This is a copy of the talk given by Professor Bridget Anderson in June 2016 to the European Christian Anarchist conference. She is Professor of Migration and Citizenship at Oxford University and director of COMPAS (Centre on Migration, Policy and Society.)

Zingcreed is proud and pleased to be given this script to publish, and hopes it will be circulated widely.It is published on the day that 20,000 people marched through London with placards declaring “Refugees welcome here.” It could not be printed earlier for technical reasons.

“We are a disturbance….because we show you in a terrible way how fragile the world we live in is.”


The UNHCR estimates that more than one milion people entered Europe by sea in 2015 and at least 3,700 drowned. The vast majority of entrants were from the world’s top ten refugee producing countries including Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan (Holland 2015). For over 20 years the outsourcing of migration controls, agreements with source and transit countries, readmission agreements, the creation of migration management policies and facilities in countries of origin and so on have kept the consequences of war and global inequalities largely out of sight. European publics have largely been protected from the practical realities oof forced displacement and economic desperation that is now showing up on holiday beaches.


The responses are schizophrenic both at an institutional and a personal level. The death of Aylan Kurdi was met by widespread Refugees are Welcome demonstrations, and nationalist counter demonstrations and firebombings. Europe has rebordered: between Austria and Germany, Italy and France, Sweden and Denmark, Croatia and Austria, Macedonia and Greece. The EU has trebled spending on border defence and, in December 2015, the establishment of a European Border and Coast Guard to defend Europe’s borders was announced. At the same time states criticised each other for lack of humanitarianism and xenophobia.

We should not forget too that the so-called migrant crisiis followed hot on the heels of the Eurozone crisis that pitted the sensible and efficient North of Europe against the lazy and inefficient South or alternatively Germany acting as the bully boy of Europe, usurping Greek sovereignty and imposing deadly austerity measures on its people against the will of its government. Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schauble were the brutal oligarchs of  Brussels and Berlin. Athens was demanding Nazi war reparations from Berlin. Yet only months later it was claimed that Germany had finally laid to rest its Nazi past and Angela Merkel was in the frame for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Faced with tens of thousands of people on the move towards Germany, Merkel ordered the suspension of the Dublin Convention and the opening of the borders with Austria. Her finance minister Schauble, widely reviled several months before, said: “I do definitely think there is a moral imperative not to make refugees pay  the price for Europe’s inability to take effective action.” The contrast moved from the feckless South to the intolerant East. In October Germany proposed that EU states should take quotas of refugees, redistributing 160,000 asylum seekers in Greece and Italy to other EU member states. This was agreed by a majority vote by European leaders, and met with considerable resistance from Eastern Europe dissenters. Hungary and Poland were deeply criticised for their intolerance and their brutal responses.

And now we have the deal announced that will provide the framework for the mass return of migrants from Greece to Turkey. This has been agreed despite multiple concerns including claims from Amnesty International that it is conducting illegal mass returns of Syrians to Syria on a daily basis. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Donald Tusk have described the deal as a ‘breakthrough’, but many European Parliamentarians have denounced it. The head of the Socialist group has called it ‘a form of horse trading in the skins of refugees’, the leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists group asked ‘Even in desperate times, should we just tear up our own conventions?’ while the president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats foor Europe described it as ‘highly problematic’.


As well as a migration confronting Europe, what is unfolding is what Sam Kriss has called a European crisis confronting migrants: a muklti-dimensional European crisis if solidarity between member states, many of whom are struggling with austerity and with rapidly diminishing state capacity. The crisis is effectively called out by migration. Like the apocryphal story that the Haitian slave revolutonaries greeted the repressive French army by singing the Marseillaise, so some of the people walking along the motor ways of Hungary and Austria were carrying the European flag. We share your respect for justice, freedom and human rights and here we are! We belong! Thus the crisis is bringing to question not only the principles of asylum and of free movement within the European Union but Europe’s very idea of itself as a space of liberal values, freedom, moral equality  and human rights.


