Border Controls and Freedom of Movement in an Age of Climate Chaos


We are here in Cochabamba partly to participate in the Migration and Climate Change working group. We are involved in the No Border network in the UK and Europe and have worked in solidarity with migrants at European and US-Mexican borders. We would like to take the opportunity of this space, to present our political positions around migration and to invite reflections and discussion with the perspectives that we find here in Bolivia.


Climate change is exacerbating factors which force people to migrate such as lack of access to land and conflict. The tiny proportion who attempt the expensive and dangerous journey, are met with militarised border controls on the journey to ‘Fortress Europe’ or North America. Labelled ‘illegals,’ they are denied basic rights and struggle to live in dignity, whilst becoming scapegoats for a range of social problems. The Global North states’ historical development of capital accumulation, colonialism and carbon emissions, means they have a unique responsibility towards those who are displaced. Only those with the correct papers and commodities are free to move around the world. Those seeking a better life or moving to survive are increasingly denied this option. Failure to cut emissions is tantamount to genocide. Climate Justice means defending the principle of freedom of movement for all. Here we expand on seven main points to explain how the No Borders position can focus the debate on the root causes.


In the same way that the straight lines that divide so much of the world were drawn by European statesmen to divide colonial possessions; the infrastructure that makes up a state has been designed and developed by the rich and powerful for the benefit of their own class. All countries are ‘imagined communities,’ members of even the smallest nation never know, meet, or even hear of most of the other people in their country. This imagined community was created as a means to control the poor, to divide working people from their natural allies of other exploited people from across the globe. One of the reasons why we see that the COP process has failed is that at its core lies the inherent contradiction that nation states, who are competing economically, come together to solve the problem of climate change, which would have massive economic implications. Climate change is a symptom of economies which do not distribute wealth and instead need to keep on growing infinitely on a finite planet. To solve the climate crisis we must change the systems of production, consumption and exploitation of both natural resources and people. This also means a rejection of nationalism and the false division between citizens and non-citizens.


As a result of the hyper-exploitation of people and planet over the last hundred years we have increasingly unequal and therefore precarious societies. The position of gross inequality where 20% of the global population are responsible for 80% of global pollution, is the result of a long history of expropriation and oppression. Border controls can be seen as an attempt to avoid the inevitable consequences of imperialist conquest. Neo-liberal globalisation has continued to perpetuate the inequalities established during the colonial period. At one end of the spectrum we have carbon intensive lifestyles and a celebrity obsessed culture which is completely alienated from its devastating impacts. At the other are all those who struggle daily to live with basic dignity and enough food to eat. Immigration controls are used as a means to control labour and to restrict the ability of all workers to unite internationally. Immigration controls reinforce, spread and normalise racist attitudes by ensuring the existence of an “other”, “aliens”, “foreigners.” By intensifying immigration controls, whether to appease racists and fascists or for other reasons, racism is exacerbated.


Under global policies of ‘migration management’, borders mean watchtowers and barbed wire, and migrants are reduced to mere quotas. To realise their objectives, the European agency, Frontex – armed and in possession of considerable powers – executes a merciless hunt of migrants in maritime, aerial and terrestrial areas. This only forces people to seek alternative and inevitably more fatal access routes. For this reason there were 1,508 deaths at the EU border were recorded in 2008 alone.1 The EU policy of the “free movement of persons,” within its borders has gone hand in hand with an attempt to build ‘Fortress Europe’; externalising EU borders into Africa and Asia with EU border guards patrolling the Mediterranean, Libya and off the West Coast of Africa. This entire system is overseen by the The International Organisation for Migration, (IOM) a 120 member intra- governmental organisation headed by the USA, that aims to manage migration worldwide for the benefit of capital.

Although it is not widely reported, so called non-lethal technologies on borders exist, for example semi-intelligent fences and unmanned aerial drones. In response to the projected displacement from climate change technologies are being developed based on racist assumptions, for example technologies that could target certain racial groups. The very same arms companies are not only profiting from conflicts but are now bidding for border policy contracts and internal surveillance mechanisms.

