On the politics of deportations  

By Päivi Pirkkalainen & Eveliina Lyytinen
Book cover photo by Rewan Kakil

In this text, editors of the recently published anthology Suomesta poistetut Päivi Pirkkalainen and Eveliina Lyytinen discuss deportations, discourses normalizing deportations, the concept of deportability, and the politics of deportations in Finland.

In the past months the Finnish mainstream media has reported on several deportation cases dealing with non-EU citizens. Helsingin Sanomat has written about the case of a nurse and the case of a cleaner, for instance. YLE broadcasted the MOT documentary on deportations of non-EU citizen fathers of small children.  

These media debates criticized certain aspects of deportations and focused on deportations of particular individuals often highlighting how these people under threat of deportations are useful to the Finnish society. In research, however, the intentional or unintentional creation of “a good refugee” has been problematized. This is because humanitarian migration should not be evaluated in terms of economic profit or fast abilities to integrate, but rather in terms of the need for international protection.

Our recently published anthology “Suomesta poistetut: Näkökulmia käännytyksiin ja karkotuksiin” [Removed from Finland – perspectives on deportations and refusals of entry] argues that this kind of publicity focused on certain individuals or certain groups of people’s deportations is too narrow and ahistorical. Yet, this perspective dominates the societal and political discussions.

As our anthology shows, deportations affect – and have affected for centuries – the deporting society at large. They can break essential units of our society – families, intimate relationships, and circles of friends and relatives. Moreover, they can have a negative effect on our workplaces, schools, and other everyday places that we interact in. Thus, deportations do not only affect deportees and their immediate families, but removal of people shocks and breaks communities. Deportation policies throughout the history have been used as tools in forming nation states and they have had – and continue to have racialized aspects.     

Against normalizing deportations

With publishing an anthology which critically looks at the deportation phenomenon from interdisciplinary point of view, including social and political sciences as well as history and legal studies, our aim is to criticize normalizing forced removals of foreigners. The immigration authorities tend to represent deportations as neutral actions backed by the law and thus also morally right. Yet, as the majority of the chapters in our anthology demonstrate, there are several ways to attempt to counter act the normalizing discourses. Us researchers can, for instance, pay critical attention to the concepts we use (or not use) in order not to comply with the normalizing or criminalizing administrative discourse on deportations. Elsewhere we have also shown how pro-asylum volunteering has transferred into anti-deportation activism with political goals. At times, demonstrations, political lobbying, writing complaints of the behavior of authorities, and utilizing petitions to campaign for deportees, have resulted in action challenging the normalizing discourse of some of the authorities and politicians.  

In our anthology, especially in chapters that look at the deportations of asylum seekers from conflict countries, we bring out various problematics in this scene and focus also on experiences of people who have been deported or have been under threat of deportations. Having people with experiences of deportability also to contribute to the anthology both in terms of writing and arts was an important aspect of not only conducting research on but rather with affected people.

Deportability of foreigners

Deportations are a key part of immigration control in global, the EU and nation states’ level. Our anthology applies the concept of deportability, which has been developed in international critical deportation studies, first introduced by Nicholas de Genova. The concept aids understanding how the immigration laws and administrative procedures produce deportable subjects. All foreigners are deportable to some extent, meaning that they could be removed from the country, and this condition marks their everyday lives.

Studies have shown different racialized aspects of deportability and argued that not all foreigners are equally vulnerable to be deported. The main point for applying the concept of deportability in the Finnish context is that it helps to direct the focus on the changing socio-political conditions and structures that produce undocumented migrants and thus increase deportability of some foreigners.

Our anthology also illustrates how deportations have become contested in recent years. The protesting against deportations is by no means a new phenomenon in Finland, but the 2015 ‘refugee reception crisis’ mobilized new people, asylum seekers among them, and resulted into the protest camp against deportation lasting its concrete protest activities for over seven months in 2017.

Politics of deportation

Immigration and deportation policies in Finland have for a long time followed the other EU and Nordic countries. This was evident, for example, in Juha Sipilä’s Government’s Action Plan on Asylum Policy from 2015, which aimed for more efficient deportations, increasing deportations to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Sanna Marin’s government (2019-2023) did some amendments to the strict policies and laws concerning, for example, family reunifications and rights for legal aid, but there is still room for improvements.

The EU Commission’s proposal (The New Pact on Migration and Asylum from 2020) will most likely partly define Finland’s asylum and deportation policies in the future. The proposal highlights the importance of deportations and proposes, for example, “quick deportations” of asylum seekers already in borders. Many NGOs and researchers have heavily criticized this proposal for being inhumane and weakening foreigners’ rights considerably.

It has been evident for some time now that Finland wants to induce more foreign workers to come to Finland, but at the same time efforts are being made to reduce “pull factors” for unwelcomed migrants. It remains to be seen whether the next government in Finland will further go along these lines in deepening this paradox, which is not sustainable nor cost-efficient. Moreover, it remains to be seen, and closely monitored, if and how the Finnish Immigration Service will change their too strict (not in line with international legal standards) interpretation of right to family and the best interest of the child, as assured by the new head of the Service, Ilkka Haatela.

The book Suomesta poistetut, edited by Päivi Pirkkalainen, Eveliina Lyytinen and Saara Pellander, is available in the following formats (in Finnish):