MMB Blog

Migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Greece during COVID-19

Letter from Afar – the blog series about life and research in the time of COVID-19.

By Theodoros Fouskas.

Dear friends,

I hope you are staying safe and keeping well.

The first COVID-19 case was diagnosed in Greece on 26th February 2020 (National Public Health Organization, 2020a). As subsequent cases in late February and early March were confirmed the government began to implement lockdown measures. Between 10th and 18th March, educational institutions and shops nationwide suspended operations, along with cinemas, gyms, courtrooms, shopping malls, cafés, restaurants, bars, beauty salons, museums and archaeological sites, beaches and ski resorts. On 23rd March, with 695 confirmed cases and 17 deaths, a nationwide restriction on movement was enforced, whereby citizens could only leave their homes for specific reasons and with a special permit. The gradual reduction of these measures began on 4th May.

The data below show cases from the epidemiological surveillance of the disease of the novel coronavirus, based on statistics of the National Public Health Organization and recorded up to 2nd August. The latest confirmed laboratory cases of the disease numbered 75, of which 4 were identified at entry points of the country. The total number of cases is 4,662 (daily change +1.6%), of which 54.7% were men. The latest recorded daily deaths of COVID-19 patients were 2, while a total of 208 deaths have been reported since the outbreak began. The average age of patients who have died was 76 years. The number of patients hospitalised and intubated were 12 (83.3% men) (National Public Health Organization, 2020b).

Figure 1: Number of laboratory confirmed COVID-19 cases in Greece by 2nd August 2020

Source: National Public Health Organization, 2020b

In Greece, thousands of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants are living in unsafe and degrading conditions in camps on the Aegean islands and on the mainland. These camps are severely overcrowded. Multiple deficiencies and lack of medical doctors have resulted in numerous health issues. Deterioration of health is also due to weather conditions as there is no insulation or heated accommodation in the winter. Many third-country nationals (TCNs) feel insecure under these precarious conditions, having already suffered abuse or trauma. In the Reception and Identification Centres (RICs), medical doctors and NGO staff agree with the asylum seekers, refugees and migrants that measures against the spread of the coronavirus are severely lacking in such overcrowded spaces with little access to proper healthcare services.

TCNs inside the RICs are crammed into small individual tents or makeshift shelters with wooden walls and canvas rooves. These spaces offer little or no privacy. A blanket serves as a door and mats as a floor, providing insufficient insulation from harsh weather conditions and temperature changes (extreme heat in summer and freezing cold in winter). As the World Health Organization (WHO) (2020) states, asylum seekers, refugees and migrants are exposed to increased risks of contracting diseases such as COVID-19 due to the overcrowded facilities and lack of basic public health conditions where they are living.

‘Vial’ RIC, Chios island, December 2019 (image: T. Fouskas)

COVID-19 cases were detected in accommodation centres in mainland Greece from mid-March. After the first case was detected multiple attempts to enter via the Greek-Turkish land border led to a border closure policy and the suspension of asylum applications. Table 1 shows the number of cases detected in accommodation centres:

Table 1: COVID-19 cases among migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Greece

AreaDateCases
Ritsona31 March, 202023
Malakasa, East Attica5 April, 20201
Koutsohero, Larissa10 April, 2020Quarantined after tracing a Roma case
Porto Heli, Argolida19 April, 20201
Kranidi, Argolida20 April, 2020150
Megala Therma, Lesvos12 May, 20202
Efthalou beach, Southern Lesvos15 May, 20202
Kranidi, Argolida26 May, 20203
Nea Kavala, Kilkis3 June, 20201
Northwest coast of Lesvos27 June, 20203

Protective measures against COVID-19 in the RICs, in the accommodation centres and in the Asylum Service were implemented from mid-March. The measures included the postponement of activities such as school classes (synchronous and asynchronous distance learning projects implemented during the lockdown) and exercise routines. Newcomers were checked for COVID-19 symptoms and confined to quarantine if found to be unwell (Kathimerini, 2020). TCNs were discouraged from strolling around the facilities or going outside the RICs, even to obtain supplies. The restriction on movement entitled ‘Measures against the occurrence and spread of cases of coronavirus COVID-19 in the Reception and Identification Centers, throughout the Territory, for the period from 21.3.2020 to 21.4.2020’ was extended via the relevant Joint Ministerial Decisions (Minister of Civil Protection, Minister of Health, Minister of Migration and Asylum) until 31st August (the measures apply to all types of accommodation structures throughout Greece, aiming at preventing the occurrence and spread of COVID-19). This was problematic as there was concurrently a lifting of restrictions for the public (from 4th May) and for international visitors (from 15th June).

It is extremely difficult to take the necessary precautionary measures against the pandemic in the RICs and accommodation centres, such as maintaining social/physical distancing between individuals and implementing hygiene rules. The overcrowded structures on the islands urgently need decongesting while on the mainland efforts to create new housing are crucial in order to contain the COVID‐19 virus in a humane and dignified way.

Warm wishes and stay well,

Theodoros

Theodoros Fouskas is a sociologist working on migration, precarious employment, social integration and exclusion of third-country nationals, and migrants’ access to healthcare and trade unions in reception societies. He teaches at the School of Public Health, University of West Attica.

Legislative update for EU migration and asylum statistics – work in progress

By Ann Singleton

As the UK leaves the European Union, a legislative change will update the EU framework for the collection of migration and asylum statistics. This might receive little attention outside the specialist focus of academics or policy makers, but it is important for anyone with an interest in migration trends, analysis and policy in the UK and in the EU.

Regulation (EU) 2020/851 came into force on 12th July 2020. It is the latest step in consolidating an EU-wide legislative framework for the collection of statistics on migration and asylum. Following Brexit, the UK will no longer be subject to EU legislation in this field. It is most likely to continue participating on a voluntary basis in Eurostat’s migration and asylum data collection system.

Post-Brexit, the UK is likely to continue taking part in Eurostat’s migration and asylum data collections system (image: Wikimedia Commons)

This Regulation aims to improve the collection of data on what the European Commission calls ‘managed migration statistics’ (mainly about ‘third-country nationals’). It keeps the same methodological approach as its predecessor, Regulation (EC) No 862/2007, whilst it amends, replaces and updates some definitions and disaggregation requirements. More frequent and timely supply of data to Eurostat is also now required. Other main changes of substance relate to the integration of administrative data (an area that the UK Office for National Statistics has also been working on intensively); financing of actions to strengthen the data collection systems in the Member States; and, perhaps more controversially, under ‘inter-operability’ measures, allowing for the use of data by ‘multiple organisations’. 