It is this European crisis I want to consider, from a position that is informed by the UK’s position – which is at the moment, still in the European Union. Firstly I’m going to consider some examples of the representation of migrants at the borders of Europe in the UK press and what this reveals about the anxieties underpinning public and policy responses to immigration more generally. I’ll then look at attempts to render the institutional response to mobility compatible with Europe as a space of respect for individual rights, and suggest that we look at the past as continuity rather than comparison in order to find new ways of forging new political connections between migrants and citizens.


Animal magic
Metaphors matter. ‘They are figures of thought as much as they are figures of speech’. (Steuter and Wills), they are a cruciaal elemeent in the structuring of our conceptual systems, the imbrication of information and emotion not just fancy Shakespearian conceits. Metaphors shape and expose our feelings and responses and they are both expression and legitimation. Following Rorty one might say that humans must consciously fashion their own metaphors to cope with the world. Are the metaphors we are fashioning enabling us to cope with current situattion?

Here are three examples of the deployment of metaphor: a cartoon in the Daily Mail, an opinion piece in The Sun, and a speech/statement by Prime Minister David Cameron. I can make no claims for whether or not these are typical, but I do believe that they illustrate important anxieties about the border and migration more generally. I thought about reproducing this symbolic violence but decided that it is necessary. So here is the cartoon.
[Zingcreed is unable to reproduce the cartoon for technical reasons.]
Defenders of the cartoon, published in November 2015 argued that the rats are the terrorists not the Muslim-looking characters crossing the borders. I think this misses the point that metaphors work by association, which is more complex than a simple one-to-one comparison. What we have here is the association of migrants with Muslims, Muslims with terrorists, and terrorists with rats…and even the Muslims whoare not terrorists bring guns, prayer mats and the veil. Like the Hungarian Prime Minister’s invokingof concerns about migrants carrying infectious diseases, the problem is that close association with rats and disease means that they become rats and disease.


Katie Hopkins, a controversial columnist for the tabloid newspaper The Sun overtly compared migrants themselves to disease in her piece in April 2015 describing ‘aggressive young men at Calais, spreading like Norovirus on a cruise ship’. I will spare you the whole piece but she claimed that ‘Some of our towns are festering sores, plagued by swarms of migrants and asylum seekers, shelling out benefits like Monopoly money. Make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches.’


Three months later UK Prime Minister David Cameron also described ‘a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain because Britain has got jobs.’ None of these representations went unremarked. Twitter described the Daily Mail cartoon as an incitement to racial hatred and the Hufffington Post said it was ‘straight out of Nazi Germany’. Katie Hopkins was questioned by police for inciting racial hatred and was the subject of an online petition calling for the Sun to sack her that received over 20,000 signatures in a matter of days. David Cameron’s comments were called ‘irresponsible’ and ‘dehumanising’ by refugee groups.


But metaphors are at their most effective when they are surreptitious and uncontested, not when they are applauded or called out, but when they pass unremarked into our language. This is the danger of words like ‘swarm’ which Cameron defended saying he was simply trying to convey that ‘a lot of people’ were coming. In the press migrants routinely scurry, sneak, and yes they swarm too http://edition.cnn.com/2015/09/08/middleeast/syrian-refugees-turkey-boats/. Their encampments become ‘breeding grounds for radicalised youth.’ Have we ever heard about Eton and Oxford as breeding grounds for British Prime Ministers I wonder?


The comparison of foreigners and outsiders with animals has a long history as we heard this morning from Colum. Bestial metaphors intensify at certain moments of violence, most infamously oof course the range of animalistic imagery that was used to refer to the Jews in the run up to the Second World War. Non-citizens and those regarded as outsiders or sub-human have been called animal names, been treated like animals and forced to behave like animals. this has contemporary twists: in 2013 Tripoli zoo was turned into an immigration detention centre. What this kind of language depicts (is not just) migrants as animals, but as particular kinds of animals, not as beasts or brutes, but as vermin, forms of non-vital life, low down on the animal phyla. They are alive but not truly sentient. Rats, cockroaches and swarms are strongly associated with human waste. Vermin are not wild but urban and they flourish near humans because they live in the dirt that we produce. They thrive in the places we try to forget: sewers, empty lots, derelict buildings, mountainous landfills. They are ambassadors of entropy, appearing in huge numbers during floods, wars, economic decline, or other periods of disorder. Unlike beasts of burden, these rats and cockroaches  are not productive animals, they are nature’s revenge. Hopkins wrote that ‘They might look a bit Bob Geldof’s Ethiopia circa 1984 but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb. They are survivors.’ After the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki a science fiction short story by Edward Grendon depicted millions of cockroaches ‘swarming’ out of cities and killing hundreds of people. It has passed into the public imagination that cockrooaches will inherit the earth after a nuclear explosion and insects will survive the apocalypse.


