The UK–Philippine trade in nurses: is it ever ethical?

By Megan Anjeri Buxton.

Funding for home-grown nurses has been steadily declining in the UK since the 1980s. The last nail in the coffin came in 2016 when the bursary for nursing students was entirely scrapped. As a result, we have a graduation rate of 27 nurses per 100,000 people. Hardly enough to meet the demands of a generally unhealthy and ageing population – and that’s before the pandemic hit. Practicing nurses are also rightfully fed up with poor employment conditions and low pay and they are leaving in droves. The NHS needs 50,000 more nurses and is looking towards the Philippines to fill a lot of this gap.   

Currently, there are 40,000 Filipino nurses working in the UK, a staggering number that results from an arrangement made between the UK and Philippine governments. Established in 2003, this bilateral agreement provides the UK with Filipino nurses, and the Philippines with compensatory funds from the UK as well as remittances from their overseas workforce. Despite this agreement being purportedly a ‘win-win’, the increasing ‘industrial-complex’ that has come to characterise the trade in nurses is sucking the Philippines dry.  

A nurse in full PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic (image: Ömer Yıldız on Unsplash)

Context  

For the UK, relying on overseas healthcare personnel is hardly new. Since the NHS came into being in 1948 it has been staffed by workers from the Commonwealth who nursed a nation recovering from war back into health. The UK has a habit of poaching nurses from nations who are most in need. In the past both Ghana and South Africa have condemned the part the UK played in their severe nurse shortages. Similarly, in 2014 the most targeted countries for recruitment to the UK were Spain, Portugal and Italy, each of which were suffering from devastating economic crises.  

Looking abroad for nurses is not surprising for a nation that is founded on the extraction of resources from elsewhere for its own convenience. The financial costs of recruiting an overseas nurse are only ten per cent of what it would cost the UK to train its own. Overseas nurses are also ‘ready-made’, with seven years of training replaced by only the few weeks it takes to recruit one. The externalisation of costs is a sign of the commodification of nurses who are viewed not as humans providing essential healthcare but as goods to be bought and sold.   

The ethics of recruitment  

Although managed by the Philippines Overseas Employment Agency (POEA), the export-led model in the nursing field in the Philippines has led to increasing private-sector involvement. Many nursing schools, or ‘migrant institutions’, train nurses specifically to go overseas. Because they are profit driven many schools have enrolled students far beyond capacity, jeopardising the quality of training. Schools often have business deals with licensure exam review centres. There have been instances where schools have bribed officials from the Professional Regulation Commission of Nursing to leak exam questions. Such corruption has resulted in a system of nurse training that follows industry models. Profit seeking has compromised the quality of care and nurses themselves have been transformed into a mass-produced commodity.   

Within the sector more and more schools have been established that cater only for the export market. This means that the syllabus does not match the needs of healthcare in the Philippines, and that skills become specialised towards western diseases and illnesses. In fact, some recruitment companies that operate internationally have amalgamated with nursing schools, streamlining the export process. As a result, not only is the Philippines losing nurses, but doctors are re-training as nurses and also leaving the country. The Philippines has half the amount of nurses and ten times fewer doctors per capita than does the UK. Over the past decade hundreds of hospitals have closed and the mortality rate has increased to the level it was 30 years ago. For Jaime Galvez-Tan, previously the Executive Director of the National Institutes of Health in the Philippines, this phenomenon is less an example of ‘brain-drain’ than of ‘brain-haemorrhage’.  

In the UK certain measures have been put in place to ensure that recruitment practices remain ethical. The 1999 Department of Health guidelines state that compliance with its code of practice ‘minimises harm to the health and care systems of countries of origin’. The industry in nurse recruitment that has resulted from the bilateral arrangement between the UK and the Philippines appears to fall far short of these guidelines. The ethics of the recruitment agencies – who also follow a profit-based business model – are not dependable when the sector is not regulated by a government body.

Having a code of practice suggests that the UK government should monitor agency recruitment carefully. But a study of NHS Trusts found that few had any information on recruitment activity and most had none at all. A long chain of outsourcing and sub-contracting – from companies involved in initial training to ones that market emigration opportunities, to those that guide nurses through the visa application process, to companies that arrange travel and English Language Tests – makes it difficult to keep track of the specific activities involved in recruitment. The monitoring process for the code of practice is not sufficient to deal with these complexities. It simply ‘encourages’ health and social care organisations to respond to surveys capturing international recruitment activity and to share information on any known breaches of the code of practice. The agencies themselves are only sent an email every two years asking them to ‘confirm their compliance with the principles of the code of practice’ and to supply two referees to confirm that they use the agency and that it complies with the code of practice.

The pandemic has further highlighted the questionable ethics of Filipino nurse employment in the UK. Nurses come to the UK on a Tier-2 visa, which makes their ability to legally reside in the UK dependent on them being in employment. Without a job, their legal residence is withdrawn. As a result, many Filipino nurses have felt under pressure by management to work extra shifts and work in COVID wards as they feel they ‘owe’ the hospital for allowing them to enter and reside in the UK. This has likely contributed to the disproportionately high number of Filipino NHS nurses who have died from COVID. A letter to parliament from the Filipino UK Nurses Association points out that of the 50 Filipino nurses who died last year almost 40 were in a high-risk category and should have been allowed home to shield. 

