Links und Funktionen



Return to Pakistan

The Political Economy of the Emotions of Return Migration

Germany became a desirable destination country for irregularised migrants from Pakistan between 2015 and 2018. Most of these people, usually young men, tried to regularise their residence by applying for asylum. However, overcoming involuntary immobility in this manner is not easy, and only a few can make a “credible” case for political or religious persecution according to the local asylum laws. An overwhelming majority of Pakistani asylum applicants––nine out of every ten––are denied asylum in Germany every year. Between 2016 and 2019, a record total of 32,080 first-instance Pakistani applicants were considered “undeserving” of refuge and refused asylum in Germany. Under such circumstances, removal efforts in the form of deportation and “voluntary” returns increased. The removal of these irregularised migrants is not only seen as a solution to deal with their “irregular” and unwanted presence in Germany but supposedly also serves as means to deter aspiring “economic migrants” from coming to the country.

In this context, the project studies the removal processes of irregularised Pakistani migrants and their experiences of removal from Germany. In doing so, it complements a growing body of anthropological knowledge and ethnographic research on forced returns that focuses mainly on Africa and Latin America. In conjunction, it also studies strategies and resistance on the part of irregularised migrants to avoid removal, for instance, the secondary migration of irregularisecd Pakistanis to Italy, in order to avoid deportation from Germany.Framing migration, like all social pursuits, as intrinsically linked to diverse and complex emotions, the project takes a holistic approach to migration and particularly relational desires, pressures and strategies of people to overcome involuntary immobility. In a world where the efforts of overcoming involuntary immobility are by and large illegalised and irregularised, the project not only problematises the assumption that migration of so-called “economic migrants” is solely based on rational economic interests but demonstrates the functioning of an entangled emotional economy of migration and return.

The ethnographic fieldwork for this research was carried out in Bavaria, Germany; Punjab, Pakistan; and Northern Italy. In 2019, the research began by investigating the complex and often confusing situation of irregularised Pakistani migrants (primarily “rejected” asylum applicants) denied the right to stay in Germany. In this phase, it focused on the politics of deportation and the bureaucratic administration of “voluntary” return programs employed to encourage and expedite Pakistanis to leave Germany. Subsequently, using affect as an analytical lens in conjunction with temporality, the research shifted its focus to the experiences of removal. To this end, by working with (1) irregularised Pakistani migrants facing removal in Germany, (2) those who fled to Italy to avoid deportation from Germany and (3) deportees, but primarily returnees back in Pakistan, it studied the interconnected affects and temporalities that removal unfurls. In doing so, the project makes the micro-political, socio-cultural and religious lifeworlds of irregularised Pakistani migrants the locus of attention within the broader macro-politics of migration. Amongst other issues, it unpacks the critical role of Islam and destiny in the precarious migratory lives of irregularised migrants.

Project team: Prof. Dr. Martin Sökefeld, Usman Mahar (MA)

The project is funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, 2019 - 2023. Grants no. SO 435/14-1 and SO 435/14-2

Project workshop: Islam, Deportation and Return: Removal Experiences of Muslim Irregularised Migrant. 14. - 15. Oktober 2022.


Mahar, Usman. 2020. Is the Pandemic a Chance to Challenge Global Inequality? In: Sapiens / Anthropology Magazine.

Mahar, Usman. 2020. Inducing Return to Pakistan: "Voluntary" return programs in Germany. The South Asianist Journal, 7, 57-70.

Mahar, Usman. 2020. The Management of Refugee Repatriation: How Voluntary are ‘Voluntary’ Returns from Germany? In: Makki, Muhammad; Azam, Aizah; Akash, Syed Ali; Khan, Faryal (eds.): Forced Migration and Conflict-Induced Displacement: Impacts and Prospective Responses. Islamabad: NUST Press: 21-36.

Mahar, Usman. 2021. When “Voluntary” Return Is Not a Real Option for Asylum-Seekers. In: Sapiens / Anthropology Magazine.

Mahar, Usman. 2021. Österreich will Musa nicht. Hinterland 50: 70-72 (in German).

Mahar, Usman. 2023. Migratory Masculinities and Vulnerabilities: Temporality and Affect in the Lives of Irregularised Pakistani Men. In Stahl, Garth and Zhao, Yang (eds.), Migratory Men: Place, Transnationalism and Masculinities. London: Routledge, 236-252.

Sökefeld, Martin. 2019. Nations Rebound: German Politics of Deporting Afghans. In: International Quarterly for Asian Studies, Vol. 50: 91-118.

Sökefeld, Martin. 2020. Forced Migration, the Other Way Round? The Politics of Deporting Afghans from Germany. In: Makki, Muhammad; Aizah Azam; Syed Ali Akash; Faryal Khan (eds.): Forced Migration and Conflict-Induced Displacement: Impacts and Prospective Responses. Islamabad, NUST Press: 1-20.

Sökefeld, Martin. 2021. Die versuchte Abschiebung der Realität. Hinterland 50: 19-21 (in German).

Sökefeld, Martin. 2022. Grenzsspektakel und Abschiebungen. In: Schellhammer, Barbara; Lena Schützle (eds.): Philosophie der Grenze. Darmstadt, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft: 196-207. (In German)

Sökefeld, Martin. 2022. Letting Die: The Spectacle of Deporting Afghans from Germany. Ethnoscripts 24: 242-

Sökefeld, Martin. 2022. Sterben lassen: Das Spektakel der Abschiebung von Afghan:innen aus Deutschland.
Ethnoscripts 24: 267-295. (Übersetzung von “Letting die”)

Interview with Usman Mahar in Spiegel Online: "Die Idee der freiwilligen Rückkehr ad absurdum geführt" (in German)

Verantwortlich für den Inhalt: Martin Sökefeld