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Mission Impossible?
The Moral Discomfort among Swedish and Norwegian Welfare Bureaucrats Encountering Refugees

Nerina Weiss & Nina Gren

Nordic Welfare Research , 2021

Open access

Forskere på Fafo: Nerina Weiss

This article builds on qualitative interviews with employees in Norwegian and Swedish welfare state institutions and explores how they experience and make sense of their work with newly arrived refugees. The task of these street-level bureaucrats was to care for and simultaneously push the refugees to quickly become working taxpayers. Both as fellow human beings and as bureaucrats, however, our interlocutors struggled when dealing with refugees, who had experienced violence in their homeland or during flight. Experiences of violence and war seldom have a place in bureaucracy and our interlocutors were neither trained nor had the tools to deal with such experiences. We use the concept of moral discomfort to describe a reflective state necessary for the street-level bureaucrats to carry out their jobs in a way they deemed satisfactory. We thus attempt to move beyond simplifying descriptions of indifferent and immoral bureaucrats and point at the complexities and ambiguities of our interlocutors’ work

Mission Impossible?