The problem with insects is a problem with numbers. In a video that went viral in July 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was depicted in an awkward televised encounter with a 14 year old Palestinian girl, Reem. Reem described in fluent German how she and her family, who arrived in Rostock 4 years ago from a Lebanese refugee camp, face deportation. Merkel responded by saying she understood but that “Politics is sometimes hard. You’re right in front of me now and you’re an extremely nice person. But you also know in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are thousands and thousands and if we were to say you can all come…we just can’t manage it.” The chancellor was forced to stop mid sentence on seeing that Reem was crying. She walked up to the girl and started stroking her shoulder and attempting to comfort her. She was widely mocked on twitter hashtag Merkelstrokes, but I thought that Merkel did well all things considered. For here we have the bottom line: there are too many of you. If it was just you then of course you would be welcome to come, but if we allow the principle, there will be millions of refugees and of migrants.


One insect is trivial, of no consequence, but they travel in swarms and one is likely to pressage millions. In the past two or three years, people attempting to enter Europe have indeed been using sheer numbers to their advantage. Whether running at the fences of Melilla, pulling down the barricades at Macedonia, jumping on to the  trains and ferries at Calais, hiding in the ranks of hundreds of No Borders activists walking across frontiers, the weight of numbers is being transformed into a means of resistance. Crowds are breaking down fences and mass-coordinated crossings are proving difficult to halt. As a border guard interviewed at Melilla put it: “We can stop them when they come two at a time, but if there are 2000 at each point we cannot.” This is the very antithesis of ‘managed migration’ the careful identificaton, points systems and processing of migrants that lies at the heart of migration and refugee policy.


For the horror of insects  is that the ‘sneaky little creatuures’ do not respect borders or boundaries but most particularly they do not observe the boundary of the home. Merkel’s policy has been dubbed her ‘open door’ policy and is in contrast to Prime Minister Cameron’s stance that we need to stop migrants ‘breaking imto Britain.’ thus comparing migrants to insects and vermin invokes what Walters has called ‘domopolitics’, the aspiration to govern the state like a home. ‘Domopolitics’ implies a reconfiguring of the relations between citizenship, state and territory that requires securitization or ‘homeland security’ to protect it. When they are in the home insects must be dealt with, and while ‘exterminate all the brutes’ is not acceptable, ‘exterminate all the bugs’ is. In his book’Black earth’ Timothy Snyder has analysed the relation between Nazi extermination policies and lebensraum, and the importance of the ‘homeliness’ of the metaphor which recalls the ‘living room’ of the German home as well as the ‘living room’ that was allegedly required for the survival of the German people. He describes how, when Goebbels defined the purpose of extermination as a ‘big breakfast, a big lunch, a big dinner’, he thereby ‘confused lifestyle wwith life itself, generating survivalist emotions in the name of personal comfort’. Snyder asks whethertolerance of climate change  invokes lebensraum, one might argue this is much more directly invoked in the language of migration – full up, overcrowded, no room, Europeans only.

The etymological origin of ‘exterminate’ is to put beyond the boundary or the frontier. The question is where shall they all be removed to? What to do with Bauman’s human waste, the ‘collateral casualties of progress’?  In the past the wealthy waste could be dumped in other countries.  Transportatin turned the poor into the building blocks of Empire, rescued slaves could be left in colonial territories, often far from the places they had left. Before the so-calledFinal Soluton, Nazis  imagined that the Jews could be resettled in Madagascar but now ‘the world is full’ and we are faced with ‘an acute crisis of the human waste disposal industry’. Northern League leader Matteo Salvini suggested taking ‘rescued’ migrants to disused oil platforms off the Libyan coast abandoned by the Italian energy firm ENI in order not to ‘disturb’ Italians: ‘help them, rescue them and take care of them, but don’t let them land here’ (Agence France Presse 2015.)