Yet despite this border controls do not work as a barrier but more of a filter, only allowing through those who are deemed useful or profitable and excluding those who are not. They can also be counter-productive to their stated aims as people who would seek to migrate temporarily are kept permanently inside, as we see on the US-Mexico border. People will continue to move whilst conditions remain intolerable. We must fight for freedom to stay while at the same time work towards open borders which allow people to mitigate for themselves the consequences of climate change and capitalism.


In the UK and Europe we have seen a shift away from tolerance and human rights in relation to migration. This has been a gradual process of erosion of civil liberties through the War on Terror and increasingly repressive immigration policies. A new category of people has been developed, an underclass of so called “illegals”. We see enforced destitution, the refusal of any state support, people are prevented from working legally, and live in fear of forced deportation. Far from being a bastion of human rights and dignity, the UK is the only European country to use indefinite imprisonment of asylum seekers and foreign nationals, including children. Terror suspects are held without trial. At the same time we see the rise of far-right political parties, such as the British National Party, who position anti-immigration discourses as the solutions to environmental problems. As the global recession affects the number of low-paid jobs available we see that immigrants are increasingly scape-goated for a range of problems from lack of housing to crime and societal breakdown. All this detracts attention from the real causes; capitalism and unequal social relations.


The debate about immigration in Europe is dominated by right-wing views. Hence there is real fear about the terms of the climate refugee debate. Many fear that to open up the Geneva convention, which still provides at least come protection to political refugees, would risk losing it all together. But there are other important considerations as we attempt to build a political struggle for those displaced by climate change. To claim asylum in the UK or Europe is a demeaning and degrading process. Individualised stories of suffering and persecution must be proved to a very high level and many times are not believed, despite scars, trauma etc. The arguments around climate refugees seem to be following this same path, people are portrayed as helpless victims. Not only does this remove people’s political agency and , but carries the risk of merely appealing to the conscience of those who already accept a high level of degrading treatment for ‘others’ in the name of preserving their national identity.


We believe that a more empowering way of talking about the issues would focus on the structural causes, in a politicised context of anti-racism, anti-fascism and anti-colonialism. We must talk about people’s situation in terms of imperial relations, free trade agreements and the role of the military. States are already responding to the “threat” of people being displaced by climate change. If we limit ourselves to the discourse of refugees we will never be able to move beyond these divisions of human beings to a more egalitarian distribution of wealth and power. Therefore, we need a strong global movement that recognises the historic role of borders and immigration controls, and fights for truly universal principles of equality and liberty. This is made even more urgent by climate change, but we must not let this current crisis be used as a vehicle for the further entrenchment of repressive authority and exploitation.


Until we step outside of constructed national interests we can never create real solutions to climate change. We must reject claims that borders equate to security. Unless we deal with the root causes of climate change, every person on the planet is a potential climate refugee. Rather than campaigning for a further category of people which can then be arbitrarily applied by those in power, we must demand Freedom to Stay and Freedom of Movement for All.

No Borders is an anti-authoritarian position rejecting any border regime which allows for the free flow of capital, whilst limiting the movement of human beings. We support the struggles for the freedom of movement and freedom to stay for all, and an end to the exploitation of people and resources around the world for the benefit of the few. We support the radical climate justice movement which challenges the use of the threat of climate chaos as an excuse for even more harsh migration and social controls. No Borders groups and their allies organise around many concrete campaigns including, camps of radical convergence, direct action to work in solidarity with migrant struggles, resisting immigration prisons and supporting anti-deportation campaigns. We are part of a transnational network of autonomous groups calling for unity between exploited people against the rich and powerful. We imagine a future without migration controls, capitalism or the state, based on the principles of freedom and equality.

People put their bodies in motion, and this motion is a movement. A movement against the borders, against the detention camps, against the world system as it stands. Not a movement of leaders and party campaigns, but of physical crossings and antagonism.


March 1, 2011 - Posted by | anti-otoriter / anarşizan, sınırlara hayır

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