Overall, then, a picture is painted of a trade agreement that is creating a fatal imbalance in the distribution of nurses between the UK and Philippines. It has led to a training industry that values profit over education, a recruitment industry that is left largely unmonitored and a work environment in the UK that puts Filipino nurses at risk. From origin to destination each leg in this chain is unethical.

Megan Anjeri Buxton is a student on the MSc Migration and Mobility Studies at the University of Bristol.

The ‘New Plan for Immigration’: a further curtailment of rights

By Nadine Finch.

Over the past three decades I have linked my practice as a human rights lawyer in the UK with research and policy development in the migration field and I will draw on this experience in my new role as an Honorary Senior Policy Fellow in the School for Policy Studies at Bristol. It will take the totality of this experience, and more, to address the formidable challenges posed by the immigration legislation recently proposed by the UK government. The New Plan for Immigration needs to be placed in the context of repeated attacks on ‘activist lawyers’ and plans to limit the discretion of judges in immigration and asylum appeals and to reduce their powers in judicial review.

It is not just international law norms that are not respected in the wake of Brexit. There is also a growing disregard for the parts of the UK’s unwritten constitution that assign the judiciary a role, as important as that of the executive and parliament, when it comes to domestic law. The enormity of the possible consequences for migrants and the professionals who support and assist them is still not fully comprehended by many in civil society. The gradual and disparate extension of the ‘Hostile Environment’ over the past three decades has been mitigated to some extent by local authorities and legal challenges and this has lulled many into a false sense of security that there are certain lines that will not be crossed. As have the continuing invitations to take part in consultations and working groups.

The UK has legislated to control immigration on numerous occasions since 1905, when the Aliens Act first gave responsibility for matters concerning immigration and nationality to the Home Secretary. The very fact that responsibility was allocated to this particular minister indicated a belief that it was imperative to ‘protect’ existing British residents from those seeking to enter from abroad. Since then, on many occasions, legislation has been introduced – and supported by the mainstream media – to protect the ‘majority’ from migrants who are perceived to be seeking employment and support, to which they are not entitled, and who are said to be responsible for a varying degree of criminality. In the populist climate following Brexit and the repudiation of the human rights norms underpinning much EU law, these claims can be more blatant and fact-free.

(Image: DDP on Unsplash)

The main targets for this legislation can be refugees and migrants fleeing from civil war and economic and social degradation, which is rooted in the history and economic policies of the very states in which they are compelled to seek protection. Attempts have previously been made to deter asylum seekers from accessing protection but the main principles underpinning the 1951 Refugee Convention have been honoured. The New Plan for Immigration is in many ways a radical departure.

The Immigration Rules relating to this New Plan do not provide a safe and legal route for an asylum seeker to enter the UK as a refugee. A person seeking international protection cannot seek sanctuary and assistance at a UK diplomatic post abroad. Instead, they can only apply for asylum once they have reached the UK’s home territory. Some individuals do manage to circumvent this restriction by initially entering as a student or a visitor. But this is only possible if they can meet a series of onerous financial and evidential conditions before leaving their own state. A person fleeing persecution is unlikely to have the economic resources, the freedom of movement or the time to do so. In addition, if they mention a fear of persecution in their application for a student or visitor visa it will be refused as they will not be able to show that they will return to their country of origin after their limited leave to enter and remain as a student or visitor. But if they do not mention it, this failure will damage the credibility of any subsequent refugee claim.

Therefore, asylum seekers have to employ whatever means are available to enter the UK, whether on flights and Eurostar trains or dinghies to the southern and eastern seaboards of England. In response, the Government has funded defensive walls and fences in northern France, posted immigration officers in airports in many states abroad and is now patrolling the Channel. An individual travelling alone is unlikely to be able to penetrate these defences: this is a major factor that has led to their need to employ smugglers to assist them to enter the UK. The emergence of these ‘criminal networks’ is better characterised as a response to the barriers faced by refugees than a reason for their arrival.

If adults do manage to enter, but illegally, and are deemed to have passed through or have a connection with a safe third country, any application for asylum is deemed inadmissible and they will face removal. If they cannot be removed, and even they are found to be entitled to international protection, they will only be given a lesser and temporary form of protection, will have no recourse to public funds unless they are destitute and their immediate family members will not be permitted to join them. This creation of a two-tier system for international protection does not meet the requirements of the Refugee Convention and has been severely criticised by UNHCR.  

It is also planned to set the test for qualifying for international protection at a significantly higher level than that recommended by UNHCR in its Handbook. In a series of seminal cases the UK’s highest court has also recognised the severe challenges facing asylum seekers asked to provide evidence of detention, torture or ill-treatment, when their persecutor is a repressive regime, witnesses and family members may have been killed or imprisoned and they may have fled without any possessions, let alone documents, to prove their case. An individual’s ability to provide evidence will also be curtailed by the fact that on arrival they will be transferred to proposed reception centres or camps. This will limit their access to legal advice and representation as well as medical and other expert reports. It is also likely to increase any trauma previously experienced in their countries of origin and during their journeys and render them less capable of providing a cogent account of their persecution. 

