Are borders the same for everyone?

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "any person has the right to leave any country, including his own". However, mobility, as a universal right, is not guaranteed for everyone. For the inhabitants of southern-hemisphere countries, due to a lack of resources, due also to not being able to obtain the necessary visas or authorisations, the borders remain closed. For citizens of developed countries, the border represents the prospect of travel, discovery, encounters or jobs. And nowadays, retirement. It is easier for western tourists to leave for Marrakech, Ouagadougou, Shanghai or New Delhi than for Africans, Asians or Turks to visit family, go shopping or be tourists in Paris or London.

Go No Go, Les Frontières de l'Europe 1998-2002.
Go No Go, Les Frontières de l'Europe 1998-2002. Border of Ceuta, Spanish enclave in Morocco, 2001. Black and white silver print on baryta paper, 60 x 80 cm. Musée national de l'histoire et des cultures de l'immigration, CNHI © Ad Van Denderen / Agence Vu'

Open borders

After centuries of being imprecise and shifting, the border’s role as line of separation and control was asserted in the 19th century. With the creation of Nation-states and the rise of international migrations, States have reinforced their military, customs and trade control, and also their control over migrations, distinguishing the "inside" from the "outside", the "we" from the "others". The construction of the European space led to the elimination of national borders in favour of the borders of the Schengen Area (set up in 1995, grouping together 26 European countries), although the recent “migration” crises, and the health crisis, have led to a return of national borders. Since 2005, the Frontex agency has been in charge of coordinating European border protections

Obstacle borders

Whereas the European countries within the Schengen Area had formed a free circulation area for over 25 years, the continent has experienced the return of borders, in the form of security, migration or health controls and the erection of walls and barbed wire, as in Hungary, Slovenia, Greece and Poland. Hence some 1,000 kilometres of walls have been put up since 1989. The barriers are also maritime (sea controls), technological (tracking and surveillance) and legal, notably through policies of visa attribution or non-attribution. Moreover, this is one of the most blatant forms of inequality. Two-thirds of the world’s population are subject to visa obligations. This injustice is justified by the “migration risk” that they would represent. Of course this mainly concerns travel from South to North, and not the other way round. Nevertheless, travellers from the northern hemisphere arriving in the Tropics may encounter other types of inequality on-site, as Catherine Withol de Wenden reminds us: “naturalisation is difficult or even impossible, no political rights for foreigners, access to property is sometimes restricted”.
Whereas a French passport serves as an “open sesame” providing entry into 186 countries, an Iraqi passport provides access to only 28 countries… This inequality – injustice – is allowing people-smuggling networks to prosper, while the suffering, dangers and drama facing candidates for travel or exile are increasing.
Frontiers are also moving beyond the limits of the EU: to bordering countries and countries that “clandestine” migrants transit through like Morocco or Algeria. Outsourcing, which helps keep these migrants at a distance, consists in delegating management of migration flows to transit countries or countries of origin. This basically amounts to exporting the border, extending control and distance, restricting freedom of circulation, obliging migrants to take new, longer, more dangerous and more expensive routes. Borders are becoming more lucrative for the networks of people-smugglers and other fake-document manufacturers.
Elsewhere, other borders are being reinforced, rejecting and killing, like the roughly 75 walls erected across the world covering around 40,000 km. In 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world counted… 6 walls. Today, they are being put up between the USA and Mexico, between Israel and the West Bank, in the Western Sahara, they also include the electrified fences surrounding the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, between Botswana and Zimbabwe, between India and Bangladesh, India and Pakistan… The latest initiative dates back to February 20th 2022 and comes from the Dominican Republic, which decided to build a wall 164-km long, almost 4 metres high and interspersed with 70 watchtowers, to “control” immigration from Haiti.

One word, different meanings

The globalisation of migration is transforming the border into a meeting space from which new and composite identities are emerging. It moves between individuals and distinguishes status as different as foreigner and national, naturalised French citizen and long-established French citizen, regular immigrant and undocumented immigrant, immigrant from EU states and the others… The border can exclude or expand; bring closer or separate; place under house arrest or welcome; separate status, accord different rights, advantages for some, discrimination for others; divide between "insiders" and "outsiders". The border can be a rejection line or a welcome space.

Mustapha Harzoune, 2022

Source: Catherine de Withol de Wenden, Hommes & Libertés, No. 179, September 2017