A lot of work in Forced Migration Studies focuses on questions of entrance and admission: Who should states allow into their territories? How long can these arrivals stay and under what conditions? Yet equally important is the topic of removal. What happens when we switch our focus to the plight of those individuals who are already within state boundaries but whom the state wishes to expel?

We often hear of people who are deported for committing serious crimes but the majority of deportations in fact affect asylum applicants whose appeals for refugee status have been rejected. The use of deportation has increased considerably in recent years. In the 1980s, the number of all deportations (not limited to asylum seekers) from the UK averaged around 2000 per year and never exceeded 4500 yet Home Office figures show that in the year ending in March 2016, 13,265 individuals were forcibly removed from the UK. Figures and statistics of course describe deportation at a distance and in sanitised language but in reality this activity involves a considerable amount of force, coercion and violence – in Germany the use of restraints including hand and foot cuffs in deportation flights increased nearly tenfold from 135 instances in 2015 to 1,231 in 2018.

As Matthew Gibney (a scholar whose recent work focuses on deportation) points out, no one really fits the description of a forced migrant as well as the deportee. Given this, he argues, it is surprising how legitimate deportation seems to be – liberal democratic states appear able to easily defend the practice of deportation by asserting that it is carried out in accordance with domestic and international law and by arguing that it is only applied for specific violations of immigration or criminal law.

Often, however, it helps to peer behind these defences and to examine just how much power the state exercises in these cases. Deportation is frequently decided by a government’s executive, meaning that the deportation order only needs to run through a very simple legal process with reduced rights to trial, legal representation or appeal. Sometimes there need be no legal process at all. Focusing on deportation, then, might prompt us to think about the power states possess over removal as well as entry, to question how legitimate this power might be and to assess how defences of deportation are constructed and presented.

Further Reading and Resources

Government statistics relating to expulsion and return can be found here:

Matthew Gibney’s article for Refugee Survey Quarterly explores why the practice of deportation is generally ignored by forced migration scholars: He also explains his research project on expulsion in a brief video here:

Dr Emanuela Paoletti’s working paper examines the limitations placed on deportation by focusing on foreign nationals liable to deportation whom the state cannot deport:

There are several interesting podcasts on deportation – a BBC programme exploring the story of people deported to Jamaica ( and a discussion of the ‘Deportation Machine’ in the United States (


Published by Discussing Displacement

Discussing Displacement is a blog dedicated to explaining some of the key ideas and arguments within Refugee and Forced Migration Studies.

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