Discussion/ Borders have become invisible borders, situated everywhere and nowhere.

Under globalisation, which is one presentation of modernity, it seems natural to have free movement of people without borders. In this era, the transformation of transportation, technologies and cultures has enhanced people’s ability to think beyond borders and to cross them frequently (Urry 2007). Also, globalisation has created a transnational network between different nation-states and ethnic groups. However, reflecting on the concepts of contemporary nation-states and ethnic groups through modernity, ‘crossover’ is a crucial challenge under the hegemony and biopower of borders. The observation is that ‘the process of migration racialises Other and reconstructs colonisation’ (Rodriguez 2018) as insiders and outsiders are defined. The critical dilemma is ‘the visible and invisible border’, which presents how the hegemony and power of nation-states and ethnic groups not only enhances the distinction or disparity in territory and races, but also embodies the invisible borders affecting peoples’ bodies, movements and rights — a dehumanised treatment. Hence, this writing will attempt to argue ‘borders have become invisible borders, situated everywhere and nowhere’. The first part will discuss the definition of the border. Secondly, through several cases in Israel-Palestine and Europe, it will re-examine how the migration policies and biopower (Foucault,1978) of nation-states or supranational unions create visible and invisible borders in terms of movements, residence and citizenships. As a result, those policies lead to the imprison of migrants’ bodies and the denial of their sovereignty and create ‘particularistic conceptions’ (Dvir, et al. 2019) in society. Before addressing the conclusion, it also will discuss ‘border thinking’, as a transposition method, to reflect the possibility of decoloniality.

It is important to define and discuss what a border is. A border is a line that divides or divided one country or place from another (Cambridge Dictionary 2019). As Anderson (1997) states, the borders between nation-states are fundamental to politics, since without borders society and politics are difficult to dominate. Therefore, the formation of borders refers to the interests, unique power and identity of a nation-state. In response, Delaney (2008) mentions that borders between territories create not only interiors and exteriors but also distinctions between citizens and foreigners. Hence, borders represent the power to distinguish between self and others. As Malkki (1992) states, the world is represented by a collection of ‘countries’ on most world maps and rooted by different ethnic groups in every proper place, and therefore, one country structured by ideologies of nationalism cannot, at the same time, be another country.

However, a question that follows is what other reasons are there for this kind of distinction of groups beyond the geographical border? According to Barth (1969) in Ethnic Groups and Boundaries, a group is defined by the excludability and belongingness between individual groups. Groups usually emphasise specific cultural characteristics to confine the boundaries of ‘our group/self’. It means that groups’ boundaries tend to create distinctions with others and these boundaries are social boundaries instead of geographical borders. Nevertheless, cultures and society are not reflected bythe geographical space of nation-states (Gupta and Ferguson 1992). It means that space is neutral, and is inscribed by cultural differences, historical memories and social institutions. Furthermore, ‘the views of transnationalists point out that peoples interpenetrate in each other across the world, which makes the relationship between boundaries, nationalism and emergent identities be problematic’ (Shami 1996:18).

Not only do visible and invisible borders divide the land, peoples and nation-states, but the associated restrictions imprison people’s bodies and individual sovereignty. The significant observation is that the intersectionality of racism and capitalism generates migrant policy which is ‘a biopolitical tool of governance’ (Rodriguez 2018:21). Two examples of migration will now be examined, firstly, in Israel/Palestine and, secondly, in Europe, to present the intersectionality between the restriction of ‘movement’ and the challenge of ‘living/ surviving’ through the visible and invisible border.

I: Daily basis in Palestine

Currently, between the territories of Israel and Palestine West Bank, tens of thousands of migrants cross checkpoints and the separation barrier every day, which produces geographic fragments in Palestine and Palestinians’ life. Therefore, this part of the essay will discuss visible/ invisible borders under colonialization through Puar’s (2017) writing on ’will not let die’ and other individual experiences in Palestine.

