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Undocumented Migrants in Resistance against Detention: Comparative Observations on Germany and France

Citation: Tometten, Christopher Undocumented Migrants in Resistance against Detention: Comparative Observations on Germany and France. [Discussion or working paper]

Although the immigration policies of Germany and France share a similarly restrictive approach, the manner in which migrants protest against such policies and resist against their implementation is strikingly different. This is particularly obvious for undocumented migrants. In France, collective action of undocumented migrants has received increasing public attention over the last two decades, and detention centres have been a foremost target of such action. Resistance against detention prior to deportation culminated in achieving the closure of the country's biggest detention centre in 2008. To the contrary, undocumented migrants have hardly ever protested against their condition in Germany. Although collective action against immigration policies has reached a new level with the “Refugee Tent Action” occupying public space in Berlin and elsewhere since 2012, it continues to focus mainly on the living conditions of asylum seekers, not undocumented migrants. This discrepancy may be explained with the existence of different institutional conditions for collective action, i.e. such political opportunity structures that refer to state regulations and measures. A comparative analysis of these conditions shows that weaker resistance against immigration detention in Germany may be due to the existence of comparably more repressive and controlling immigration laws, a flexible toleration status that provides its holders with basic social security, and the scarcity of options for legalisation. The combination of harsh repression and little prospect for legalisation makes resistance appear much riskier. The risks are greater yet for holders of a toleration status since its delivery is, to some extent, subject to administrative discretion. The toleration status thus tends to divide the people susceptible to engage in collective action. The knowledge of these differences may help undocumented migrants and their supporters in both countries to develop more effective strategies of resistance against restrictive policies.

Creators: Tometten, Christopher and
Subjects: Human Rights & Development Studies
Keywords: Undocumented Migration – Immigration Detention – Collective Action – Germany – France
Divisions: Human Rights Consortium
Collections: Refugee Law Initiative


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