Better quality and coverage of data is recognised as being essential to produce indicators for  measuring the success or otherwise of migration policies. Consistency in the time series would be continued as the amending legislation was intended to enhance and add to the existing provisions in the 2007 Regulation. A core underlying principle of the new legislative proposal is to ensure methodological consistency with that set out in the 2007 Regulation.

The 2020 Regulation also allows for implementing measures and for the financing of pilot studies in the Member States to investigate the feasibility of developing new data collections. The overall picture of ‘demographic migration’ will also be addressed in a forthcoming regulation on European Population Statistics, currently in preparation.

All these changes are timely in an international context, as they coincide with work on the revision of the 1998 UN Recommendations on Statistics of International Migration. These recommendations envisaged an ideal best practice, which in effect has proved to be unachievable in most countries across all categories of information. During 2019 and 2020 the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs has been working on proposals for their revision, with the intention of providing relevant guidance for national activities in the field of migration and asylum data collection. The new recommendations are anticipated to address some of the new realities of human mobility, together with realistic expectations of national capacities for collecting, delivering, analysing and reporting on data.

Will the new EU legislation and the revised UN Recommendations lead to better quality, coverage and comparability of migration data? 

The extent to which these measures have an impact on data collection will also depend on the efforts of national authorities and the funding they commit to improving data quality. There is always a compromise between what is deemed necessary and what is achievable in policy terms at national level and EU-wide level. The 2020 Regulation acknowledges demands on data suppliers and the need for consistency by accepting the methodological basis for the collection of data on migration and asylum statistics, whilst amending and extending the scope of the collection and adding additional categories. It is most likely that the UK will be invited to continue providing data to Eurostat, which should ensure continuity in the Europe-wide dataset. Whether this happens will depend on the final terms of the Brexit arrangements and/or willingness to participate on a voluntary basis. It is thought possible that the UK authorities will continue to send Eurostat at least some asylum data and some migration data.

What is missing?

Official data do not capture the changing dynamics of migration and the realities of the lives of people who negotiate their journeys to, within and from Europe in relation to the changing legal boundaries and borders. There remains, uncaptured by the official data, a broad category of legal and irregular migration encompassing a wide range of human mobility. This involves different forms of documentation, legal authorisation and different groups of people. The data gaps can therefore only partially be filled by the 2020 Regulation. Still missing are:

  • data on migration and socio-economic variables;
  • systematic data collection on ‘saving lives at the border’ (one stated aim of the European Agenda on Migration).         

The latter is a glaring omission in the overall picture of EU policy failures. The only systematic global data collection on deaths of migrants at the borders and during migration is the Missing Migrants Project of the IOM. In the era of increased public discussion that Black Lives Matter, it is significant that the UK and the EU still need to address this issue.

Policy implications – monitoring the economic and human costs of ‘managed’ migration

Some significant gaps in official data collection and in public knowledge will continue to limit the possibility of systematic scrutiny of policy in the UK and across the EU. There appears still to be no intention to collect information for public use on what happens following forced returns – that is, what happens to people who have been removed from EU territory. EU Member States should monitor the outcomes of returns as a requirement under EU law (Directive 2008/115/EC), as well as the consequences of their acts or omissions in the return process.

All these gaps also shed light on the need for action to address the racialisation of terms, concepts and definitions used in the measurement and analysis of migration in the context of post-imperial national systems.  

Academic and policy actors could take this opportunity to engage in a meaningful dialogue about what is measured, what is known and what is missing from the data, from academic research, policy debates and from public discourse about migration.

Ann Singleton is a Senior Research Fellow in the School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol, and MMB Policy Strategic Lead. She led research to improve the Eurostat database (1996-2002) and was responsible for policy on asylum and migration statistics in the European Commission’s DG Justice and Home Affairs (2002-2004).

This post is based on a chapter in the Research Handbook on EU Asylum and Migration Law (eds. P. De Bruycker and E. Tsourdi, Elgar, forthcoming). A longer version of the post will be published by the Odysseus Network in August. The author is grateful to Giampaolo Lanzieri, of Eurostat, for advice and clarifications.

No longer welcome: migrants face growing racism in South Korea

Letter from Afar – the blog series about life and research in the time of COVID-19.

By Minjae Shin.

Dear friends

I hope you all are staying safe and keeping well.

It has been almost five months since I left Bristol. I am currently in South Korea, my country of origin. Many migrants, including international students, have returned to their home countries unexpectedly since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. I was expecting to come back to South Korea to conduct fieldwork for my PhD research project ‘Politics of representations: representations of marriage migrants in South Korea’. But the unprecedented pandemic has changed my fieldwork into an unexpected journey.

I was supposed to participate in the activities of different institutions related to marriage migrants in South Korea. When I arrived at the end of February, however, the situation with the virus was already extremely serious. It was one of the first countries to experience the COVID-19 outbreak, with its first case imported directly from Wuhan, China. In January, at the very first stage of the pandemic, the number of confirmed cases remained in single digits, but the figure soon began to rise sharply. Daily confirmed cases reached a peak of 909 at the end of February.

As the number of cases kept rising, the country raised its COVID-19 alert to the highest level. The South Korean government imposed strict social distancing measures and, as a result, all workplaces were closed and employees had to work from home. Rather than getting into the field and conducting participant observation, therefore, I was sitting at home trying to become, as one person said, a ‘socially distanced but spiritually connected’ researcher. I was also thinking about my foreign friends who live in South Korea as I was worried about how they were doing. The first step of my fieldwork journey, then, was writing emails to these friends, asking how they were coping with the unprecedented situation.

One of my friends, who is a student from China, replied saying, ‘I am extremely scared of racism. South Koreans have been giving me really hateful looks since the COVID-19 outbreak.’ Since the pandemic started, several accounts of racism have been reported – anti-Chinese sentiment, especially, has been on the rise in South Korea. Fear of the outbreak has fuelled ethnic hatred, with Chinese people being seen as ‘carrying the virus’. Restaurants and shops have reportedly been posting signs saying, ‘No Chinese’ or ‘No Chinese allowed’ and refusing to accept Chinese customers. Protests have been held calling for a ban on Chinese people entering South Korea.

An anti-Chinese poster distributed widely on South Korean social media

Disease outbreaks have been used to rationalise xenophobia throughout history (Abbott 2020). And indeed, since the start of COVID-19, anti-Chinese sentiment has been amplified around the world, not just in South Korea. Who encourages such rhetoric as ‘the Chinese carry the virus’ or ‘it’s the Chinese virus’? Racialised rhetoric can be found easily among politicians, many of whom (such as Donald Trump) continue to connect disease with race. As Michael Dryzer discussed at the beginning of the outbreak, and Nandita Sharma more recently in the MMB blog, COVID-19 became heavily politicised very quickly and in the process has been used as strategy for immigration policy.

