-
ing an article written by a medical practitioner in forensic medicine
arguing against medical age assessments for asylum-seeking youth,
which refers to the controversial scientic evidence behind these (SVD
2017). As the article indicates, doctors have left their positions in pro-
test against having to carry out these tests. Such articles keep those fol-
lowing the group up-to-date on important issues concerning their status
and provides them with further legitimacy.
Postings are often written by expert members, many of them pen-
sioners, who process important information on the expected outcomes
of new regulations and proposed legal changes. At the particular point
12 Contestations of the Swedish Deportation Regime … 335
in time under study, a proposition for legislative changes relevant to the
youth was announced. One member was quick to make calculations on
how many UASC were impacted by the new law and what the chances
were to take advantage of it:
ere were 31000 asylum-seeking youth who applied during 2015 before
November 24. Of these 28000 had his/her case assessed. 11500 were
rejected. It means that 2600 are right now waiting for a decision. ose
11500 who had ben rejected are right now in the reverse period. ese
gures can give an idea of how many UASC we can expect to be left in
the country by the summer [when the law is proposed to come into force]
ere are many reactions, some critical to the government’s rhetoric, which
imply that it was the Green Party who pushed for changes and will repre-
sent itself as the party with the “good will” to “rescue” youth. It is argued
that, as the legal proposition is framed, most of the youth still waiting for
decisions could be deported, so not many would be left to be “rescued” by
the time the law goes into eect. is notice created 16 reactions within
an hour, and comments followed over several days. ere are also many
who have already gone through the reversal period, and are in the process
of being deported. Some replies argue that by the time the law takes eect,
most of those waiting for a decision are likely to be processed through to
the state of deportation. Others include those who are without papers and
for whom the legislative changes are not able to provide a remedy:
ere are endless undocumented [papperslösa] youth in frustration and
psychological chaos. One should not be allowed to act like this against
young people. Even if we are not just before elections or whether the gov-
ernment had made promises to the EU or not!
ese discussions are processing the content of the proposition, as well
as working to create an opinion and action to counteract the expected
Experts and those active in voluntary organisations say that the state must
stop deportations of the unaccompanied who can obtain a residency per-
mit if the law gains power!
336 I. Asztalos Morell
e above cluster typically includes adult-to-adult sharing, even if,
due to the openness of the site, it does not exclude that even engaged
youth can acquire insight. Sharing research, an analysis of legisla-
tive changes and media analysis on the site is an important source of
informed preparation for the citizenry’s contestation of deportations
to Afghanistan. Expert members of the community contribute with an
interpretation of laws and practices. In these contestations, the adverse
impact of the deportation regime is addressed on the youth, accusing
the regime of producing an “endless undocumented youth in frustra-
tion”. e sharing of expert studies provides an extra legitimacy to the
demand of amnesty.
us, to sum up, this theme challenges the government’s vindication
of the role of “rescuing” UASC. Rather, it frames the youth as victims of
opportunistic politics reinsuring that the site is the true “rescuer”. Still, this
cluster frames the youth as victims rather than agents of their own fate.
Engaging Society for the Cause of the Youth
ere are diverse initiatives posted to encourage a public engagement on
behalf of the youth. One member is proposing a new way of showing
sympathy that would call the attention of the public to the cause:
What would happen if all of us who want to have amnesty, all of us who
consider that the treatment of the unaccompanied is deeply immoral, all
of us, who want Sweden to stand up for a human and solidary society,
should wear a clear red armband until we reach our goal? … We in our
network can communicate what the armband stands for!
ose Swedish members on the site aim to raise support for amnesty
for the youth from Afghanistan, and are appealing to those not on their
side by shaming:
I am startled at the horridness and assault that goes on around our unac-
companied youth. My conclusion is that too few people are aware of what
is happening (alternatively 90% of people are heartless, and it just cannot
be the truth). We do everything in order to be seen and heard!
12 Contestations of the Swedish Deportation Regime … 337
It is important to note that the activities connected to the site, men-
tioned earlier, frame the struggle for amnesty to further political action.
One important medium for this activity is the homepage connected to
the facebook site.3 is is managed by Ingrid Eckerman, who argues in
a correspondence [Letter 20180312] that she posts important expert
and political texts and information on the legal status quo “partly to
provide facts, partly to provide tips for the helpers”. Such example are
expert texts on age determination. Beyond her own postings which
reect the needs she identied in the group, there are several bloggers
posting there. e homepage works for inuencing the media through
posting press releases. As mentioned earlier, “Stop deportations!” is also
organising demonstrations and has 10,000 signatories of its manifesto
for asylum to UASC.
