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Sanctuary Practices in Scandinavian Transnational Cities: The Case of Public Libraries


The article explores sanctuary practices within public institutions by examining instances where public libraries in Denmark (Copenhagen), Norway (Oslo) and Sweden (Malmö and Stockholm) open up their services for persons who lack residence permits on state territory (so-called irregular migrants). Public libraries are understood to be protected public spheres where the right to information and the freedom of expression are safeguarded. Such spaces, where rights are provided, as Hannah Arendt famously pointed out in her reflections over statelessness, are primarily open to citizens. Hence, when public libraries offer their services to irregularized migrants, this is a demonstration of how public institutions representing the sovereign may engage in contestations of deportation regimes produced by the sovereign. Such ‘enactments of sanctuary’, or ‘acts of citizenship’ in the city, open up new meanings of Arendt’s notion of ‘the right to have rights’. Through an in-depth case study in Malmö, Sweden, this article suggests that a new role is emerging for municipal institutions as providers of ‘transnational’ rights decoupled from any territorial basis. Rather than being linked to nationhood, the institutional role in democracies may be constitutive of rights in local contexts, in this case the protected right to access library services. An equally progressive development can be found in Norway; however, this is not the case in Denmark which could be understood as a reflection of Denmark’s more restrictive approach to immigration in general.