Refugees and slaves

If people fleeing the hardship, violence and wars that Europe is directly implicated in are not to be allowed ‘here’, how can Europe be presented as a space of liberal values? Sovereign self-determination and the authority to prohibit entry is a sine qua non of contemporary statehood, yet it stands in tension with adherence to universal human rights principles on the other is arguably a constitutive feature of liberal democracy. There is a considerable literature on the (in)compatibility of immigration controls with liberalism, that is ever more relevant as the contradiction between the values of democracy and human rights and the structural violence of borders is exposed at the edges of Europe (Carens, 2013; Hampshire, 2013). How can liberal immigration enforcement and prevention of entry be reconciled  with human rights including the recognized right to exit?


Since after the Second World War the refugee regime has been an important way that liberal states have acknowledged the human rights of non-citizens. Immigration policy rests on a fundamental distinction between those who are fleeing persecution and those who are seeking employmrent or to better their lives in some way. This in turn rests on the distinction between the poitical and the economic. Drawn up at the time of the Cold War, the Geneva Convention framed the concept of the ‘refugee’ as the liberal individual  fleeing communist oppression. The refugee was the embodiment of liberal polity, not only fleeing persecution but practising liberal politics, both a subject of human  rights violations and a person who is explicitly demanding human rights. Thus the political refugee was the symbol of an educated choice of freedom over communism, and refugees from the Soviet Union confirmed the values of liberal democracies. Deaths at borders signified by the Iron Curtain were mourned and regarded as symbolic of the murderous regime of Communism and the lack of freedom to exit.

One of the great injustices of Communism was that people could not leave the state without permission. Now most people who can afford it enjoy the freedom to exit, but they do not have the corresponding freedom to enter. The IronCurtain has fallen, the definition of persecution as a ‘social group’ has broadened and the number and intensiity of conflicts and state breakdowns in law and order increased. The distinction between asylum and immigration has become blurred. Previously the refugee was an admirable figure, standing up to Communism and to Pinochet, but now the refugee is a figure to be pitied rather than admired. Contemporary asylum seekers are often imagined as seeking to enter not because they share liberal values, but because they are in search of work or benefits. Rather than affirming the superiority and desirability of liberal values they threaten them. Of course liberal democracies should still be open to refugees but it has become critical to distinguish between the ‘genuine refugee’ and the ‘bogus asylum seeker’ – the bogus asylum seeker may be desperate, but they are the wrong kind of desperate, and they make problems for the genuine refugee who now has to have their claim rigorously tested. This was the context which has seen the build up of people at Europe’s borders.

However, in practice, today’s refugee is very different from the genuine refugee of the Cold War. They are far more likely to be a female or a child. Work by the MedMig colleagues is mapping how the nationality, gender and age profiles of migrants using diifferent routes into Europe change following different policies. Unlike the Solzhenitsyns of the Cold War, they are not people who act, but people who are acted upon. There has been considerable comment about young men claiming asylum. That they have smart phones, and are not impoverished suggests thay are not the true victims who are the women, victims of torture, children, the disabled. The deserving refugees are the most abject who can do nothing but wait patiently until they are rescued from the camps.