I received another email from a friend who is a migrant spouse from Singapore. Married to a South Korean national, she expected to feel safe and be given protection by the government during the COVID-19 crisis. However, instead, she has felt very vulnerable and found herself being excluded from South Korean society. In her message she wrote about the issue of distribution of cash relief funds. The South Korean government had begun distributing COVID-19 relief funds of up to £650 per household (as one-off payments). Foreign nationals who have permanent residency and are married to Korean nationals are eligible for the funds. But some of her friends, who are also marriage migrants, could not receive the funds because they were divorced. This made her realise that the citizenship status of migrant spouses is more insecure than she had thought.

I was relieved to receive emails from my foreign friends and know that they were all healthy. However, I kept thinking about their other vulnerabilities. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected migrants all over the world in many ways, as outlined in Lorenzo Guadagno’s IOM report. In a global crisis like this, people have to engage with the underlying vulnerabilities of migrants. In particular, the questions of border control, citizenship and citizenship rights have become more important than ever as countries close their borders, restrict people’s movements and, first and foremost, protect their own citizens from the pandemic.

When a crisis like this hits, the human instinct is to go home. But for some migrants, ‘going home’ has not been an option as their countries of origin quickly closed their borders. In South Korea, some have therefore unexpectedly become ‘the undocumented’: unable to leave but not welcome to stay. Many migrants have also faced economic hardship having lost their jobs and remained unemployed due to the economic crisis resulting from the pandemic. In many cases, this has been made worse by the increased discrimination and racism against them.

The rate of infection in South Korea is now much lower and I have finally begun the second stage of my fieldwork journey – active participation. The strict social distancing is easing and life appears to be going back to normal. NGOs and activists have been busy confronting the increase in racism by distributing press releases on behalf of migrants and intervening in governmental policies for migrant welfare and rights. For example, they have set up a campaign calling on the government to provide equal financial support (disaster relief funds) to all migrants. Since June, I have worked for one of these NGOs and assisted in distributing private relief funds to migrant households.

The next step of my journey is finally the expected part – my planned fieldwork. I am currently participating in an NGO programme that is similar to my research project and hopefully I will be able to conduct interviews soon. Even though my fieldwork was put on hold for a while, my time in lockdown here has not been wasted. My unexpected journey gave me time and space to think through others’ vulnerabilities in a way that I may not otherwise have done.

Minjae Shin is a PhD Researcher in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies at the University of Bristol.

From ‘social distancing’ to planetary solidarity

Letter from Afar – the blog series about life and research in the time of COVID-19.


By Nandita Sharma.

Greetings from Hawai’i!

Reading Colin’s blog from the ‘afar’ of Bristol has made me think about distance, and the (dis)connections between physical and social distancing. We are physically far apart, but, I like to think, socially close. This seems to run counter to the ‘social distancing’ we are being enjoined to adopt.

‘Social distancing’ is the most oft-used phrase during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, it could be the motto for how states and ruling classes govern. For those studying the political economy of capitalism, ‘social distancing’ is understood as the effort by rulers to keep the levers of power and much-needed resources out of the reach of most people (Ruth Wilson Gilmore, personal communication, 11 March 2020).

Physical distancing at the bus stop (image: Gavin Clarke on flickr.com)


‘Social distancing,’ then, is not about the physical space between us. All systems of apartheid, after all, are built to ensure the close proximity of the dominators and those they supress. The point of ideological practices such as sexism, racism and nationalism is to keep us politically separated from one another. Going along with the idea that ‘we’ are unconnected to ‘them’ severely weakens our ability to take back our power and resources. That is precisely the point.

Rulers extol us to distance ourselves not only from other people, but also from the rest of life on our shared planet. We are encouraged to use non-humans as we will but to take no responsibility for the harm we do. Indeed, we are taught to deny any awareness of our actions and to deny our connections with other life forms.

This is reflected in the political organisation of our world. We live in a global system of apartheid organised by nation-states, which encourages us to see each nationalised territory in splendid isolation from all others. Yet, if COVID-19 has taught us anything it is that we ignore the world at our peril.

What we can learn from this global pandemic is that the global circulation of capital precipitates the global circulation of deadly pathogens. The penetration of capital into almost all parts of the planet has resulted in the destruction of complex ecosystems, the dispossession of more and more living beings (humans and non-humans), the rise of industrial agriculture and ‘meat farms,’ the cultural capital attached to eating ‘wild’ animals by urban dwellers, and the expanding supply chain of commodities. Each of these have contributed to the breeding and spreading of novel viruses.

Yet, none of this reality is reflected in responses to COVID-19 by either nation-states or capital. Instead, each nation-state touts its border controls as its first ‘line of defense’ (in keeping with the general militarised jingoism of the pandemic). Meanwhile, capital discourages efforts to halt transmission of the disease while pushing for the quick ‘opening up’ of the economy. Nation-states have largely gone along with this by refusing to organise the redistribution of wealth necessary to ensure that people can survive without jobs.

Many imagining themselves as members of the ‘nation’ cheer on such approaches, thereby further fanning the flames of racism/nationalism and deflecting attention away from inept governments and rapacious capitalist markets. Such approaches are on full display in the United States (but not only here).

On 31 January 2020, the same day the novel coronavirus was first declared a public health emergency, Trump issued an executive order blocking the entry of anyone who had been in China in the last 14 days. On 11 March 2020, Trump extended the travel ban to include the 26 EU Schengen states. On 14 March, it was extended further to encompass the UK and Ireland.

In keeping with the structural importance of national citizenship to current regimes of power, these travel bans do not apply to US residents and family members or spouses of US residents or citizens, even though they may very well be the ones carrying and spreading COVID-19. In any case, the first person diagnosed with COVID-19 in the US was announced more than ten days before the very first travel ban. Since then, the number of COVID-19 cases has continued to increase. So too have border control measures.

Supposedly to ‘protect the public health,’ on 20 March 2020 the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a health order denying people seeking asylum the protections afforded them under national law and allowing them to be summarily deported. From 21 March 2020 to 30 April 2020, more than 20,000 migrants were expelled, mostly to Mexico. 