Members of the site engaged with collective actions are often also
members of other sites. Hence, mobilisation occurs across sites, such as
a posting about a protest demonstration against a planned deportation:
“e next deportation is scheduled for 5 December.” e post also con-
nects two hashtags: #låtungarnastanna [let the youth stay] and #reclaim-
socialdemokraterna [reclaim social democrats].
In contestations such as the above, the moral community of the
members is reinforced as standing for humanity. is collective is jux-
taposed against the immorality of the deportation regime. Blame is
extended not only to politicians and grassroots bureaucrats, but also
to the silent majority of ordinary Swedish people. In opposition to this
silent community, those engaged are seen as representing democratic
values and citizenship. Most importantly, agent citizenship is mobi-
lised through participation in protest actions contesting deportations.
Such actions include demonstrations at the Migration Board’s deporta-
tion facilities. ese aspects bring forward those sides of the site that
are engaged with what I called along (Vandevoordt and Verschraegen
2018) “subversive humanitarianism” of a more organised and ideolog-
ically, politically established type, addressing concerns on a structural
level, rather than personal.
Based on the data presented here on the engagement of civil society
on behalf of the youth, I move on to examine the subjectivity oered to
UASC on the site.
338 I. Asztalos Morell
Incorporating Afghan Youth and Forms
of Subjectivity Offered
e site addresses the traumas that the deportation regime inicts on
Afghan youth. To countervail these traumas, alternative subject positions
are oered, oering a face and voice of their own to Afghan youth. As
the rise of the association “UngiSverige” led by Fatemeh Khavari indi-
cates, the forum oered for UASC on the community site “Stop depor-
tation” has also been an arena for learning forms of peaceful yet critical
contestations of the deportation regime, and for enacting citizenship.
“So we can answer our mother’s questions”: Personal
Personal testimonies of traumatic experiences constitute an important
cluster of postings made by Afghan youth. One youth wrote a 300-
word commentary on the “Fear nobody sees”:
One leave one’s homeland for a safer life?… at kind of safety is only a
dream in the country one is leaving behind. Everything might look safer
in the new country. But the fear is just as strong. In a few hours, one
can receive a decision that destroys one’s life dream. I would like to see
my friends to be happy and not anxious and fearful. I would like that
my friends should be able to dream about their future. I would like that
laws are changed so we could stay. So we can keep on dreaming about the
future. So we can answer our mom’s questions: ‘When can you secure our
life from war and unsafety insecurity? When can you end our hardships?’
is testimony is followed by over 50 comments, both from Swedish
members giving their support and prayers and from UASC thanking the
boy for being able to express shared feelings. In this testimony, the youth
claims a subjectivity that is balancing between being strong and having
a goal, in addition to having a “dream” and being vulnerable due to a
lack of control over one’s life. As this boy’s account indicates, many of
the UASC have the fate of their families in their hands. When they fear
12 Contestations of the Swedish Deportation Regime … 339
being deported, they also fear that they cannot live up to expectations
from their families to provide them with anticipated future safety.
e responses show a strong solidarity between the youth, “I would
like that my friends should be able to dream.” e comments by adults
provide apologies to the youth, enforcing the youth as loveable, as well
as constructing themselves as caring.
Some of the youth have experienced unprovoked racist attacks. A
group of young guys attacked them unprovoked, both by hitting them
and calling them names:
… they started to shout rst ‘Devil’s Afghans!’. I tried to get out of their
way but I could not. I got mad and went to them, and asked: ‘What is
your problem?’. And then they shouted at me: ‘You devil’s Afghans came
to Sweden to destroy our country!’ I got very sad. Beyond that they hit
me, I thought: ‘to be an Afghan is by itself a big problem in the whole
world. Since, rst Sweden will throw out us, somehow. en, you have a
war in your country. If you go there you are to be killed’. I have no idea
how this anxiety shall come to an end.
e post above received much sympathy. One of the women support-
ing the boy argued that such people will trouble and attack everyone
with a foreign background. She asks: “With masks? Go and report to
the police! Power hugs! .” Another woman praised the young boy
for his courage on asking a question to the attackers. erefore, those
of Swedish origin provide both comfort and strategies to meet the rac-
ist attacks.is community support is reinforcing a positive identity for
the UASC in oering empathy to their feelings of being rejected, feel-
ings like: “to be an Afghan is by itself a big problem”. ese statements
reect back on their own Swedish identity by reinforcing that racists
are a minority, and that there are Swedes who care. However, it is also
indicative of the ongoing negotiation of identity with the surrounding
environment that Wernesjö (2014) shed light on.
