UPD Seminar: Summary of ‘Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move’

Event Description:
UPD Seminar by Dr Reece Jones on ‘Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move’, 11 October 2016

Contributed by Jeanne Firth


Right to MoveDr Reece Jones (University of Hawaii) spoke about his new book: Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move (Verso, 2016).  Dr Jones notes two broad tends in borders: first, that borders have become significantly more securitised over the last 20 years (as evidenced by the increase in border walls).  Second, that the number of deaths at borders has increased dramatically.  Dr Jones’ book considers why there are more deaths happening at borders. His goal is to try to humanise those who are ‘on the move’ across the world, and to situate the violence that we see today within a long history of states and those in positions of power restricting the movement of the poor.

In order to explore what is unique about migration trends and experiences today, Dr Jones tells the story of Andrew Carnegie (the U.S. industrialist and later philanthropist) and his family.  In 1848 the Carnegie family left his father’s failing hand-loom business in Scotland and traveled to the United States on a converted whaling ship.  It was a fifty day arduous journey.  The family was undocumented as there were no passport systems at this time.  When they arrived in the U.S., some family members changed their ages to make themselves more attractive to potential employers.  Dr Jones argues that the story of the Carnegie family and their movement occurred in a very unusual moment in migration history—a brief moment in time when the European poor had the ability to move freely.  The two posters pictured here (below) were shown as representative of the contrast between this unique posterstime in the U.S. in the 1800s, and more standard restrictions on movement in modern Australia.

Dr Jones traces the history of human movement and the relationship to the state: from pre-statehood to the Magna Carta, to the restrictions on movement of formerly enslaved people, to the English Poor Laws.  Debates about the relationship between the state and citizenship became (and likely remain) key, with the eventual development of documents as a way to make distinctions between citizens.  Despite the promises of the Statue of Liberty in New York (‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free’), policies such as the Chinese Exclusion Act 1882, Immigration Act of 1924 and Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 continued to limit the movement of certain groups of people.

Dr Jones conducted research in Nador in Morocco and Melilla and Ceuta in Spain, cities that have become beacons for migrants due to their positioning.  He shared the story of a migrant family from Ghana who was trying to move North, and discussed the border walls on both sides of the Moroccan and Spanish borders.  Dr Jones ended his talk by arguing that the violence we see at borders today goes hand in hand with the privileges that borders have created. Questions and a book signing followed the presentation.

Jeanne Firth is a research student in the Department of Geography and Environment.