Migrants are deported from the US to Mexico, March 2020 (image: Asociacion Pop No’j)


Of this number, 915 were unaccompanied children seeking asylum. A New York Times reporter found that, ‘some young migrants have been deported within hours of setting foot on American soil. Others have been rousted from their beds in the middle of the night in U.S. government shelters [sic] and put on planes out of the country without any notification to their families’ (Dickerson 2020). Disavowing responsibility for the harm they do to others, the US government is largely silent about the spread of COVID-19 in its Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) concentration camps or their deporting of people with the virus to nation-states with far less resources than the US. This too is a form of ‘social distancing.’

At the same time, nationalism doesn’t prevent people from demanding that what they need and want from ‘outside’ continues to enter, including personal protective equipment, medicine, food, clothing, entertainment and people recruited to work in sectors deemed ‘essential’ for the well-being of the citizenry. While industries of healthcare, agriculture, meatpacking and more would cease to operate were non-citizen workers not permitted to enter and work in the US, these workers are denied the rights and protections available to the citizenry they serve.

The issue, then, is hardly about movement. Nation-states actively organise the movement of people, other living beings, capital, commodities and more – but only on terms that maintain ‘social distancing.’ That is, only on terms that will keep power and resources out of the reach of most people and only on terms that will ensure our continued separation from one another.

This is not a contradiction, so far as nationalists are concerned. Instead, it is a powerful testimony of the importance of separation to ruling relations.

If ‘social distancing’ is the mantra of those hoarding power and wealth, the response of those seeking liberty from rulers is to break down the walls built to disconnect us from one another. While public health officials and media talk about ‘community spread,’ it is also true that during this global pandemic a tremendous growth of solidarity has taken place.

Here in Hawai’i, where I am ‘sheltered in place’ with my partner, Gaye Chan, there has been a massive uptick in our connections to people, mostly strangers. In keeping with our project, Eating in Public, Gaye has responded to the fear of food shortages at the market by building ‘weed stations’ that demonstrate how to grow and cook the edible, nutritious and tasty weeds all around us. She then erected another Free Store, re-stocked on a seemingly minute-by-minute basis. And, she helped organise the Seamsters Union that, to date, has collectively made more than 3,000 cloth masks to freely distribute to those ignored by rulers. Each day, more people come and go, stop and talk than ever before. Practicing solidarity while adhering to safe practices of physical distancing is the opposite of ‘social distancing’ and it forges a path away from our dominated world. And, I know we are not alone.

Nandita Sharma is an activist scholar and Professor at the Sociology Department at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. She recently published a new book, Home Rule: National Sovereignty and the Separation of Natives and Migrants (Duke University Press, 2020).

Life in lockdown – an asylum seeker’s struggle to survive

My name is Maria*. I am an asylum-seeker single-mother who escaped to the UK because I felt unsafe in my home country.

I arrived in the UK two years ago. It was hard for me because I am a single mother of two kids. Initially, the accommodation and support I received as an asylum-seeker were horrible. I had to share a house with strangers who liked to drink alcohol and smoke. It was depressing and horrible. My living conditions are better now, but my children and I have faced many new difficult challenges. 

My life has been difficult during the lockdown as an asylum seeker and single mother of two. It is so depressing this situation while still waiting for my asylum claim. After waiting for two years, I got a letter from the Home Office three weeks ago saying they will reschedule my appeal date. They do not know yet when the new date will be, but they had to reschedule it because of the coronavirus. 

A picture on Maria’s wall

When I was able to go to college to study English my mind was busy, and I did not have to spend as much time thinking about my problems. I was not depressed when I was studying because my mind was busy. But now in this situation with the coronavirus, and the difficulties with my asylum claim, it has been a horrible time because it is depressing and stressful. 

Financial insecurity 

The UK Government gives me £35 a week to buy food. The Home Office has only considered giving money for food, but refugees and asylum seekers need other things too like hygienic products. My kids are growing up and they need more things. They are eating more, and the prices of food have increased. During the lockdown, my kids do not receive free school meals.

I think the Home Office should give a little bit more money. If they do not want to give more money, they should give asylum seekers permission to work so we can support ourselves. Working would help me keep my mind busy and prevent me from thinking too much about my problems. 

Education

My kids’ school is giving classes online. It is difficult for me and for my children because I do not have a computer or a tablet. I have been helping my children do their homework on my phone. It is difficult because it takes time for the kids to learn, it takes time to explain to them how to do their homework. I have two kids and they are in different classes. So first, I help one of my kids with homework, then we have to wait to start with the other one. It is hard with one phone and it means I need to top up my phone more often because the data goes fast. I used to top up my phone for £10 and now I have to top up at least £20 pounds for two weeks. It is difficult for me and for my kids. I would like to get at least one tablet so one of my children can work with the tablet while the other one can study on my phone. It would be better for me, and for them. 

It is very important for my kids to continue to learn online and do their homework. Their teachers give points if the homework is completed. The teachers said that doing homework and getting these points can help my kids pass to the next level. I believe the school will do a diagnostic assessment in September. If the assessment says my kids are not ready for the next level, so maybe they do not pass, and they stay at the same level. The teachers do not keep in touch with me and my children. They just send an email with the homework assignments and instructions. We need to take pictures of the homework and post it in the online class website. The school knows about my situation. But I do not think they can do anything for me. 

I would like my kids to continue to learn. They need to learn, and they need to study. But I am not going to send them back to school soon because the coronavirus is still going to be here. Kids do not know how to keep distance from each other, they do not understand the restrictions. They will be close when playing together. So I will continue trying to teach my kids at home. 

Social support

Before the lockdown, I could go to the local organisations that help refugees and asylum seekers. I could go to English class; we could talk to different persons at the organisations. They help us learn English. They are like friends to us. Now they are closed. I was also going to church and I met so many nice people there. I had never met people like that in my country, they are so kind, so friendly. There is a lady from church who calls me to ask how I am doing. They do the church online on Sundays and do Bible study online on Wednesdays, so that is good, but I only participate once every two weeks because my internet access is limited. It has been sad because these places are closed. My kids want to go out and they want to learn more but it is so much harder now. 

I don’t know about the future – I have to wait for my asylum process. I do not know what is going to happen, but I just want to keep going especially for my kids because I am mum and dad for them. So I need to continue strong and stand up for them. 

* Maria is a pseudonym.

As told to Jáfia Naftali Câmara, PhD student in Education, University of Bristol. A longer version of this interview was published in openDemocracy on 28 May 2020.


Black Lives Matter – whatever their nationality

By Bridget Anderson.

On 19th June 2020 the European Parliament voted to declare ‘Black Lives Matter’. The same European Parliament that last October voted AGAINST supporting more search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean; the same European Parliament that has voted through Economic Partnership Agreements that have ruined Black small-scale producers through exposing them to multinational corporation competition, reduced market access to European member states and taken away tariff revenue to poor states. Black Lives Matter – so long as they are not lived in Niger or Libya or pushing at the borders of Europe.