An important aspect of the personal testimonies is the commemora-
tion of fellow Afghan youth who have committed suicide: “M took his
life a few days ago. Now, a new suicide. A new person has to lose his
life every week. Rest in peace!” e statement received 681 sympathy
340 I. Asztalos Morell
expressions and 50 shares within 17 hours. Many simply gave their
condolences, whereas some used the occasion to criticise the Migration
Agency. Others expressed their dissatisfaction with politicians. “is has
gone too far for a long time ago. But a drop can wash away a stone. We
are many and we continue to ght!” Finally, after 17 hours, the manag-
ers of the site decided to close down the thread: “When one is writing
about suicide many are going to think about suicide. And we want you
Postings on suicides are also cries of hopelessness, although some also
give occasion to support each other to maintain the struggle. Similar to
the case with the racist attacks, we nd ne expressions of solidarity by
Swedish adult members on the site. Adults and youth giving hope con-
tribute to reversing negative feelings and identities, and by this contrib-
uting to the prevention of self-destructive acts.
Offering Subjectivity for the UASC Within the Helping
Some of the testimonies given by the youth contain direct calls for help
I had no money to buy food, I slept on the street… I do not know what
I should do. Can somebody let me know what I should do or can some-
body help me? is is my telephone number.
Seeking compassion is another way in which UASC nd support from
members of the group: “Tomorrow I am going to have an interview.
Please pray for me that it is going to go well! ”
e subjectivity expressed in the statements in this cluster construct
the youth within the framework of the helping paradigm, thus resem-
bling the protective bond between parent and child. ere are also
postings in which adults invite youth to participate in actions they
organise for their support, in an unattached manner as “experts” of their
12 Contestations of the Swedish Deportation Regime … 341
“They Missed Their Whole Childhood”: The Rise of an
Autonomous Voice for UASC
Seventeen-year-old Fatemeh Khavari became known as the voice for
Afghan asylum-seeking youths’ ght for amnesty. She is most known
for initiating the movement “UngiSverige” [Young in Sweden], which
started a long sit-in strike in Stockholm on 6 August 2017 by Afghan
youth to claim their right for asylum. She emerged as a political actor in
2016, while she had also been a member of the community around the
“Stop deportation” site. On her very rst post on the site, she indicates
her engagement in collective actions, such as #Afghanistan #is#not#safe
(a demonstration contesting the judgement of Afghanistan as a safe
country to deport youth to by the Migration Board on 19 February
2017). Her postings often contain references to the overall issues raised
on the site, while also shedding light on these issues from the perspec-
tive of the youth, often referring to personal fate, creating credibility for
the claims. Below, I introduce the key “storylines” in her postings.
She argues in several postings about the insecurity and suering that
made the youth leave their families and country: “No one likes to have
to leave against their will.” e youth who ed “missed their whole
childhood seeking safety in a new country.” Additionally, “ey missed
their parents and had to endure the ight alone.” For these youth,
Sweden was the country of hope, a country that stands up for humanity
and human rights, including the rights of children. While this image
guides what they learn in school on Sweden, their experiences and suf-
fering in Sweden contests this image.
Fatemeh Khavari’s postings create empathy for youth who face depor-
tation by telling their story. Some emerge as conversations, in which
she attempts to help someone by listing dierent possible ways to try
to appeal after receiving a rejected asylum application, only to show the
hopeless situation of the youth left with no alternatives: “I have received
my third refusal. And now even the deportation order. I feel myself
hopeless, alone. …. Do not fear! You have lived here for two years. You
have learned the language. You know Swedish society. You have many
342 I. Asztalos Morell
Her postings give voice to the suering of asylum-seeking youth from
insecurity in Sweden. While presenting the fate of others, she is estab-
lishing herself as the helper of other youth, as a leader who consoles
youth in suering and a person who provides a voice for them.
“It Is Very Immoral from the Side of the Politicians”
Fatemeh Khavari is calling on Swedish political values: “Olof Palme
argued that politics is a desire to inuence and improve society.”
Meanwhile, she pinpoints the paradox that while Afghanistan is
not considered to be a safe place for Swedish citizens to travel to, the
Migration Agency is ready to deport youth there.
