In Limbo

Increasingly, governments regard criminal, or allegedly criminal, immigrants to be undesirable elements in their societies. For years, the United States and Canada have been stripping former Nazis of their citizenship. A growing number of European countries exclude alleged war criminals, terrorists or génocidaires who apply for asylum from refugee protection on the basis of Article 1F Refugee Convention. Progressively, countries deem immigrants who commit serious crimes in their host countries ‘persona non grata’ and there is an increasing call to cancel passports of foreign fighters returning from Syria and Iraq.

In tandem, governments are ever more confronted with hurdles in deporting undesirable immigrants. Practical obstacles or human rights standards may prevent removal, leaving the undesirable but unreturnable immigrant in a state of limbo.

Undesirables in Limbo
Non-citizens who do not have or do not qualify for legal residence in the host country because of (alleged) involvement in serious crimes, whose return or removal to their country of nationality or a third country is not possible for a variety of legal, political and practical reasons.

States have been adopting different strategies to deal with the matter, ranging from expelling the immigrants irrespective of the potential for human rights violations, negotiating bilateral memoranda of understanding with countries of origin, facilitating extradition, prosecution on the basis of universal jurisdiction, promoting relocation to third countries, long term detention, providing restricted leave or simply ‘condoning’ their presence. At times undesirable individuals are like ‘hot potatoes’ sent from one country to another, without any country accepting responsibility.

Building on the research projects Escaping Justice and When Justice is Done, with the project “In Limbo” we expand the scope of the previous research and aim to publish an accessible book for a wider audience. The main argument of the book will be that the world will increasingly be faced with undesirable and unreturnable immigrants living in limbo. The book sketches the historical context on the issue, describes which different groups that end up in limbo, depicts the lives of those living in limbo and discusses past and present policy responses in dealing with limbo-situations.

The project takes a multidisciplinary and empirical approach. Rather than taking a normative stance, it provides an overview of developments and dilemmas, richly illustrated by case studies. Information is obtained by means of an analysis of available academic literature, case law, media coverage and interviews with practitioners and immigrants themselves.

Senior researchers:

Junior researchers:

  • Janek Gulbis
  • Helena Kreiensiek
  • Hajer M’tiri
  • Hossein Mojtahedi
  • Caroline Opperman
  • Flavia Patane
  • Malte Stedtnitz
  • Luna Yperman