Unlikely Partners? Collaboration and Shared Interests Among Immigration Bureaucracy and NGO in Germany

Monday, 11 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 07 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Tobias EULE, University of Bern, Switzerland
Immigration management and local migration-related NGO are often seen as conflicting partners within the field of immigration control. While the former are usually described as focussing on restrictive law enforcement and having a criminalising attitude towards migration, the latter are seen as advocates of immigrants and partly implicit in irregular arrangements that seek to skirt state control. However, in Germany, immigration control agents and NGO representatives increasingly find themselves on similar sides of arguments, and can even be seen collaborating against other parts of state bureaucracy. This is true even for cases around irregular migration and asylum claims. Based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork with both immigration officials and NGO employees, the paper shows that migration control is not a simple encounter between static actors with opposing political views, but rather a complex contested field in which different actors can bridge political divides to build relatively stable political alliances. This is often of advantage for everyone involved: NGO actors are able to access bureaucrats more easily and, perhaps crucially, to increase their credibility to attain state funding. Similarly, immigration officials are able to avoid open political confrontations and "bad press", and can even instrumentalise NGO for critiques of federal policies. However, these alliences should not be seen as everlasting, but rather momentary and relatively instable, depending on case and political context. In this sense, immigration officials and NGO representatives should be seen as convivial sparring partners rather than classic antagonists.