Moreover, rather than assess people’s claims on a considered and individual basis it is clear that nationality is being used as a rule of thumb indicator for whether or not one is a ‘genuine refugee’. But what about the Pakistanis, the Nigerians, the Cameroonians, the Afghanis, people who are told that they do not have a prima facie case for asylum, but who are still attempting to come, how long can the enforcement against them be justified? Employing the language of slavery and trafficking seems to be one way of managing the tension between a commitment to human rights on the one hand and the human misery at the border on the other. Slavery serves as a tremendous reminder of the formal freedoms of liberal Europe, and enables us to congratulate ourselves on the freedom and rights of Europe and to respond morally and emotionally to the gap between us and them. Thus, addressing the lower house of the Italian parliament in April 2015, Italian PM Matteo Renzi called those who enabled the Mediterranean crossings the ‘slave drivers of the 21st century’ (Reuters, 22/4/15); UK PM David Cameron blamed criminals ‘managing, promoting and selling this trade, this trade in human life’ (Kirchgaessner et al. 2015); while FRONTEX, the European agency charged with co-ordinating the management of the EU’s external borders, described people smugglers as ‘latter day slave merchants’ (Frontex 2014).’Slavery’, like appears to capture the combination of mobility, gross exploitation, and ‘foreign-ness’ and it tells a powerful story that everyone can agree on.

Very few people today would argue that’slavery’ is morally acceptable. Nevertheless, certainty about the immorality of slavery does not mean certainty about what slavery means. Popular understandings of slavery in Europe today draw strongly on a particular way of imagining African slavery in the Americas. This was a very specific economic, political, and cultural system that in fact bears little resemblance to the factors that structure the experiences of contemporary Mediterranean migrants. The slave was legally distinguishable from the free person and slavery was a legal institution that was constructed and supported with the full authority of the state. In contrast ‘modern slavery’ is condemned by states and is most definitely not a legal institution. While central to American slavery, legal institutions and processes are not the focus of contemporary anti-slavery concerns, even though the legal distinction between (European) citizen and non-citizen is central to the violence at the borders of Europe.


Notably, the horror of what is happening in the Mediterranean is very much framed in terms of the slave trade. At one stage this meant that some EU governments were able to propose using force to bomb boats to prevent them from leaving Libya, saving people from the ‘slave trade’ but confining them to Libya, riven by  warring factions, corruption, violence, and racist hostility and violence. It is this framing that European denunciation of the slave trade at the same time as national requirements that asylum seekers work for no wages seem to pass unnoticed (see for example Saarinen and Pekonen 2015). The visual images carried by websites, televisions and newspapers reinforce the parallels: dominance, vulnerability, and violence, human beings crammed into overcrowded boats setting sail from Africa, often enduring horrendous conditions, including grave risk of death. The horrors of the Middle Passage can also be directly invoked. In 2014 Time magazine published a series of striking images by photographer Massimo Sestini who had accompanied the Italian navy on rescue missions in the Mediterranean (Rayman 2014). One in particular was widely reproduced and circulated in a range of contexts. It depicts a boat, viewed from above, crammed with people. The shape of the boat with a pointed stern and blunt hull, the abstractness of the surroundings – the blue  sea – , the bird’s eye view and the anonymity of the mass of people crowded together, is a clear reference to the famous illustration of slave ships produced by anti-slavers from the late 18th  through to the mid 19th centuries. The Transatlantic trade is often directly referred to, including by those responsible for policing Europe’s frontiers:

“Migrants from the sub-Sahara are treated worst of all. In a disturbing echo of practices on 19th century slaving ships, black Africans are routinely locked down on the very bottom deck, with few exceptions made for women, children or the elderly. Cases of asphyxiation by exhaust fumes have been recorded.”


Yet these pretensions at historical detail are deeply misleading. While the images of slavery may be startlingly similar to those used by anti-slavery activists of the 17th and 18th  centuries, the experiences and contexts of the people involved are quite different. These boats may be crammed and overcrowded, butt the people have not been kidnapped from their homes. They have often paid thousands of euros to escape war and violence in Syria, Afghanistan, and Eritrea, or they have travelled from Niger and Senegal in search of more opportunities and more sustainable lives. they want to move (O’Connell Davidson 2015). Furthermore, the movement across the Mediterranean today is, in contrast to the 18th century transatlantic slave ships, an illegalised movement. The mobility of transatlantic slaves was an involuntary but legal movement, while the mobility of migrants across the borders of the European Union is a voluntary but illegalised movement.