Rassemblement Aquarius – SOS Mediterranean, Paris 2018 (image: Jeanne Menjoulet on Flickr)

Even when they are lived on the territory of European member states Black Lives are easily discarded. Luke de Noronha (2018) has detailed the devastating impact of the deportation of long-term British residents to Jamaica, people who came to the UK when they were children, who have built lives and communities that have simply been disregarded. Recent evidence from Detention Action has found that immigration detention is systemically racist – 90% of Australian nationals were released after spending less than 28 days in immigration detention, compared with 60% of Nigerian nationals. Black Lives do not seem to matter either when they are requesting family reunion or fighting deportation.

In the past 30 years migration studies has drifted apart from race and ethnic studies. Until the late 1980s anti-deportation campaigns were usually explicitly grounded in anti-racist activism but migration activism too has drifted apart from anti-racism. It is vital that we re-connect them if we are to affect systemic change. There are scholars, activists and scholar activists who have been developing work that explores the relation between migration and ‘race’ (Lentin and Karakayali 2016; Bhattacharya 2018; Yuval Davis et al. 2019; and work by Statewatch and work showcased by the Institute of Race Relations, for example). But so far little attention has been paid to the role of ‘nationality’. Nationality can be read as both a legal status, consonant with citizenship, AND as signifying belonging to the nation of the nation-state. Furthermore, national membership is traced through ancestry and nationality is sutured to race (Sharma 2020).

This ambivalence is not simply happenstance. Radhika Mongia writes, ‘A blurring of the vocabularies of nationality and race is a founding strategy of the modern nation-state that makes it impossible to inquire into the modern state without attending to its creation in a global context of colonialism and racism’ (Mongia 2018, 113). For many years, historians have been encouraging migration scholars to take a long view of human movement, and thereby de-exceptionalise migration, which today is wrongly imagined as disturbing a previous national homogeneity. ‘Societies’ have not long been ‘national’ and they have certainly not been homogenous.

Mongia goes a step further to illustrate how the labelling of certain movements as migration precipitated the emergence of nationality as a territorial attachment. Thus, controlling migration is central to state development and rule and racism is not an unfortunate characteristic of immigration enforcement, but is absolutely baked into immigration controls and enforcement.

In her new book (B)ordering Britain (Manchester University Press 2020) Nadine El-Enany powerfully argues ‘Immigration law teaches white British people that Britain and everything within it is rightfully theirs. “Others” are here as their guests.’ There are very practical ways in which this intersection between ‘race’ and nationality is manifest in immigration frameworks. For example, under the Equality Act discrimination is unlawful. Yet it is not unlawful for immigration officials to discriminate on the basis of race when ‘race’ can be construed as nationality or ethnic origins. The Act permits direct discrimination on the basis of nationality when this is required by law, Ministerial Conditions or Ministerial Arrangements, and nationality can make certain people ineligible for certain services and benefits. Nationality is a magic wand that renders ‘discrimination’ (which covers a multitude of sins, including racial subjugation) not simply acceptable but legally enforceable.

And it is not only immigration officials who are so required. The ‘hostile environment’ has rolled out responsibility to enforce immigration checks to a wide range of ordinary people – employers, registrars, health providers, educationalists and landlords may all be legally required to check immigration status. The general population is increasingly drawn into immigration enforcement: poorly trained and anxious to err on the side of the law, these deputized actors often ‘directly reinforce symbolic and moral distinctions of otherness and illegality’ (Walsh 2014, 247). In many states those charged with imposing immigration checks typically rely on race and/or ethnicity as a marker of national difference.

In the UK this is precisely what happened in the Windrush scandal. The fact that people were Black was read as meaning they were migrants and potentially ‘illegal’, and therefore their status was subject to heightened scrutiny. But it is crucial that we recognise that this is not simply individuals carrying out the even-handed law in a racist manner. In time honoured colonial fashion, the letter of the law may be, to use David Theo Goldberg’s (2002) terminology, ‘raceless’ but its practice is ‘raceful’, and it is nationality that enables this sleight of hand.

Take the right-to-rent checks that are imposed as part of the hostile environment and have resulted in landlords being significantly less likely to rent to people who they think might be ‘foreign’ on the basis of colour, name or accent. In 2019 the High Court found that the requirement for right-to-rent checks ‘does not merely provide the occasion or opportunity for private landlords to discriminate but causes them to do so where otherwise they would not’ (para 105).

The Home Office appealed this decision and won. Lord Justice Hickinbottom did not dispute that ‘some landlords do discriminate against potential tenants who do not have British passports and those who do not have ethnically-British attributes, but the nature and level of discrimination must be kept in perspective’ (para 79, my emphases). However, ‘Whilst I do not suggest that this is a point of any great force although the evidence is that, in respect of potential tenants who do not have a British passport, landlords effectively use ethnic proxies for nationality, the primary ground of discrimination is nationality not race’ (para 148, iii). Whatever its force in the judgement (which will be appealed at the Supreme Court), politically the elision of nationality and race, and the requirement to exclude, is of tremendous force.

Our own students experience the racism of the hostile environment when they are looking for accommodation in Bristol, and this is only one of multiple institutional and bureaucratic difficulties that international students must manage alone as Tier 4 visa holders. There is no guidance on the highly complex visa conditions that they must negotiate, and little institutional appreciation that they are constrained in particular ways – they can only suspend studies for 60 days or they will infringe visa conditions; they are only allowed to work a certain, but variable number of hours per week; postdoctoral applications must be submitted before visas expire, and so on. For this reason, MMB’s working group on international students is calling for a designated International Student Advocate, with knowledge of immigration law, who can help students negotiate institutionalised racism and lobby for change.

As I write, the European Parliament has announced that they will be debating racism next week. I suspect that they will not be talking about migration. Of course, both migration and race are highly complex, and we can’t reduce them to each other. Rather, both reflect each other’s complexity –hierarchies of whiteness, the relationship between race and property, and between state, society and nation. However, let’s not forget the bottom line: until Black Lives Matter irrespective of nationality and immigration status, Black lives will continue to be disposable.

Bridget Anderson is Professor of Migration, Mobilities and Citizenship at the University of Bristol and Director of Migration Mobilities Bristol.

Unemployment and xenophobia persist for migrant workers as China’s lockdown is lifted

Letter from Afar – the blog series about life and research in the time of COVID-19.


By Xinrong Ma.

Dear friends,

I hope this letter finds you all very well.

