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Racist and classist politics behind increased homelessness among asylum-seekers in Europe

A bed and blankets set up outside on a street.

Welfare policies across the continent are becoming increasingly nationalistic and exclusive toward racialised and poor non-citizens.

A socio-legal paper published in Critical Social Policy finds that social services in Sweden and Italy are increasingly ignoring asylum-seekers, undocumented migrants, and internal European migrants when reporting cases of homelessness. The practice bars poor, racialised, asylum-seeking migrants from housing aid and other welfare programmes, forcing many to live on the streets with deteriorating mental and physical health.
The researchers behind the article assert that these migrants are excluded from welfare services to make them leave the country. Two increasingly accepted ideologies justify such policies: welfare nationalism and welfare chauvinism. Together, they posit that poor, racialised migrants - particularly from the Middle East and Africa - threaten the political and economic stability of the nation-state by burdening the welfare system.

In Italy, austerity reforms have gradually created a fragmented welfare system and politicised migrants' access to it. Right-wing sentiments have gained popularity and given rise to slogans such as Prima gli italiani ("Italians first"), which reflect a welfare chauvinist position. Additionally, homelessness is a municipal issue, creating inconsistencies in social housing policies across the nation, leaving many migrants to rely on NGOs for shelter and healthcare.

Sweden exemplified the political trend when responding to Syrian refugees arriving in Europe in 2015. A 2016 amendment to the law regulating the reception of asylum-seekers withdrew migrants' access to housing and financial support in the case of a rejected asylum application. It left migrants in the process of appealing a negative asylum decision - or those otherwise stuck in migration bureaucracy limbo - destitute.
"As a result of these restrictions, [many migrants] are rendered poor, sometimes even destitute; and their destitution is then instrumentalised to demonstrate that they do indeed present a threat to the welfare model," write article authors Enrico Giansanti, Annika Lindberg and Martin Joormann.
The researchers also find that contemporary migration regimes in the EU rely on repression to deter asylum-seekers, trapping them in instability and poverty and forcing them to move between nations. The matter is often underreported. But Giansanti, Lindberg and Joormann urge scientists, practitioners and policymakers to openly question welfare nationalism and chauvinism and conceptualise homelessness as a result of politics.


Read "The status of homelessness: Access to housing for asylum-seeking migrants as an instrument of migration control in Italy and Sweden" on Sage Journals website.