Journal Article

Dead papers: migrant ‘illegality’, city brokers, and the dilemma of exit for unauthorised African migrants in Delhi

Published 16 July 2021 / By Bani Gill

Back to Publications

Through the empirical optic of ‘dead papers’, this article highlights the lived complexities of documentary regimes in Global South contexts by exploring strategies and responses to the agency of migration documentation past their expiry date.

Drawing upon 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork with African migrants and city-based actors such as property brokers conducted in two unplanned settlements of Delhi between 2015 and 2017, it focuses on the intersections between paperwork, im/mobility, and emergent ‘migration infrastructures’ (Xiang, Biao, and Johan Lindquist. 2014. “Migration Infrastructure.” International Migration Review 48 (1): 122–148) mediating the impermanent trajectories of racialised and legally precarious African migrants in Delhi.

It argues that colonial-era laws that criminalise visa transgressions necessitate flexible strategies of urban navigation for unauthorised migrants and substantially complicate their capacity to return to home contexts.

In this way, the article highlights the role played by property brokers as situated intermediaries critical to urban transformations, whose entrepreneurial ‘connections’ are often instrumental in the facilitation of mobility within the city and beyond. In tracing how the mediations of such localised migration infrastructures regulate broader processes of transnational migration, the article considers ‘new’ entanglements between migrants and city actors as integral to conceptualising exit practices for unauthorised migrants beyond binary oppositions of forced/voluntary movement.


Gill, B. (2021) Dead papers: migrant ‘illegality’, city brokers, and the dilemma of exit for unauthorised African migrants in Delhi, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, DOI: 10.1080/1369183X.2021.1940891