We were proud of Sweden. We tried to learn a lot about children’s rights
during our school classes. erefore, we know that it is very immoral
from the side of politicians to decide to deport children to death while
people and children die due to war and discrimination in that part of the
world, especially in Afghanistan. (22 February 2017)
Fatemeh Khavari’s postings received much positive feedback from both
Swedish and Afghan members of the site. She was encouraged to turn
to the media, as well as to directly address politicians. One can recog-
nise the emergence of a political agency in her postings over this period.
Fatemeh Khavari, as the chairperson of Ensamkommande Förening
[UASC’s Association] has several posts calling for demonstrations
organised by the association, such as a 16 June demonstration.
From addressing politicians and the Migration Agency in general
terms, she took the step to participate in the Almedalen event, in which
key politicians and opinion-creating intellectuals gather for a week to
discuss and disseminate their political vision. In conjunction with this,
Fatemeh Khavari arranged a meeting with the general director of the
Migration Agency, Mikael Ribbenvik. In this conversation, she chal-
lenged the practice of the Agency and confronted the director with
issues concerning illegitimate causes of rejection, current laws and prac-
tices. She sums up her discussion in an essay which ends with expos-
ing how politicians and agencies shoulder the shame of an inhumane
12 Contestations of the Swedish Deportation Regime … 343
asylum policy. “e Migration Agency cannot do anything, since it
is the politicians who decide on the laws.” She commented that the
main concern of politicians seems to be not to lose votes by letting the
Migration Agency carry on age tests that are challenged internationally.
“In a democratic society, responsibility is shared by politicians, institu-
tions, governments and courts.” Instead, she argued, the Swedish asy-
lum system is not reliable.
Fatemeh Khavari’s next posting after this confrontation on 9 July
2017 was on 6 August, the day when the sit-in demonstration of
Afghan youth for asylum started in Stockholm. e demonstra-
tion lasted several months, with youth occupying the Medborgarplats
[Citizenship Square] in Stockholm 24 hours a day. Demonstrations fol-
lowed in major cities organised by “UngiSverige” and the organisation
led by her. For this reason, she acquired an additional arena of agency
initiated and led by her.
From consoling individual vulnerable youth, she arose as a political
Two Identities: We as Part of Sweden vs. We as the
Following the terror attack in Stockholm, many UASC experienced a
hardened attitude towards them. Fatemeh Khavari was threatened by
the driver of a car who was purposely aiming to hit her. She also asso-
ciates herself with other Afghan youth, who are easy targets of racial
threats. Moreover, she expresses a “we” identity with Sweden, aiming to
build a better society based on solidarity:
We say no to terrorism. Nobody should make us depart from each other.
We stand together behind Sweden, and try to create a country full of
hope and love…. We do not care about religion, identity, language, etc.
We all live together for Sweden!
Hence, her argument is that Afghan youth can contribute to build-
ing a tolerant Sweden based on solidarity and love. With this, she is
344 I. Asztalos Morell
acquiring the position of responsible citizenship. is formulation I see
as an enactment of a responsible citizenship in the meaning that Beltrán
along Arendt (Beltrán 2009) attributed to the concept.
us, Fatameh Khavari’s case exemplies the rise of the independent
political subjectivity of UASC youth as experts of their own situation,
which reaches beyond the helping paradigm. Rather than being helpless
victims in need of rescue, she turns the coin on the helping paradigm
arguing for the contribution that UASC make to Swedish democracy.
ere is an intriguing interplay between the agency of Swedish partici-
pants of the site and UASC. Ingrid Eckerman attributes a great impor-
tance to the interaction between UASC and activists. rough these
interactions, UASC, she said, were “trained” into democratic political
agency, and could learn the rules of the political game. Fatameh Khavari
also emphasised in her speeches and essays posted on the site the inu-
ence of her studies in Sweden on Swedish society, human rights and the
societal role of politicians. erefore, socialisation through the site and
school opened for talented youth to take a political role and leadership
and enact their citizenship.
e site “Stop the deportation of Afghan youth!” gathers both those
supporting the cause of granting asylum for the youth and the youth
who are directly aected by this struggle.