During my travels, the most memorable encounter while crossing the border between Israel and Palestine was of the checkpoints and separation wall. Borders classify the land and peoples through the rule of migration because ‘migration policy is as a biopolitical tool of governance’ (Rodriguez 2018:21). Hence, the territorial configuration and policies of the nation-state affect people’s movement and generate the distinction between insiders and outsiders, and, consequently, privileges specific ethnic groups. To dominate outsiders, the encoded identity of the nation-state tends to be an existent contradiction of globalisation and mobility, and a cause of ethnic cleavage. One observed instance is that Palestinians classified by differently coloured identity cards have unequal rights. ‘I desire to revisit Jerusalem, but it is still tough’, Palestinian M (2018) — who has a Green ID — said to me. The geographical border between Israel and Palestine controls or leads to the deportation of Palestinians with Green ID cards, resulting in the imprisonment of individuals without freedom of movement. Even though individual movement ought to be a universal right, deportation is a tool used by nation-states to control mobility and people’s movement and reaffirm the formation and reproduction of citizens and outsiders (Anderson, et al. 2011). Another example is that over decades, as a result of separation and a loss of sovereignty due to manipulation and domination, restricted time and distance have caused disable mobility. It means that ‘space is shrunken, as people are held in place, rarely able to move far’ (Puar 2017:136). Therefore, visible (physical) borders, such as the separation wall and coded identity cards, have restricted on people’s movement and bodies and unequally classified rights for different ethnic groups.

As Rodriguez (2018) states, the process of racialising the Other through migration reconstructs colonisation. The norm of citizenship is also a form of expanding control at the border and building the national ideology among citizens. It evokes a discussion about the differentiation of citizenship and race, considering insiders and outsiders. Hence, an essential question arises: who has the rights of habitation as a citizen? Whether in Israel or the Palestinian territories, inspections are frequently forced on Palestinians, who are suspected of being illegal residents without documents. ‘You never know when the police will knock on the door, check your refrigerator and your identity card, suspect your right to live in Jerusalem and ask you to leave only because of the Palestinian identity’, said Palestinian I (2018). ‘In this holy place, identity documents are more important than religious credentials’, said Palestinian O (2019). It means that you will be erased from the population register once an identity card is lost. A place or house is a territory and an ‘assembly of space, power, meaning and experience’ (Delaney 2008:7). External interference forces Palestinians to unroot their sense of belonging from their meaningful place, which was historical Palestine. This has been an attempt to dominate Palestinians in terms of demography, citizenship and geopolitics by Israel. Thus, over decades, this situation has continuously happened in Palestine or among Palestinians, resulting in a significant binary, i.e. the ideas of citizens (insiders) and outsiders (migrants), embedded within social relations and melded by the perennial implications of colonial power (Rodriguez 2018:35). Unequal citizenship causes the imprisonment of the body because of a loss of home.

Moreover, for Puar (2017:52), ‘the injure of Palestinians by Israel is for stunting, physical, psychological, and cognitive injuries but not for death. It means that this biopolitical tactic attempts to make feeble any future resistance’. This kind of tactic implemented by settler colonialism damages the support system of a colonised or occupied country and results in the permanent disability of a nation. It means that Palestine has no sovereignty itself and the lives of Palestinians are defined as ‘the deployment and manifestation of power’ (Mbembe 2005; cited in Berlant 2007:755). Nevertheless, because of the maximised exploitation by a coloniser or occupier, to survive or promote the ideology of individuals and society, the status of the half-living and the imprisoned body tend to resist and rebel through political propaganda, violent activities and demonstrations. Those actions are still ongoing against biopolitics, inequality and visible/ invisible borders.

II: Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Europe

‘A better life’ (Utopia) is an essential motivation for migrants and refugees. In recent decades, migrants have left their motherlands because of conflicts and economic factors to seek better opportunities in Europe. Therefore, currently, over two million migrants, including refugees, have brought the European migrant crisis (Dvir, et 2019:208). Malkki states that refugees fall into the narrow slits between borders, between societies and between cultures (cited in Shami 1996:7). Hence, the second instance examined in this essay will present migrants’ individual experiences regarding the crossing of ‘visible’ and ‘invisible’ borders in terms of geography and culture ,and features ethnography from Andersson (2014), Pai (2018) and others.

