In its inception, this roundtable was meant to simply focus on the role borders have played in the current refugee crisis. Yet, as the discussion evolved, it became clear there was much more to be said. There were more questions to ask, and broader issues at hand. I learned so much from our experts as to the history, meaning, and purpose of borders.
Throughout the roundtable, three main themes emerged.
The first is that borders are no longer merely a line, but have now become a zone. This is something we all experience as we travel, but probably don’t think much about. Our borders now extend far beyond simply the demarcated line between countries, reaching sometimes even across oceans as we must go through customs before even boarding flights to new countries. An interesting aspect of this, as Dr. Vallet notes, is that the borders are more pixelated. “That means that their opacity will vary depending on the nature of the flow – for instance the citizenship of the passport holder.” Thus, as borders expand, their dynamics also shift and flex depending on who it is that intends on crossing said border. I know for sure that my U.S. passport makes for much more flexible borders than say a Syrian passport.
The second theme is how these tightened borders affect identity, both of those living along the border region, and of those in bordering countries. Dr. Cocks explains that borders allow for the flourishing of cultures within a particular space. In this sense, we see the emergence of beautiful cultures and traditions in the various regions of the world. This is complicated as border lines are drawn through communities, separating groups from each other. Further, as Dr. Forman highlights, as border walls go up, so do racism, xenophobia, and nationalism. This can be seen in the U.S. and Europe as borders are fortified in response to the refugee crisis, and now we are seeing these growing nationalist movements in regions where there has either been an increase in immigration, or a perceived increase in immigration.
The third is the dichotomy between an ever more globalized world, and yet more closed off borders. One of my biggest questions going in was how it was that our community was globalizing and our borders were closing. Dr. Vallet notes that globalization didn’t actually lead to the loosening or disappearance of borders as one might assume, but actually more to a “redefinition of territory.” As borders continue to solidify, it will be interesting to see how global markets are impacted, if at all.
Ultimately, I think what we will find is that the strengthening of borders will continue to be detrimental to all concerned. It will hurt states and economies, but most importantly, it will hurt people. I have always been drawn toward Kant’s ideal of Universal Hospitality. In Perpetual Peace, Kant explains "Hospitality means the right of a stranger not to be treated as an enemy when he arrives in the land of another. One may refuse to receive him when this can be done without causing his destruction; but, so long as he peacefully occupies his place, one may not treat him with hostility." This notion of hospitality sticks with me whenever I see Syrian citizens fleeing Assad refused entry into countries where they seek refuge, or those stuck in the claws of the U.S. immigration system. I will continue to hope this swing toward more fortified borders will eventually swing back toward more cosmopolitan ideals, and more fluid borders.