Passports and permits are only a part of former refugees’ citizenship

New doctoral research explores how people from refugee backgrounds experience citizenship and how they navigate their everyday lives before and after their legal status is regularised.

How do people with a refugee background live their everyday lives? What are their experiences of time linked with refugeehood and citizenship? What do their experiences imply for researchers?

In her doctoral research Camilla Marucco Al-Mimar interviewed many people with refugee backgrounds, who arrived from Somalia and Iraq to Finland through unprivileged migration routes. For many of them, getting a residence permit and citizenship was a key priority. However, mainly due to changes in the law and in its interpretation, in the past ten years it has become increasingly difficult to receive asylum or other residence permits in Finland. Asylum and permit processes can easily take years of people’s lives. For many, the waiting period is marked by uncertainty, worries about the future, one’s income or family, and a wide range of constraints on everyday life.

– Looking at the everyday lives of people with a refugee background, while the experiences of many interviewees highlight the need to obtain a residence permit or citizenship, it is important to remember that the lives they live are much more than what these legal documents may tell about them. Besides the uncertainty and waiting, many work or seek jobs, study and attend trainings, focus on healing, live family lives and care for their dear ones in Finland and across borders, Marucco Al-Mimar says.

Even after securing a permit or citizenship in Finland, many people with a refugee background have to face racism in everyday interactions – for example in the street, in offices and in places of study, work or leisure.

According to Marucco Al-Mimar, some may think that citizenship belongs only to a remote future for people with a refugee background. In such view, some see integration as a linear process in which migrants should first learn Finnish, then find employment and become independent individuals.

- In reality, however, people with a refugee background enact and live their citizenship every day, regardless of their legal status, by pursuing their various priorities. Their experiences suggest that integration is a path with stalemates, accelerations and drawbacks. Along this path they encounter and connect with many people, together with whom they share their knowledge and enact practices of care.

By conducting research on experiences concerning asylum and permit processes and deportability, Marucco Al-Mimar sees that the Finnish state tends to segregate and “dissect” the lives and identities of people navigating asylum and permit processes.

According to the researcher, many processes treat individuals as if they could be only one thing at a time and be either a refugee, rejected asylum seeker, worker, student or family member, but not more than one of these at a time or anything else than these. These segregating processes can make people dependent on their permit; also, they can make people undocumented or deportable, if their life situation changes and applying for a residence permit on other grounds is increasingly complicated.

The research joins collective experiences and efforts to affirm the humanity of these people and the complexity of their lives. 

– Researchers have the power and responsibility to support knowledge-based and just migration politics. I invite all researchers to re-centre our humanity in academic work and to become aware of the ethical and practical implications of our work. Human rights are indivisible and interdependent and a migration policy based on scientific knowledge and human rights is in the interest of everybody. We all should act collectively for more just and humane migration policies, Marucco Al-Mimar concludes.


MA Camilla Marucco Al-Mimar defends the dissertation in Human Geography titled ”Life before the passport: People with a refugee background navigating everyday life, temporalities and subjectivities between refugeehood and citizenship” at the University of Turku on 07 June 2024 at 12.00 (University of Turku, Publicum, Pub2 Lecture Hall, Assistentinkatu 7, Turku).

Opponent: Adjunct professor Anna-Kaisa Kuusisto (Tampere University)

Custos: Professor Jussi Jauhiainen (University of Turku)

Doctoral Dissertation at UTUPub

The audience can participate in the defence by remote access  (Meeting ID: 626 9169 9521, passcode: 302501). 

Created 04.06.2024 | Updated 04.06.2024