“National values” in asylum and health policies: Presentation at the RESPOND Conference in Cambridge (17-19 Oct 2019)

From 17 to 19 October 2019, I had the opportunity to be among a wide range of scholars from a variety of disciplines – political science, sociology, law, anthropology, history etc. – who gathered at Newnham College, Cambridge University, to discuss recent developments and new insights in the field of migration studies at the international conference “Unpacking the challenges & possibilities of migration governance”. The conference was organised in the context of the Horizon 2020 project “RESPOND: Multilevel Governance of Mass Migration in Europe and Beyond”, which studies “the governance of recent mass migration and its implications for the EU, its Member States and third countries at macro (transnational, national), meso (subnational/local) and micro-levels (refugees/migrants)”.

In ten panels and four keynote speeches, both established and early-career scholars provided much food for thought on recent and future challenges in the context of migration, and on tasks and responsibilities arising thereof for actors in politics, civil society and also the research community. As part of Panel 1: “Governing through uncertainty?”, organised by Veronica Federico and Renato Ibrido (University of Florence), I was excited to present first findings from my current research on migration and health policies in Europe. Specifically, I discussed to what extent certain normative understandings of health – e.g. as human right, legal standard, or social benefit – influence policy provisions for refugees’ and asylum seekers’ health-care access beyond basic checks performed upon arrival in a host country, and emergency care. My paper also shed light on how related policies are shaped by ‘national values’ regarding the state’s general role in the provision of health care, individuals’ claims to and common perceptions of health services e.g. as a benefit which has to be deserved, or as an element of universal protection.

For this paper, I focused on the cases of Germany and Sweden – two countries that stood out among EU member states during the recent so-called ‘migration crisis’ in that they underwent similar processes. Namely, they showed an initial demonstrative openness to incoming asylum seekers, presenting themselves as ‘moral superpowers’ in comparison to other European countries, and taking in comparatively high numbers of refugees. Later, however, both changed their stance towards asylum seekers and refugees under the impression of growing public anxiety vis-à-vis those seeking shelter in Europe. These similar reactions are particularly remarkable considering the fundamental systemic differences of Sweden’s and Germany’s incorporation, welfare and health-care regimes, making a comparative study of these two countries highly insightful in the broader context of the study of migration governance.

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