The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic first broke out in China at the end of last year, then rapidly spread around the globe. While people in many other countries are still experiencing lockdown, in China it has now been lifted. Since the middle of May travel restrictions have been eased, business and commercial activities have reopened and ordinary people have started to return to work, although the government is still emphasises the potential risks and advises people to wear face masks in public.

The pandemic has affected Chinese migrant workers in various, extremely damaging ways. Mobility has become seen as not only risky but also immoral. Workers were locked down in their hometowns from February and have been unable or unwilling to come back to the cities. By March, labour-intensive factories, such as the electronics and garment industries, were in dire need of workers to restart their production after a month’s shutdown. To recruit workers to return to factories, local governments of industrial cities began to offer higher salaries and subsidies to attract migrant workers.

An intersection of roads with no traffic. A man pushes a cart.
Empty city streets in China during lockdown, April 2020 (image: Gauthier Delecroix on flickr)

And then, unexpectedly, the supply chains were terminated in April as the pandemic spread across the globe. Many returned migrant workers were again unemployed. I have been thinking of some of the migrant workers I interviewed previously. Most of them who used to work in manufacturing can no longer find jobs and are trapped in their hometowns. They worked for years in industrial cities where small factories have now been closed. Even the largest firms, such as Foxconn, are laying off staff. Some people, including domestic workers and those in the hospitality industry, are now gradually coming back to work, but the persistence of the pandemic across the world will continue to create difficulties for migrant workers in the coming months.

The dangerous vulnerabilities of being a migrant worker in China have also affected immigrants from abroad during the current crisis. Under recent epidemic control regulations, individuals are required to provide a health code – like a digital passport – to enter their residential compound, shopping centres, transport or other public places. This digital code also enables the government to collect people’s private information, so some immigrants are unwilling to use it. Meanwhile, others find it difficult to follow the government’s pandemic control policies due to language barriers.

Guangzhou, the city where I live, became a global media hotspot in late April when the authorities required all Africans in town to test for COVID-19 and remain in quarantine, regardless of whether or not they had recently travelled. Many were evicted from their hotels or apartments and found themselves homeless. This policy, referred to briefly in the Chinese media, caused a major backlash internationally due to the clear racial discrimination behind it.

The local government’s overreaction towards Africans is associated with Beijing’s ‘Three Illegals’ of immigration (illegal entry, overstayed visas, working without a permit) – a category that many undocumented African migrants are subjected to. Social exclusion and xenophobia among Chinese citizens have been magnified during the epidemic. Under diplomatic pressure, the local government later issued an announcement that Chinese and foreigners should be treated equally, but still, the deep division between ‘us’ and ‘them’ revealed in such an event cannot be easily erased.

Although the local government was slow to act, a group of young people with backgrounds in anthropology, sociology and psychology quickly began providing food, language translation and physical support to the Africans in quarantine. Within a few days, the number of volunteers reached over 400. Being part of this volunteer group has made me feel more hopeful about the future.

My latest research concerns foreign domestic workers in China. This is an extension of my previous studies of internal ethnic Yi labour migrants. As with many African immigrants in China, southeast Asian migrant domestic workers have also been subject to the ‘Three Illegals’ category. During the pandemic, face-to-face meetings are not possible, so my plan of conducting fieldwork has been postponed. Instead, I sometimes talk with a few familiar informants via WeChat to say hello and comfort those feeling anxious.

Many of them, especially those working part time, have lost their jobs. In their neighbourhoods they are now more frequently inspected by the community guards and in public spaces more likely to be stopped by the police, though they find subtle ways to avoid them. Being unable to follow the ever-changing government information in Chinese has caused them many difficulties. If Chinese internal migrant works are only just noticed by local civil society organisations, undocumented foreign migrant workers in China are completely out of sight. So far, the Chinese government has not issued any specific policies regarding undocumented migrants, though a few local news reports state that some have been repatriated to their home countries.

Personally, a big change in my life is that I recently became a mum. My baby girl is seven months now. Her arrival cheered me up and enriched my life with love and intimacy during the lockdown period. Like many working mothers, I am facing the challenge of balancing work with caring, production and reproduction. The struggle of motherhood, precarious academic work and the embodied existence of gender inequalities, all magnified by the pandemic, are not something I read from literature, but experience in everyday life. Being a mum gives me more empathy with many working-class women I have studied and will conduct research with, especially those who have to shoulder the responsibility of family and work, and are struggling to feed their families in the pandemic. I have the privilege of working from home, but many of them cannot afford to do so. We all need to explore our agencies and form solidarity with others.

We are required to keep our physical distance during COVID-19, but many new ways are opening up for people to be socially connected. In China and many other countries, a lot of open-access webinars are now being held. The beacon of knowledge, previously bound by the wall of the university system, is leaking to wider audiences. As Bridget wrote in her earlier blog, ‘we do need to build our intellectual and affective community so we can learn from and support each other’.

The outbreak of the pandemic urges people to think beyond their familiar world, to find connections and to overcome the isolation and individualisation of our age. I am happy to share my observation of migrant workers in my country as well as my personal experience during this time with friends whom I both know or have not yet met.

Xinrong Ma has a PhD in Chinese Studies from Leiden University, The Netherlands. She is currently a postdoctoral researcher at Sun Yet-Sen University, Guangzhou, China. She can be contacted at maxr5@mail.sysu.edu.cn.

On being a space invader: negotiating whiteness in education

By Evelyn Miller.

Poster for Juice, the online South Asian collective and magazine (2020)

I am a first-year sociology student at the University of Bristol, and a mixed South Asian woman, my mum being of Malaysian and Mauritian descent and my dad being of English and Irish descent. This blog sketches out the troubles I have experienced in white-majority educational institutions to show why it’s important for university staff and students and to challenge practices that reproduce structures of elitism, whiteness, and masculinity

Before secondary school, I lived in Woking on a diverse council estate with lots of friends and similar families nearby. As I started secondary school, we moved to Godalming, an almost entirely white and middle-class area in Surrey. Our house is on a road that was originally wholly council owned. Set in the Surrey hills, it is not your typical council estate, but a stigma is still attached to living there. Meanwhile, being one of the only families of colour in the town has made us hyper-visible. We are positioned as ‘other’ and our presence is often met with racism and hostility. I remember other children shouting, ‘go back home!’ at my younger sister, aged 10 at the time, as she walked the dog in the first few months of living there. At school and college, I experienced more subtle and institutional racism. There, I did not simply study for my GCSEs and A Levels but was also forced to learn about the inequalities and hierarchies of race and class that positioned me as an ‘other’.

