Privatising Asylum: Neoliberal Bordering and the Urban Governance of Forced Migration

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 11:35
Location: Hörsaal 31 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Jonathan DARLING, University of Manchester, United Kingdom
This paper critically examines the political geography of asylum accommodation in the UK, arguing that in the regulation of urban housing and support services for asylum seekers, we witness the entrenchment of practical and discursive borders designed to manage those on the thresholds of the state. In 2010, the UK Home Office announced that it would be passing contracts to provide accommodation and reception services for asylum seekers to a series of private providers. This meant the end of asylum housing through urban authorities. This paper explores the impact of this shift for those seeking asylum. The paper draws on fieldwork in four cities, including interviews with local authorities, politicians, asylum support services and asylum seekers themselves. In considering this evidence base, the paper argues that as the realities of ‘austerity urbanism’ have interacted with the privatisation of support, so we are witnessing the emergence of new assemblages of authority, policy and governance at the urban level. These new assemblages are marked by the production of new forms of social, symbolic and discursive bordering for those seeking asylum – as the welfare of an already liminal population is further removed from public view and accountability in line with a neoliberal framing of asylum as an emergent 'market'. A limited concern with the social needs of asylum seekers, has been replaced with an increasingly revanchist and experimental policy agenda that seeks to maximise the economic gains to be made from accommodation. In this context, the framing of asylum seekers as a ‘burden’ emerges as a central discursive and symbolic achievement of the neoliberal politics of accommodation. Framing asylum seekers as a ‘burden’ represents both a move to position asylum as a managerial issue, and at the same time reiterates an economic account of asylum as a question of resource allocation, cost and productivity.