Adonis Diaries

How to pen unwanted people into reservations of poverty? Draw unnatural “National borders” around them

Posted on: June 5, 2016

National borders exist to pen poor people into reservations of poverty

He is not one of my regulars. From Cameroon, he says. And hungry, poor bloke.

I can tell he’s had to swallow a lot of pride to beg for food at my door. I apologise to him, say that because we’ve just made a delivery to the food bank, the church is out of supplies.

And personally, I haven’t done a shop in days. I rummage around in my cupboards and come up with an avocado and some spaghetti hoops, which really isn’t good enough. Is there any work out there, I ask him. It’s hard to find without the right papers, he says. Bloody Home Office, I say. He smiles.

We are so hypocritical about borders.

We cheer when the Berlin Wall comes down.

We condemn the Israelis for their separation barrier and

Donald Trump for his ludicrous Mexican fence.

But are we really so different? We also police our borders with guns and razor wire as if we had some God-given right to this particular stretch of land.

Through the random lottery of life, I have a UK passport. I didn’t work for it or do anything whatsoever to deserve it. In economic terms, (meaning in freedom to move status) I just happened to be born lucky. My new friend from Cameroon, not so much.

Within our own borders we complain at any suggestion of a postcode lottery. When the north of England has a different standard of healthcare to the south, we consider it a scandal. But when the global north has a radically different standard of healthcare to the global south, we think that’s just the way it is.

In fact, it’s far worse than that – we somehow think it our duty to fence off our advantage, to protect it against those who would share in our good fortune.

And these people we disparage as illegal immigrants, as if they are thieves or terrorists – though they are just doing globally what Norman Tebbit famously advised millions of unemployed in the 1980s to do: to get on their bike and look for work.

In this era of advanced globalisation, we believe in free trade, in the free movement of goods, but not in the free movement of labour. We think it outrageous that the Chinese block Google, believing it to be everyone’s right to roam free digitally.

We celebrate organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières for their compassionate universalism. But for all this talk of freedom from restriction, we still pen poor people into reservations of poverty. It’s like our own little version of The Hunger Games. And it is so normal to us, we don’t even recognise it as a moral issue.

The free movement of people is what political scientist JW Moses called “the last frontier of globalisation”, implying that it too will fall. Because, in the grand scheme of things, of course, no force on earth can insulate us against billions of people without enough to eat.

Many will tragically drown in our Mediterranean moat, others will be stopped for a while at our fences, but nothing will stop more people from trying to come.

And eventually they will succeed.

Artificial national boundaries, just lines on a map, are no match against the massed forces of human need.

This week I met in London a guy I last saw in Calais trying to get into the back of a truck. It took him months of trying to get past our borders. But in the end he made it. And good for him.

Before the Aliens Act of 1905, the UK had no border controls to speak of. They were first erected to stop Jews coming from eastern Europe.

“England for the English,” was the slogan. The Manchester Evening Chronicle explained what this meant: “That the dirty, destitute, diseased, verminous and criminal foreigner who dumps himself on our soil and rates simultaneously, shall be forbidden to land.”

Border controls have always been racist in character. And it’s much the same today.

They are about locking in our wealth and keeping mosques out of the Cotswolds.

At present, globalisation is a luxury of the rich, for those of us who can swan about the globe with the flick of a boarding pass.

The so-called “migrant crisis” is globalisation for the poor. They are blowing their trumpets around our walls. And our walls will fall.


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