A Worthy Reception? Ambivalences in Social Work With Refugees and Migrants in Sweden

  • Kristina Gustafsson Department of social work, Linnaeus University http://orcid.org/0000-0003-0641-7096
  • Jesper Johansson Department of social work, Linnaeus University
Keywords: Migrants, refugees, reception, social work

Abstract

The purpose of this article is to analyze how reception practices and the meaning of a “worthy” reception of refugees and migrants are negotiated in encounters between various receiving actors in times of shifting Swedish migration policies. The analysis is grounded in ethnographic methodology and draws on data collected in 2016. The aim of the study was to document experiences of the so-called “refugee crisis” in Europe and Scandinavia from a bottom-up perspective among professionals and volunteers narrated during reference group meetings. The reference groups consisted of representatives from state and municipal agencies, the private sector, and civil society organizations. The actors represented in the mixed reference groups were diverse, but all were involved in reception activities. In the analysis we have combined political philosophy about willingness versus ability to receive refugees and migrants with postcolonial theoretical perspectives on concurrent claims and voices. We identified three themes that are central in the negotiation of the practice and meaning of a “worthy reception”: first, the overlooked existential needs of refugees and migrants; second, the lack of gender- and diversity-sensitive reception practices; and third, ambivalences in relation to various refugees groups in times of shifting migration policies. We recommend that in order to promote a worthy reception of refugees and migrants, existential needs must be taken care of and gender- and diversity-sensitive practices must be developed. Another recommendation is to recognize how migration policy limits a society’s ability to receive refugees and migrants, but also affects the willingness among those actors who receive.

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Published
2018-09-18