Image Courtesy of Needpix.
Sharon Yin, Queen’s University
Although seemingly simplistic, borders may denote a deeper and darker hidden agenda for wealthy nations across the world. At a surface level, territorial state borders are merely artificial political boundaries that draw the line between different states’ circle of influence and realm of control. In a superficial sense, they are no more than lines on a map – just a minor inconvenience or pitstop on your way to your next holiday destination. On the other hand, they can also be seen as a tool for national security, creating a barrier between one country and the next. While borders offer some level of protection against international threats, is crime truly the one thing governments are trying to shut out with the utilization of state borders and border control policies?
In 2011, a pro-democracy, anti-government protest in Syria eventually escalated into a full-blown civil war spanning a decade. The devastating impacts of the conflict resulted in the “largest refugee crisis [to occur in] a quarter of a century.” The war and strife have led to an insurmountable death toll, causing the displacement of “more than half of Syria’s pre-war population.” Since 2011, 5.6 million people have fled the country as refugees, while another astonishing 6.7 million have been internally displaced within Syria. During the conflict, “one in three people [were] unable to meet their basic food needs,” and “more than 2 million children [were] out of school.” With statistics showing “four out of five people liv[ing] in poverty” at the time, Syria was unquestionably suffering from a major humanitarian crisis. However, despite their pain, distress, and outcry to the international community for help, much of the world decided to turn its back on Syrians when they were most vulnerable. Many neighbouring countries grew reluctant to absorbing more refugees and enforced “stringent entry conditions,” tightening their borders. Some countries, such as the Gulf states, chose to completely shut their borders to refugees, while others, such as those in the European Union, harboured strong fears of migration and immigration.
More recently, similar anti-immigration and anti-migration attitudes can be seen at the southern border of the United States – where “over 100,000 people…were stopped from trying to cross into the US” last February. The increased surge in migrants coming from south of the US border may largely be due to “poverty, gang crime and natural disasters.” Of this increased influx of migrants coming into the US, a large portion consists of children who are unaccompanied by their legal guardians. Many of these children have been placed in “cramped and overcrowded” detention centres, where they “have not been given adequate access to soap or food.” The use of “prison-like facilities” as detention centres are far from a new phenomenon, especially in the US. The main purpose of these detention centres is to hold migrants while they wait for their hearing that will “determine whether they can legally remain in the country.” Although this civil detention used to be reserved for those who posed a threat to public safety, the use of national detention centres has since expanded to include all migrants who cross the border. Immigrants are typically held in detention centres for weeks before they are released, but some have been “held inside for years or even decades.” These detention centres as part of immigration and migration policy are a huge barrier for migrants and is yet another method to shut vulnerable individuals out of countries where they seek refuge.
When closed borders and stringent immigration policies are aimed toward the world’s most vulnerable, it raises the question of whether state borders are truly enforced to serve the purpose of national security. After all, migrants who are seeking refuge from war and conflict or from poverty and natural disasters seem unlikely to pose any real threat to a country. Therefore, there is a question of whether states have a hidden agenda with masked intentions for the use of borders and border control policies. It is almost difficult not to raise the question of whether “national security” is merely an excuse to disguise the selfish and real intent behind state boundaries.
If national security were the main reason for employing stringent and non-porous borders, then what justifies shutting out the vulnerable and underprivileged?
An Amnesty International report indicates that wealthy nations in particular, fail to “share the responsibility for protecting people who have fled their homes in search of safety.” High-income countries with more resources to support migrants and refugees are doing less to support these vulnerable populations than the countries with low to mid-income: an estimated “85% of refugees…[are] being hosted in developing countries.” Wealthy states continue to advocate for stringent state boundaries and strict border control policies, ones that prevent vulnerable populations from seeking refuge within their borders.
The unwillingness of wealthy states to open their borders to the most vulnerable suggests a deeper desire to shut out the unwanted – those who are unable to benefit and contribute to these wealthy states. In this sense, the use of borders becomes yet another means to create division between wealthy developed nations and poorer developing nations. Borders, then, become a tactic for wealthy states to keep its wealth within its own boundaries, preventing the rest of the world from sharing in its prosperity.
Clearly, borders serve purposes beyond national security, despite what states claim. The fewer number of people in a state who solely rely on state resources, the fewer resources it must allocate to those individuals. Hence, boarders enable the state to bask in its own wealth and prosperity. So, perhaps these political boundaries serve a more selfish goal: the preservation of economic resources and states’ desire to maintain their prestige and status on the global stage.
As it turns out, these artificial “lines” on a map have a much more prominent and dangerous effect. They have essentially carved out gated communities, but on a global scale. It has sheltered members residing in wealthy states from the poverty and sufferings of those beyond their border, creating a sphere of ignorance and a “paranoid groupthink [mentality] against outsiders.” This mentality can lead to the perception that refugees and migrants are dangerous, and may explain the fear that is associated with increased immigration.
The ethics of borders and strict border control policies boils down to whether living in our own privileged bubbles while shutting out the vulnerable can be justified. When considering past refugee and migrant crises, it is crucial to consider the implications of strict border control policies and the actions of wealthy states. Through careful evaluation, one may begin to realize that border controls are another way in which states attempt to separate wealth from poverty – a way in which wealthy states attempt to maintain their power.
Amnesty International. (n.d.). The World’s Refugees in Numbers. Retrieved from https://www.amnesty.org/en/what-we-do/refugees-asylum-seekers-and-migrants/global-refugee-crisis-statistics-and-facts/
Jones, S. & Shaheen, K. (2015, July 9). Syrian Refugees: Four Million People Forced to Flee as Crisis Deepens. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/jul/09/syria-refugees-4-million-people-flee-crisis-deepens
Kassie, E. (2019, September 24). DETAINED: How the US Built the World’s Largest Immigrant Detention System. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/sep/24/detained-us-largest-immigrant-detention-trump
Lander, S. (n.d.). Does a Gated Community Hold Its Property Value Better Than a Non-Gated Community? SFGate. Retrieved from https://homeguides.sfgate.com/gated-community-hold-its-property-value-better-nongated-community-87131.html
Stephens, M. (2015, September 7). Migrant Crisis: Why the Gulf States Are Not Letting Syrians In. BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-34173139
Syria Refugee Crisis Explained. (2021, February 5). UNHCR. Retrieved from https://www.unrefugees.org/news/syria-refugee-crisis-explained/#When%20did%20the%20Syrian%20refugee%20crisis%20begin
Syria: The Story of the Conflict. (2016, March 11). BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26116868
Travis, A. (2016, June 24). Fear of Immigration Drove the Leave Victory – Not Immigration Itself. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/24/voting-details-show-immigration-fears-were-paradoxical-but-decisive
What Is Happening with Migrant Children at the Southern US Border? (2021, March 17). BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-56405009
Why Has the Syrian War Lasted 10 Years? (2021, March 12). BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35806229