Since the 1970s, researchers have been concerned with unauthorized migration as a field of study in both Europe and the USA. In the south of Europe this research expanded during the 1990s, but in the Scandinavian countries there have been only sporadic inquiries. This thesis is part of a changing trend whereby unauthorized migration has begun to enter the Scandinavian research agenda. Previously it had been assumed that unauthorized migrants would not remain in Norway, since they were left with few opportunities for making a livelihood. More recently, however, structural changes in European border regimes and the European asylum system, inter alia, have led to an increased presence of this heterogeneous category of people, also in Norway. Their presence has become gradually more visible in the public debate.
Based on fieldwork from 2009 and 2010, this thesis explores the day-to-day lives of rejected asylum-seekers in Norway. Inspiration for the theoretical underpinnings has come from the work of Giorgio Agamben and his understanding of the state of exception, as well as James Scott’s concept of everyday resistance. I establish the migrants’ space of action as a space of everyday exception to explore how migrants’ lives and migrant illegality unfold within it. I also conceive this as a temporal space in relation to citizenship and state sovereignty.
At the time I conducted my fieldwork, rejected asylum-seekers in Norway were allowed to stay in regular asylum centres. Some also lived in the waiting reception centres that feature in this thesis. These were difficult places to stay, and many sought to remain outside these camps, also for fear of being deported. Since they were deprived of central rights like formal wage labour, and had severely limited access to healthcare and other provisions, this created further challenges in their lives as they became dependent on others. I ask: how does illegalization shape the opportunities to create a livelihood, find accommodation or shelter, and maintain family life in the Norwegian context? The thesis concludes with a discussion of whether the exceptional space of these illegalized migrants is a space of opportunities – or rather one that captures or entraps vulnerable individuals in a difficult situation.