The governments or nation-states are necessary for capturing the overall picture of the so-called European migration crisis. After World War II, the discourse of universal human rights was created, became the mainframe of politics and resulted in the formulation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Olick 2007:123). However, in present-day Europe, there is a contradiction between the concept of free movement for migrants and refugees, and the impact of exclusionary policies due to the European migration crisis. First, the reason for exclusion is inflamed by the migrant crisis. There is an article on Al Jazeera, Why Al Jazeera will not say Mediterranean ‘migrants’ written by journalist Barry Malone in 2015, which mentions that the terms ‘migrants’ and ‘a swarm of people’ refer to refugees in a harmful way and cause panic within the public. This language provokes a series of controversy and the notion that Europe is being overrun and plundered (Pai 2018:47). Moreover, another reason for exclusivism is that racialism and anti-terrorism play critical roles in classifying migrants and enhance anti-immigration in mainstream migration policy in Europe. For instance, “in the Netherlands, Geert Wilders, who is the head of the Freedom Party (PVV) has said Europe should close its borders, described the arrival of refugees as an ‘Islamic invasion’, and called Moroccan migrants ‘scum’” (Cited in Ibid:11). Hence, inflammatory and exclusivism distinct internal and external, and, consequently, the fundamental human right of free movement is dominated and exploited by western priorities. Migrants and refugees are not permitted freedom.

Besides anti-immigrant, vested interests profiteer from migrants through transnational institutions or agents/brokers. Individual migrants become a lucrative proposition (Ibid:iii). Aspects of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), such as the ‘hotspot approach’ and outsourcing system, have led to malpractice, profiteering and exploitation of migrants and refugees. Several asylum seekers have not received allowances and counselling because the shelters have kept money and prefer not to spend any funds. The initial purpose of shelters has reversed, and they have become exploitation institutions. Also, the hotspot approach for frontier countries, based on the Dublin Regulation, is an identification system that uses the fingerprints of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. However, there are attempts by migrants to avoid providing their fingerprints and seek asylum in non-frontier countries. Consequently, according to EU policy, frontier countries can force migrants to provide fingerprints through military force. It means that migrant policy as a biopolitical power governs migrants’ movements and survival.

Furthermore, agents and brokers have the chance to gain profits from those migrants who hope to obtain asylum in other countries and evade military arrest. In Syrian M’s experience in 2015 as an asylum seeker from Syria, he paid the necessary amount to agents in order to arrive and seek asylum in Germany. Compared to M, even though most migrants have the right to residence or seek asylum, they are still marked as irregular migrants and encounter deportation because of migration policies which enact the biopower of nation-states and political institutions. As Andersson (2014) highlights, ‘the making of the illegal migrant depends on the much more piecemeal endeavour of policing, assisting, and observing such travellers in Europe’s vast borderlands. Accordingly, capital and the power of nation-states or supranational unions dominate the borders and migrants.

Due to the disparity between reality and the imagined ‘better life’, the gate of civilised Europe seems not so civilised. Alberto Biondo said, ‘we abandoned the idea of freedom and be “controlled” by politics (Pai 2018:265). Therefore, the factual crisis is the disrespect towards the human right of free movement. The migration system and policies have classified peoples and embodied ‘the invisible borders on travellers’ body and the site of enforcement’ (Khosravi 2007). As mentioned above, those instances reveal the current situation, such as the exclusivism and exploitation, encountered by migrants and refugees as they seek asylum and travel in Europe. This means that free movement in Europe is based on current exclusivism and Europe is an illusory utopia for migrants and refugees. Consequently, migration policies cause the formulation of colonialism and racialism and invisible borders in society.

Despite the situations of migrants mentioned above, asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants will have opportunities to obtain relevant ‘integration courses’ and engage in local society (Hindy 2018). In response to the migrant crisis, many countries have implemented integration initiatives through several educational programs for different ethnic groups to accelerate their assimilation, eliminate the differences of individual ethnic groups and cultivate cultural diversity. For instance, in 2016 the German government announced a new policy requesting every migrant to take integration programmes on German language, history, law, and cultural norms (Ibid). This policy is based on inclusivism, and as Gupta and Ferguson (1992:35) state, “‘multiculturalism’ is a feeble recognition of the fact that an attempt to subsume this plurality of cultures within the framework of national identity”.

