Who has the right to be free? Thoughts from Freedom of Movement 2.0
09 March 2020
On Saturday 15 February, Global Justice Now and their London youth group Our Future Now, hosted Freedom of Movement 2.0, ‘a day of workshops, panel discussions, poetry and live music from migrant led activist groups, creative collectives and bands’. Speakers included Maya Goodfellow, author of ‘Hostile Environment’, scholar Bridget Anderson and Dalia Gebrial from Novara Media. Catered by the Refugee Community Kitchen, all the money raised through the event was donated to the All African Women’s Group, Migrant and Asylum Seeker Solidarity Action and Project Play.
The event centred around imagining a world where everyone has the right to move freely – a day that challenges the racist logic of borders, deportations, detention centres, razor wire fences and the violence and human suffering they create. This human cost has become ever-more visible from the vantage point of ‘Fortress Europe’. Images of hundreds of people storming over border fences; of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old baby who washed up dead on the shores of Turkey in 2015; have permeated the collective conscience of our societies in the Global North. For others though, this violence doesn’t need to be experienced through a screen – it is real life.
Increasingly, the strategy of European states to deal with the ‘migrant crisis’ has become one of containment and exclusion. The European Union plans to spend 38 billion Euros on border security between 2021 and 2027 and increase the amount of Frontex (EU border agency) guards by 10,000. Hypocritical, one might suggest, when considering the relationship of dependency and exploitation that Europe has had (and continues to have) with the countries where many people are fleeing inequality, war, repression and genocide.
A system of global apartheid
The question is who has the right to be free? Who has the freedom to move and whose movement is restricted? Why are certain bodies deemed undeveloped and dangerous? Why are White people ‘expats’ and Black and Brown people ‘immigrants’? Why is it that as the Windrush Scandal has emerged over the last few years the Government has simultaneously ensured that existing EU citizens in the UK would not lose their ‘right’ to live and work here?
According to Achille Mbembe, white supremacy is "increasingly encoded in the language of the border and of security". Borders become ‘sites of reinforcement, reproduction and intensification of vulnerability for stigmatised, dishonoured, racialised and disposable groups’. To be clear, borders are more than the limits of a territorial space controlled by a particular state; they represent the nation, which can extend beyond the domestic confines of a particular country, but most importantly, defines who is (and who isn’t) a citizen within it.
Thus, borders present differently to different people. For some, they hardly exist but for others, they can be insurmountable. Whilst the rich seem to have the ability to move freely across borders, it is those who are racialised as ‘Others’ and the poor whose mobility is limited and controlled. The system of borders and nations is a system of global apartheid that was made, and is continually remade, through unequal relationships of colonial extraction. And for this reason, it is increasingly important to stand in solidarity with migrant communities. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. eloquently wrote;
"injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
With the rise of xenophobic and exclusionary nationalism all over the world, Dr. King’s words ring as true today as they did when he wrote them. Colonialism doesn’t only dehumanise the colonised, but eats away at the coloniser like a gangrene, as Aime Cesaire writes in his majestic Discourse on Colonialism. This functions on both an individual and a civilizational level – the violence of the soldier against the innocent civilian brutalises both the civilian and the soldier. Similarly, the ways in which migrants are treated in our countries is indicative of the methods of repression that affect us already – or that will likely affect us in the near-future.
Borders in the NHS
This became stark at Freedom of Movement 2.0, especially during the talk delivered by Patients not Passports, a group set up by Docs not Cops, Medact and Migrants Organise in 2019 to oppose the charging of non-UK nationals in the NHS. During the talk, we learnt that the Immigration Act of 2014 expanded the remit for charging non-UK nationals, introducing an "immigration health surcharge for those seeking visas to enter the UK, and up to 150% charge for treatment in secondary care".
And in 2017, these regulations expanded – resulting in charging being introduced in some community services and a statutory duty for NHS Trusts to "check the eligibility of all patients before providing treatment in secondary care, and, for certain treatments, patients may be asked to pay upfront or risk being turned away" altogether.
It is no secret that the proponents of neoliberalism seek to privatise the NHS, particularly with Brexit looming overhead and a potential trade deal with the USA. Charging will no longer be only for those deemed as non-UK nationals but could be expanded to cover the whole population. This would undoubtedly be a regression for a health service that is revered by many across the world; and elucidates the ways in which the tactics of oppression reserved for ‘Others’ are indicative of future modalities of governance for us all.
The privatisation of the NHS is not an aberration and this process – known as the imperial boomerang effect – continues to dehumanise both the colonised and the coloniser, pushing us towards a more economically unequal, racist and authoritarian Britain. As Abdullah Ocalan writes, the nation (and by extension, borders) represent the "purest expression of fascism". They underpin capitalism, imperialism, patriarchy and white supremacy, as Dalia Gebrial suggested in her speech at Freedom of Movement 2.0.
The control of the movement of some people is a fundamental component of this system – maintaining social relationships that relegate those deemed as unworthy to precarity, exploitation and violence. Fighting for freedom of movement is one way in which we can start to dismantle the current system and imagine a world where freedom is for everyone, not just a privileged few.