Firstly, this site emerged as a contestation of the deportation regime
shaped by the securitisation of asylum policies following July 2016.
eir actions can be conceived as examples of a “subversive humanitari-
anism”, inasmuch as they emphasise their opposition to state sovereignty,
and more explicitly, to the practices and policies of the state Migration
Agency and the political establishment that supports these policies.
is is symptomatic of the rupture that the increased securitisation of
the Swedish asylum regime caused between the human rights concerns,
inicting the moral values of welfare provision, and the principles of the
12 Contestations of the Swedish Deportation Regime … 345
Secondly, while many of the actions of the site are overtly subversive,
it is also a forum for a more “pragmatic voluntarism”, addressing the
diverse aspects of human needs. ese include material needs, such as
shelter and economic support, but also immaterial needs, rst of all care
and compassion. e voluntary help of civilians is essential for youth
who have been removed from the welfare provision for children due to
restrictive asylum regulations, thereby leading to rejected applications,
and ultimately to a deportation order.
irdly, the initiative is unconventional in its forms of functioning.
On the one hand, we nd an engagement for particular youth, either
for their immediate needs or in the form of support to ght asylum
cases. On the other hand, we also nd a strong engagement to address
structural needs and principles, and contest the deportation regime on
Fourthly, this site is also an example of how the collective activism of
citizens incorporates the activism of denizens, since the UASC are made
active members of this site. is is achieved by rejecting objectifying
discourses of the deportation regime, enforcing images of “undeserving
abusers” (Crawley 2009) and turning UASC into subjects (Vandevoordt
& Verschraegen in this volume). By oering UASC subjectivity through
participation with their own voice in the site, they make claims about
rights. is can be interpreted as political enactment, along Hannah
Arendt’s perception, which occurs in an interaction with a plurality
of voices (Beltrán 2009). e claiming of rights emerges collectively.
As observed, UASC use the site in dierent ways: to voice individual
concerns and appeal for help or sympathy, and to connect to collective
contestations organised by separate groups. Even further, it is perhaps
not an exaggeration to claim that “Stop deportations” was an impor-
tant forum contributing to the emergence of an autonomous collective
organisation of the youth “UngiSverige” and the empowerment of its
leader, Fathemeh, as a political agent.
Fifthly, this site grew as an interactive forum, and for the most part
has been promoting the creation of a space in between “inclusion” and
“exclusion”, in which denizens, those excluded according to the pre-
vailing deportation regime, could nd support, compassion and help,
as well as a forum to voice their own concerns together with citizens.
346 I. Asztalos Morell
As Ingrid Eckerman emphasised, the platform lled lifesaving actions.
Many youths used the site for posting their anxiety, with many hav-
ing suicidal thoughts. ey have even organised themselves so there
would be one adult watching the postings 24 hours a day in case a
youth would post suicidal thoughts. ey provide support, giving love
and consolation. While the youth are experiencing accidents of every-
day hate and unjust treatment by the Migration Agency, they engage
with showing a helping hand to show another side of Sweden. is
movement of compassion has been seen to have contributed to build-
ing bridges between the youth and Sweden, raising the youth’s political
consciousness and agency to channel their anxiety and dissatisfaction
into peaceful political action. e site contributes to transform self-de-
structive self-images into self-images of being lovable, while at the same
time also allowing the converting of anxiety into love and compas-
sion, through the oering of care, rather than a destructive hate. In the
meantime, those providing care benet from positioning themselves as
pioneers of human conscience and democratic citizenship.
Finally, the development of the “Stop deportations” network is
a good example of a social movement in the “information age”. is
movement, like others, has been built around feelings of compassion
and outrage, moral commitment and the values that form its activities.
Being an open community, with a strategy advocated by its leader, it has
opened for the participation of new members. Postings and conversa-
tions carry its ow in unintended directions. One such unintended out-
come was that Afghan youth joined the site. ey have learnt Swedish,
which allowed them to express their own experiences and views, and
communicate with the Swedish members of the group. is also opened
for the possibility of forming and shaping each other’s perceptions, and
for the transfer of knowhow of the democratic traditions of Swedish
Acknowledgments I am thankful to Anna Lundberg, whose comments and
suggestions on relevant theoretical frameworks have greatly contributed to
the improvement of this text. I am also thankful to the editors of this book
who have contributed with insightful comments to develop this text. Ingrid
Eckerman, the initiator of the facebook site “Stoppa utvisningar!” has
12 Contestations of the Swedish Deportation Regime … 347
commented on a version of this text and contributed with valuable additional
aspects, which were incorporated into this version, for which I am thankful.
1. e struggle for amnesty implied the request to provide residence permit
to all UASC from Afghanistan.
2. According to personal information from Ingrid Eckerman, as of the
beginning of 2018, the per cent of those obtaining residence status is
only 10% for all 18 years old.
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