At my state school, I was one of a small minority of people of colour. Even though I often academically outperformed my peers, it seemed I constantly had to prove my ability, while my peers who presented as outwardly middle-class and white were simply assumed to be able. Disappointed by a curriculum that did not reflect my own experiences as a woman of colour, I took it upon myself to bring my views and experiences into my work. For instance, when a small group of us were tasked with writing a satirical article for an AS Level in Creative Writing, I wrote about my frustration at my teachers consistently calling me Moli (another South Asian girl in the year) rather than Evelyn. I titled the article ‘The difference is written all over our faces’, but it met with ridicule from both my Creative Writing peers and my teacher, who even joked about calling me Moli in the feedback. I think the only person who made me feel ‘seen’ at school after reading this was Moli herself.

The painful invalidation of my voice and experience continued as I studied for A Levels. My final Art project explored the identities of women of colour through a series of portraits. By sharing this project beyond college, I met lots of other artists of colour, took part in exhibitions, and founded a South Asian collective and magazine, Juice. Yet my art teacher dismissed the project entirely, suggesting I should just focus on portraiture and my artistic technique. Though disheartened, I ignored him and dedicated my Personal Essay and final piece to discussing the representation and agency of women of colour in the art world. I achieved an A*. Though my teacher praised my work, he never acknowledged the importance of the themes I was exploring.

drawings of faces
Evelyn’s A-Level Art sketchbook (2019)

Nirmal Puwar’s book Space Invaders: Race, Gender and Bodies Out of Place with its analysis of the dynamics of in/visibility experienced by people of colour in white-majority institutions captures my experience at school and college in Godalming. I hoped that in moving to Bristol to study sociology I would leave behind my sense of being a space invader. But I was disappointed to find the core modules offered to first year students still prioritise the theories and thought of white sociologists, especially white men, and often completely overlook the critical work of scholars and activists of colour who had inspired my interest in sociology. In some cases, all the essential readings were by white authors. How can I, or any women of colour, find our place as sociologists whilst being taught that thinking sociologically is almost exclusively a thought process of white men?

Postcolonial feminist thought was introduced, but in a module on global sociology, as if such thinking is only relevant to global issues. Nonetheless, it was refreshing and exciting to study the works of women of colour, although ironically my seminar tutor misgendered the sociologist Gurminder Bhambra, referring to her using the pronouns he/him. Other seminar tutors have been key to my happiness and success this year, however. They have provided me with support and additional readings prioritising intersectional thought, and they have given me hope that we can create radical anti-racist and feminist spaces within the university.

When people of colour question the overwhelming whiteness of British universities, Sara Ahmed says, they are often heard as speaking about themselves, being too ‘subjective’, rather than speaking about wider structures of inequality. But the sociological imagination, as famously defined by C. Wright Mills, demands ‘the vivid awareness of the relationship between personal experience and the wider society’ – personal troubles are inherently public issues. My ‘personal troubles’ described above connect to a public problem, namely the fact that schools, colleges and universities are not ‘neutral’ spaces of learning but continue to take whiteness as the norm and reproduce classed, raced and gendered hierarchies, marginalising minority groups.

Anti-racism activists and scholars have worked for centuries, and continue to work, both within and outside of institutions, to challenge racist systems, policies and practices. Gurminder Bhambra recently presented a radical argument for decolonising universities, the ‘home of the coloniser, in the heart of establishment’, including greater attention to anti-racist practice within universities. It is important for students as well as staff to get involved in MMB’s Anti-Racist Network so that we can collectively explore what it means to decolonise the university and how to do it, as well as wider issues of racism and how to combat them.

Evelyn Miller is studying a BA in Sociology at the University of Bristol. She is a co-founder and the creative director of Juice, an online platform for sharing the lived experience of the South Asian diaspora.

Please contact Julia O’Connell Davidson if you would like more information about MMB’s Anti-Racist Network.

Are transnational marriages bad for integration?

By Sarah Spencer

The belief that marriage partners from less developed countries are bad for ‘integration’ is firmly held by European policy makers. With pressure to curb immigration, that concern has conveniently justified raising the bar for spouses to enter.

Marriage Migration and Integration (2020) interrogates that assumption with substantial evidence from an ESRC-funded study on transnational marriages in two of the largest minority communities in the UK: Pakistani Muslims and Indian Sikhs. Negative discourses focus on Muslim marriages in particular – hence the value of the comparison the study provides.

Led by Katharine Charsley (University of Bristol) in collaboration with Oxford colleagues, the study uncovered the first clear evidence of a fall in the number of transnational marriages in both groups. Yet around half British Pakistani Muslims and a quarter of British Indian Sikhs currently have partners from the Indian subcontinent.

Coined a ‘first generation in every generation’, the assumption is that the new family member, with less egalitarian social norms, drags social progress back from modern values; and that they are individuals whose lack of education and skills will impede their own integration and that of their partner and future children.

Yet the evidence supporting that assertion is limited; and uses problematic notions of ‘integration’, a concept rightly subject in recent years to severe critiques. This study used a ‘whole society’ concept and new definition of integration that recognises the crucial role played by the opportunities and barriers individuals face, and the differing pace and impact of integration processes across different spheres of life. The ways in which experiences in one sphere, such as employment, impact on others is a constant theme in the substantial analysis of the Labour Force Survey and qualitative interview data which form the backbone of the book.

A wedding couple hold hands in Lahore (photo: Kahdija Yousaf)

Writing about integration is like untangling a complicated knot—identifying the strands and teasing apart their relationships to each other. Pulling one strand or another first will expose particular sets of inter-relationships in a different order. In this case, to disentangle the impact of transnational marriage among other factors, the study explored the trajectories of a unique sampling of sibling pairs: couples in which both partners are UK born or raised and transnational couples where one partner came to the UK as an adult. The research design focused on families in which both couples could be found.

Exploring experiences in employment, education, extended family living, social networks and participation in community life, along with gender roles and belonging, the findings not surprisingly reveal a diversity of experiences that include – but also significantly depart from the simplistic characterisations of the trope.