However, the invisible borders between individual cultures and ethnic groups are the hardest to eliminate. The first reason for this is that the essence of the ‘integration programmes’ is enhanced from top to bottom, not by spontaneous individuals. It means that those migrants will confront the end of subsidies if they do not engage the integration programs. Despite this, the programmes attempt to help migrants obtain job opportunities and engage in the German market, but there is a tendency that this market-oriented and top-to-bottom approach will likely cause resentment rather than ‘integration’ (Pai 2018:197). Moreover, the second reason is that migrants, including refugees, displaced and stateless peoples, are perhaps the first to live out reality in its most complete form when they have encountered “a generalised condition of homelessness’ (Said 1979; Cited in Malkki 1992:25). This means that there are some difficulties when integrating completely into a local society for those peoples and becoming part of a multicultural society. Hence, multiculturalism seems hard to achieve and becomes a slogan for hiding hate speech about migrants, resulting in significant controversy caused by the opposing perspectives of migration policy (inclusion of migration) and the entire society (exclusion and self-protection by locals against migrants). Also, popular and scholarly ‘generic’ representations have made the Middle East a region synonymous with conflict and war, and associated with media images of the refugee victims and terrorist perpetrators of violence (Shami 1996:9). The slogan ‘We are the people!’ (Wir sind das Volk!), which was a central slogan against the ‘Berlin Wall’ in 1989, is abused by German right-wingers to question current migration policy and accelerate hatred in German society (Huggler 2014).

A series of dissenting public voices against migration policy has caused many migrants, refugees and asylum seekers to encounter the ‘slow death’ until disappearance, which takes the form of replacement, deportation, administrative clearance or voluntary departure. ‘all this nibble at the being of the colonized tends to make life something appearing to a fragmentary death (Fanon, Cited in Puar 2017:127). It also means that nation-states, even supranational unions, tend to be unable to deal with the number of displaced people, even via integration programmes, leading to a migrant/ refugee crisis in reality. In Syrian M’s experience, after finishing the integration project, he still has pretended himself as a local and stopped praying to Allah and speaking in Arabic, and even shaves his beard because of Islamophobia. Therefore, through those actions, migrants escape racism, discrimination and exploitation and to obtain temporary rights and silence of life. This leads to the exacerbated distinction and invisible borders between different ethnic groups.

Overall, the cases mentioned above show how colonisation, inequalities and exclusivism through visible and invisible borders embody geographical distinctions and the hierarchy of ethnic groups and result in the hierarchy of citizenships, national antagonism and social differentiation. Migrants shaped by coloniality and biopower live in the border and on the border, resulting in a loss of sovereignty. The bodies and actions of migrants are incarcerated by social consciousness, and ‘the body has become the site of inscription for the politics of immigration — biopolitics of otherness’ Fassin (2001:4). Therefore, biopolitics cause the imprisonment of migrants’ bodies, and ‘crossover’ is still an essential challenge restricted by borders (colonialism). However, ‘border thinking’ (Anzaldúa 1999) is an approach that can potentially locate decolonisation and decoloniality, even though it is difficult to eliminate the concepts of nation-state or borders. Border thinking attempts to decentre the original core and re-centre peripheral visions to reverse the structure, which is related to the relationship between borders and people, including the identity of the nation-state and ethnic groups. The retransformation from bottom to top is a long process. Also, the empathy of equal human rights is critical for everyone to change colonialization and eliminate invisible borders. In short, decoloniality is a tool of reflexion and an option for rethinking how the institutions of the nation-state impact on borders and colonialism.


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獨立藝術工作者。自 2009 至 2018 從事展覽統籌、出版與媒體公關相關工作。2014 年開始行走北亞、中亞與西亞,撰寫各類文章,關注人權、文化、藝術、移民、文化遺產議題。