Struggles against subjection. Implications of criminalization of migration for migrants’ everyday lives in Europe

An Erratum to this article was published on 30 December 2014


The criminalization of migration has, over the last decade, gained unprecedented focus in migration, criminology and socio-legal literature. Recently, there have been some developments critically revisiting the criminalization thesis, particularly with reference to the European experiences: criminal law might exist ‘on the books’ but quite often it is not actually enforced in immigration practice. Therefore, whilst the incorporation of criminal law into the immigration domain serves mainly symbolic functions to demonstrate a government’s firm grip over immigration control, it also legitimizes a discourse presenting migrants as potential criminals, cheats and abusers. This begs the following question: how do migrants respond to this increasing conflation between criminal and immigration domains in the wider social context? How are the official and public discourses over ‘crimmigrant bodies’ reflected in migrants’ everyday life experiences? Do migrants resist, reproduce or redefine this criminal labelling? I grapple with these questions while qualitatively investigating the experiences of 270 return migrants from four European countries (Norway, Netherlands, the UK and Portugal): migrants’ responses to the stigmatizing force of symbolic criminalisation do not always mean resistance, but, quite often, are placed on a continuum between the contestation and the reproduction of the stigma and the hegemony of the law.

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    See the picture in Appendix A.

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    In the Netherlands, when the detention takes longer than 28 days, the judge of the District Court is compelled to asses this decision, Dutch Aliens 2000, Section 5. Chapter 7, article 94. I am grateful to Heinrich Winter for pointing this out.

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    In particular: C-329/11, Achughbabian; C-61/11, El Dridi, and more recently C-430/11 Sagor.


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Financial support from the NORFACE research program on Migration in Europe—Social, Economic, Cultural, and Policy Dynamics is acknowledged.

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Correspondence to Agnieszka Kubal.

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Appendix A


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Kubal, A. Struggles against subjection. Implications of criminalization of migration for migrants’ everyday lives in Europe. Crime Law Soc Change 62, 91–111 (2014).

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  • Asylum Seeker
  • Return Migrant
  • Undocumented Migrant
  • Detention Centre
  • Immigration Officer