Fence climbers

Violent Borders, Reece Jones, Verso.

Reece Jones’s book contains an arresting image of illegal immigrants high atop a dizzyingly high Spanish border fence that looks over Spaniards doing the rounds at an exclusive golf course. The fence climbers are repeatedly removed by security forces, only to try again a few days later. It’s a microcosm of what is happening at various places along the borders of European countries.

In 2015 3700 people died trying to enter Europe illegally. In the decade previous, 40,000 people, possibly 1 in 4 who stepped on a boat, lost their lives. The answer to this is often touted as deterrence, with much hysterical press attached, but Reece Jones focuses here on a more ideological root issue, and what most of us just take as a given – international borders and their policing. As well as advocating for refugees, Violent Borders amounts to a short history of the border.

Jones argues that international borders, which are a relatively recent invention and which often cut arbitrarily across geography and ethnic groups, are set up to ‘protect privileges’. ‘Border protection’ then naturally invites Trump-like rhetoric and violent defensive action. Jones outlines the international escalation of the criminalisation of illegal migration and the increasingly unempathetic attitude towards refugees.

This stands in contrast to international corporations that are free to roam the globe to secure the cheapest labour. The benefits corporations bring to the head honchos of third world nations entices those leaders, in order to keep the corporations there, to reduce regulations, including those that deal with environmental care, and to restrict the movement of the labourers within their countries.

Jones describes this global situation as ‘broken’. Why, he asks, if we consider people to be equal, do we not allow the poor equal access to employment? The freedom to travel and to offer your labour for a fair price should be a basic human right. He advocates for more open borders, which to many will seem like an invitation for global chaos. But, he says, this is no more radical an idea than giving women the vote seemed in the nineteenth century. Then again, it might simply seem as radical as the early church, whose members ‘held all things in common’.

(Reviewed for the Uniting Church)

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