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The deportation continuum: convergences between state agents and NGO workers in the Dutch deportation field

Pages 34-49 | Received 12 Feb 2015, Accepted 02 Sep 2015, Published online: 05 Nov 2015


The social field in which deportations of illegalized migrants are operationalized is often perceived to be comprised of two opposing sides that together form a deportation regime: on the one side, street-level state agents, on the other side, civil-society actors. Focusing ethnographically on deportation case managers and NGO workers in the Netherlands, a country known for its consensus politics, our study reveals significant convergences in the manners that illegalized migrants are treated by both sides in usage of terminology, handling of face-to-face interactions and worldviews on issues like belonging and justice. Given these convergences, we argue that the field in which deportation is being negotiated and practiced amounts to a continuum formed by state agents and NGO actors. We argue that a deportation continuum is underlined by shared political subjectivities and creates a sealed-off political realm that restricts the initiatives of activist citizens, imaginaries of citizenship and alternatives for deportation policies.


For valuable feedback on earlier drafts, the authors would like to thank Willem van Schendel, Walter Nichols and the two anonymous reviewers of the journal.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.


1. We choose the term ‘illegalized migrants’ to underscore the process by which states move to categorize and treat certain people as being ‘illegal’. These people can be failed asylum seekers, undocumented migrants, visa over-stayers and migrants with a criminal record. They all face the threat of deportation whenever apprehended by state authorities.

2. The commonly used term ‘migration management’, introduced in 1993 by the Commission of the United Nations to improve governmental cooperation in the regulation of migration, only further depoliticizes the political project behind the extreme measures taken by states to secure their borders (Geiger and Pécoud Citation2010).

3. SGR is a fictitious name. We use pseudonyms for all mentioned informants.

4. The Netherlands often takes care for the continuation of medical care only in the first months after repatriation.

5. For more on the co-option of the Dutch Refugee Council through financial means, see Habraken et al. (Citation2013).

6. See www.vfi.nl/website/branche-informatie/brancheonderzoek/feiten-en-cijfers/salarissen-directeuren-goede-doelenorganisaties [viewed 9 January 2015].

Additional information


This work was supported by the European Research Council [ERC-Starting grant 336319]; Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek [grant number W 07.04.104].

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