Debunking myths

  • While some migrant wives take on a domestic role, many are keen to, and do, engage in the labour market. While some migrant spouses prefer to speak their first language, English is also often used. Language use is varied and contextual.
  • Transnational marriage can reinforce patriarchal gender expectations, but can lead to greater autonomy for a British woman, releasing her from the expectations faced when in-laws are close at hand. Her husband, moreover, is reliant on her for local knowledge and support.
  • Transnational marriage is associated with higher rates of extended family living, assumed to be a marker of patriarchal traditionalism; but it also brings benefits: sharing expenses helps compensate for low incomes and allows saving for investment in property and business.
  • Significant proportions of migrant spouses have post-secondary education, but can face barriers to translating educational capital into labour market outcomes. The workplace can be an important source of social contacts; but for wives not in work networks can nevertheless expand through their children’s school, language classes and community groups.
  • Retaining an identity with the country of origin does not inhibit full engagement in the UK. A sense of national identity, however, does not always come with participation in other spheres, and can be inhibited or reverse following experiences of discrimination.
  • Crucially, some experiences are not the result of transnational marriage at all but of the couple’s stage in their life course: marriage leading, as for others, to new roles and responsibilities including child-rearing. Reliance on family, a narrowing of social networks, lack of time for further education or civic participation, reflect a stage in the life course here, not migration.

Spouses face similar challenges to other migrants, but they have one advantage – a family who can provide knowledge, support and connections. Most migrant husbands find work through family contacts. Families’ resources and attitudes are, however, not uniform. For newcomers, information, signposting and support to reduce reliance on relatives for awareness of opportunities would help, as would more flexible opportunities to access language classes.

The irony of a simplistic portrayal of transnational marriage is that it reinforces the negative stereotypes that are themselves a barrier to integration. It should be possible to address gender inequality, and advocate services, without denigrating the family practices of entire ethnic groups. Instead of finger-pointing at newcomers, we could focus on unlocking the assets people bring – the under-use of migrants’ educational qualifications for instance – and the benefits of facilitating the full participation of all residents in the country’s economic, social, cultural and political life.

Sarah Spencer is Director of Strategy and a Senior Fellow at the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), University of Oxford, and was Director of the Global Exchange on Migration and Diversity until 2019. This post was first published by COMPAS on 06/06/2020 following the publication of Marriage Migration and Integration (2020).

 

Sweden faces COVID-19 with a neoliberal elderly care system and a racialised labour market

Letter from Afar – the blog series about life and research in the time of COVID-19.

By Anders Neergaard.

Dear friends,

Reading newspapers every day and strolling around the streets and parks of Malmö (Sweden) I watch people trying to live with the pandemic. It’s scary as a human being but interesting as a sociologist. It raises so many questions that need further research. Being who I am, I often study a phenomenon or practice in terms of how class, gender and racialisation affect people. Thus, this blog post is about how inequalities intersect with the pandemic health strategies of elderly care, mobility and migration.

In newspapers around the world (such as The Guardian, El País and Página 12) Sweden is making headlines as one of few countries that have not implemented legislated lockdowns of society, instead trying instructions and recommendations for physical distancing (please do not call it social distancing, as we are trying to maintain social closeness in times of physical distance). Is this Swedish approach an experiment, and if so, what will be the consequences compared to other strategies? While these are important questions, we need more time and better material to be able to answer such questions.

Instead, I want to focus on two particular, and partially connected, aspects of what seems to be an Achilles heel in limiting the consequences of the pandemic. One concerns the neo-liberalised care of the elderly in Sweden, and the other the racialised (often of migrants) class structure.

Two elderly people in wheelchairs sit at a table waiting to be served
Elderly residents of a care home in Sweden. Image: Elitsha

One of the few things we know about COVID-19 is that it aggressively targets the elderly. Thus, the organisation of elderly care is at the core of understanding who dies and why in the pandemic. Most people would argue that care of the elderly is a central aspect of humane societies (despite the fact raised by many economists that their direct contribution to the economy often stops with retirement). Thus, we have some forms of organised elderly care, but it is rarely an area of priority in politics. The elderly care system was far from being good during the heydays of the social democratic welfare state, but the neoliberal re-regulation (using privatisation) (Peck 2004), New Public Management and shrinking municipal taxation (in Sweden the municipalities are formally responsible for care of the elderly) has created a system based on scarcity, just-in-time services and profits (Szebehely 2017). Consequently, elderly care is characterised by employees who have to care for numerous elderly people, elderly people receiving care who have to meet many employees and an austere elderly care infrastructure (Behtoui et al. 2016). In times of the COVID-19 pandemic, this mean that elderly care is a hotbed for the spread of the virus.

Another way of showing the vulnerability of elderly care services is by looking at its care workers (I focus on paid care work, but we shouldn’t forget that a substantial part is carried out by daughters or other female relatives as unpaid work). Within this group, assistant nurses (by far the most prevalent job in elderly care in Sweden) are disproportionately represented by women and racialised workers, both women and men (often migrants) whose role intersects with poor working conditions, low wages and discrimination (Behtoui et al. 2020).

This reflects the gendered and racialised Swedish class structure, meaning that women in general and racialised men and women (many migrants or children to migrants) in particular are overrepresented within the working class, and are overrepresented in working class jobs that have lower wages and poorer working conditions (Neergaard 2018).

What does this have to do with elderly care and the COVID-19 pandemic? In answering, I would like to highlight two key points. In this pandemic two particular categories of jobs with low wages and poor working conditions are important in making the society function but are also highly exposed to COVID-19 and thus to spreading it. The first, mentioned above, are assistant nurses directly involved in caring for the elderly and in containing the virus. The second is the more general category of service workers, especially bus and taxi drivers and ticket inspectors of public transport, but also workers in retail and restaurants. Both these groups work in economically underfunded services, are highly exposed to COVID-19 in their daily work and have been neglected when it comes to protective equipment and instructions for avoiding contagion.

Furthermore, if one of these workers is infected with the virus, then the chance of continued infections is substantial due to their housing situation. In a recent analysis of Statistics Sweden, it was shown that almost one in three immigrants from countries outside Europe, who have been in Sweden for less than ten years, lives in a home with more than two people per bedroom. The corresponding figure for persons born in Sweden, with at least one domestic-born parent, is 2 per cent. Many of these immigrant households are three-generation families that include elderly grandparents due to the difficulties of finding adequate housing among the lower and racially discriminated sections of the working class (SCB 2019).

We don’t yet know when robust statistics will be produced that show Sweden’s excess mortality in the era of COVID-19, although preliminary statistics show a strong overrepresentation of elderly within care, as well as migrant and racialised workers and their parents. However, we shouldn’t focus only on the government’s interventions to contain the pandemic. What I have argued in this short text is that the combination of a neoliberal elderly care regime with a racialised (and gendered) working class structure seems also to be a central factor in explaining why the elderly in care, and the elderly within racialised families, have been more exposed to COVID-19 in Sweden.

Anders Neergaard is Professor in the Department of Culture and Society and Director of the Institute for Research on Migration, Ethnicity and Society (REMESO) at Linköping University, Sweden. His research focuses on inequality, power and resistance, especially related to discrimination, migration, racialisation and racism.