And in practice some of these slavers are turning out to be the strangest people. danish campaigner Lisbeth Zornig gave a lift to a a family of Syrians and was fined DKr 22,500 (£2,328), one of 279 people who have been charged under people trafficking laws in the period from September 2015 to February 2016 in Denmark alone. In January, Greek police pressed charges carrying prison sentences of up to 10 years in jail against a group of Spanish life guards guilty of rescuing refugees in Lesvos, while in France a former British soldier stood trial for attempting to bring a four-year-old Afghan girl from the Calais refugee camp to reunite with family in the UK.


The invocation of the slave trade turns the border into a site of intervention, a space where governments can intervene to ‘protect’ victims. But the bodies that allegedly protect against slavers also enforce the border in a context where it is not the physical obstacle of the Mediterranean that forces people into rickety boats, and neither are they forced to board by men with whips and guns, rather it is the compulsion of bureaucratic obstacles of immigration posts and  desks at airports. Moreover, race and racism are critical elements of popular understanding of what Atlantic slavery is, and race in the context of migration to Europe bound up with ideas about ethnicity, culture, poverty, religion, and, above all, nationality. Every year Henley and Partners produce a list ranking passports by how easily they facilitate movement. Top of the list: the UK and Finland. Bottom of the list: Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.


The past is never dead

Slavery draws our attention to the relations of domination that are created and enacted at the border, and their manifestation and enforcement through physical violence on people’s bodies. It foregrounds personalised violence against the body of another human being. However, the problem is that emotional response locates the problem in the criminal and morally reprobate nature of slave traders and slave drivers distracts attention from the structures and histories that produce vulnerability in the first place. “The past is never dead. It’s not even past” as Faulkner pit it. What if we take slavery seriously, as continuity rather than comparison.


UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, said in a statement on Calais to the BBC:

“The gap in standards of living between Europe and Africa means there will always be millions of Africans with the economic motivation to try to get to Europe….so long as there are large numbers of pretty desperate migrants marauding around the area, there always will be a threat to the tunnel security.”

Here we have an explicit reference to global inequality very gently signified by “gap in standards of living”. This is a feature of much of the current coverage, and of course is not a natural state of affairs, in fact “marauding” might be a more  accurate description of the European massacres, betrayals, land grabbing, and of course slavery that caused so much devastation in Africa.

In wealthy Europe life for a proportion of the population might look relatively good compared with five hundred years ago, but we are living at a time of the highest levels of global inequality in human history, when the poorest 50% of the world have 6.6% of global income. The World bank has estimated that three quarters of inequality can be attributed to between country differences (See Milanovic, B. (2011) Global Inequality: from class to location, from proletarian to migrant.The World Bank Developmental Research Group Policy Research Working Paper 5820). We can quibble about their methodology, but we cannot deny that the world has changed from the 19th century when what was critical to your life experience was if you were a master or a servant. It is not your position in life , but the state where you are born and where you live that shaped your life chances and options for survival. Why some states are poor and others are rich is not because their inhabitants are any more intelligent, plucky or have more  resources than anywhere else. It has everything to do with histories of colonialism and exploitation that continue to wreak havoc today.

Cockroaches, ants and rats do not come from nowhere. They belong to eco-systems that we would rather forget, ecosystems of toilets and disease and waste. They are a reminder of those eco-systems that live on the by-products of production. The people at the borders of Europe and those whose bodies wash up on Mediterranean beaches are part of  the eco-systems of global economic, social and political relations, and the living histories of colonialism and patriarchy. For the people who are moving, migration itself is not the problem, but rather the solution, a response to colonial histories and post colonial presence that structure civil war, violence and economic systems that in turn render the lives of many people in the world unsustainable and impoverished.


So rather than slavery as metaphor or simile, we cold look for inspiration for continuities, slaves who directly confronted the slave system through uprising and rebellions, escaping and managing the escape of others did not fight for freedom in the abstract. Their struggle was not only about freedom to contract ‘the right of locomotion’ (Wong 2009:242). This had a particular urgency under the ‘patrol laws’ of the Southern States which required all slaves leaving their plantations to carry a pass from their master and all white males to serve on patrol duty who had the power to whip slaves without passes and to kill those who resisted arrest.


Until the 19th century, the right to locomotion lay at the core of ideas of liberal ideas of freedom. In his commentaries  on the law of England 18th century jurist William Blackstone commented: “the personal liberty of individuals…consists in the power off locomotion, of changing situation, or removing ones person to whatsoever place one’s own inclination may direct; without imprisonment or restraint, unless by due course of law” (1979 vol.1:134)). In classic liberal political theory “when the words Free and Liberty, are applied to anything but Bodies they are abused; for that which is not subject to Motion is not subject to impediment” (Hobbes 1985: Chapter 21 para. 108:262).

Attention to the right of locomotion can contribute to way of re-politicising contemporary anti-slavery calls, for it is locomotion that is restricted by the European Union and its member states even as they claim the anti-slavery mantle. Movement is made tougher, walls and fences constructed, seas patrolled, all in the name of preventing slavery. The right to locomotion was a right that Frederick Douglass himself called for with respect to ‘migrants’. Speaking at a a time of growing hostility to Chinese migrants in 1869 he protested against attempts to discourage their migration and refuse them citizenship, and demanded: “the right of locomotion; the right of migration; the right which belongs to no particular race, but belongs to all and to all alike” (Douglass 1869)

[In 1862 the Coolie Trade Prohibition Act was a bridge between federal recognition of thee international slave grade and what eventually became exclusive federal control over immigration. It was passed during a transition period in US history – slavery was on its way to being abolished and thus, the country was moving away from importation and towards immigration of human beings. In addressing the slave trade as well as voluntary immigration, the Act illustrated this transition. (Redman 2010:5)]

Controlling unruly mobilities unleashed by inequality, conflict and hope, channelling, enforcing and preventing them has been a challenge for the wealthy and the powerful for over a millennium. Locomotion is not controlled and restricted simply out of cruelty or indifference. It is constrained because it has the potential to be extremely disruptive. The boats in the Mediterranean, the fence chargers at Melilla, the lorry and train jumpers at Calais are symptoms of far deeper problems, rooted in global inequality and injustice, the escalation of wars at Europe’s edges, and the creaking of the nation state form and ideas of citizenship and human rights.


A couple of weeks ago I was at a commemoration of the Easter Rising in Dromina County Cork. In one of the speeches made as they unveiled a memorial one of the organising committee, Brid Brennan, recalled how the uprising of 1916 challenged the injustices of the British Empire and in so doing became an inspiration and motivation for international progressive movements and for future generations in Ireland. Today, she said, the global challenge for the progressive forces in Ireland and across Europe is the injustices experienced by refugees and migrants, and particularly those at the borders of Europe.

Our challenge is to draw out the connections between these two crises of increasing European poverty and associated popular anger and resentment on the one hand, and the deaths and desperation battering at Europe’s borders on the other. This is at the moment reduced to a simple message: ” ‘we’ must look after our own first. We must first attend to the housing, benefit and health needs of the  British/European population. Sorry chaps. There is not enough to go round.” Challenging this logic, that sets up citizens and migrants/foreigners as engaged in an unfortunate but necessary competition for scarce resources should be of critical concern to those advocating progressive politics. In mainstream political discourse, the presence of migrants has become emblematic of waning state power, and in some cases of mainstream politicians’ disengagement with everyday problems. Promises of strong control over immigration appeal to the hope of as national labour market and economy, a stable and cohesive national society and representative democratic politics. These hopes are eminently understandable, but they will not be attained by exerting ever tighter control over immigration. Indeed the risk is that the obsession engendered by immigration only increases exploitation in labour markets, destabilises neighbourly relations and caricatures democratic politics.

How to build connections between the low-waged, homeless and unemployed EU citizens, those struggling to get by, and the struggles of migrants without turning them into competitors for the privileges of membership? How to jump the scales and the borders of the local, national, and global and make the connections between them? There are important connections to be made between migrants and citizens, but the analysis can’t be abstracted from political and social practice. It can offer clues that must be followed and developed through campaigning  and organising and people’s daily experiences of building relationships with one another. In recent months across Europe people have been supporting and welcoming migrants, but we are in for the long haul of building an economy, culture and society where better lives for Syrians, Eritreans, Afghans and Pakistanis, mean better lives for all of us.


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