It is still not clear whether these centres and camps will accommodate any children accompanying adult asylum seekers, as was the case in the 1990s before it was accepted that the detention of children in such circumstances breached the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, children wrongly assessed as being adults will be detained. It is also likely that proposed changes to the age assessment process will increase the risk of mistakes being made. In particular, the proposal to establish a National Age Assessment Board staffed by social workers, contracted to the Home Office, would remove the process from the direct oversight of local authorities who have the training and skills to maintain necessarily robust and regulated child protection processes.

The core elements of the New Plan were included in the Queen’s Speech on 11 May 2021 and it is expected that the proposed bill will have its Second Reading before the parliamentary summer recess. It is likely that much of the detail of the Plan will not be on the face of the Bill but that the Government will give itself wide regulatory powers. This will be addressed in a policy briefing that I am writing on the Plan and the Bill, which will be published by Policy Bristol in the autumn.

Nadine Finch is an Honorary Senior Policy Fellow in the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol. Her primary areas of research and policy development relate to children on the move in the UK and Europe. She is also an associate at Child Circle in Brussels. Between 1992 and 2000 she was a barrister at 1 Pump Court Chambers and then Doughty Street Chambers and from 2000 she was a barrister at Garden Court Chambers.

Britain as the spoils of empire

Race, nation and migration – the blog series reframing thinking on movement and racism.

By Nadine El-Enany.

My parents travelled from Egypt to Britain in 1977, moving from London to Exeter, a city in the South West of England, in 1978. For my parents, Exeter was a place they felt fortunate to have found, an idyll far from the noisy, crowded streets of Cairo. They made Exeter their home. Yet 40 years later, when my father retired, a neighbour asked him when he would be going back to Egypt.  Still, my parents are the lucky ones. They came to Britain on an aeroplane, study visas in hand. They did not have to travel by boat, or in the back of a lorry risking their lives.

‘Bordering Britain’ is not only the centuries long legal and political process that my recent book traces: it is also a mindset. Hanging over my parents will always be the assumption that their life in Britain is contingent and temporary. Immigration law teaches white British citizens that Britain and everything within it is rightfully theirs. ‘Others’ are here as guests. I challenge this by showing how British immigration and nationality law is an extension of British colonialism. I argue that Britain’s borders, articulated and policed via immigration laws, maintain the global racial order established by colonialism, whereby colonised peoples are dispossessed of land and resources. Britain is not only bordered, but also racially and colonially ordered, through the operation of immigration control.

Britain would not be the wealthy, plentiful place that it is without its colonial history. Colonialism and slavery were key to its industrialisation and the growth of its capitalist economy (see Draper 2008; Inikori 2002; Williams 1944). Wealth derived from British slave-ownership has helped to enrich and sustain elite institutions, individuals and families and has sewn inequality deep into the fabric of British society (see Dorling and Tomlinson 2019). Britain’s healthcare system, welfare state, transportation infrastructure, cultural and educational institutions, though battered and unequally accessible, are nevertheless colonially derived.

As colonial populations fought the British from their territories, British lawmakers fast abandoned the myth of imperial unity and equality and moved to introduce controls targeted at racialised colonial subjects and Commonwealth citizens. Through the concept of patriality the 1971 Immigration Act had made whiteness intrinsic to British identity. Only patrials, those born in Britain or with a parent born in Britain, had a right of entry and stay in Britain. In 1971 a person born in Britain was most likely (98%) to be white (see Owen 1995). The 1981 Act continued this process of racial exclusion by constructing British citizenship on the foundation of patriality, tying citizenship to the right of entry and abode (Karatani 2002:185). A territorially distinct Britain and a concept of citizenship that made Britishness commensurate with whiteness made it clear that Britain, the landmass and everything within it, belongs to Britons, conceived intrinsically as white. The 1981 Act was an act of appropriation, a final seizure of the wealth and infrastructure secured through centuries of colonial conquest.

Understanding Britain as a contemporary colonial space serves to partially collapse the distinction between settler and non-settler colonial contexts. While it is now an accepted argument in critical scholarship that settler colonialism is ongoing and structural (for example, Coulthard 2014), the same critique has not been applied to non-settler forms of colonialism, which are considered to have ended. Yet, the border drawn around the spoils of British colonial conquest via immigration and nationality law amounts to colonial theft. Due to mainstream understandings of property as being fixed and immovable in space and time, theft via the passing of immigration controls can be difficult to conceptualise (see Cooper 2013; Keenan 2015). Colonial dispossession not only determined the contemporary distribution of material wealth, but also radically altered subjectivity in the sense of what people desire, consider themselves as entitled to and understand themselves to be (Fanon 1986). Theft of intangibles such as economic growth, life chances, psyches and futures occur in all colonial contexts, settler or otherwise.

The effect of the 1981 Act along with changes to immigration law was to put the wealth of Britain, gained via colonial conquest, out of reach for the vast majority of people racialised through colonial processes. Immigration law not only serves as the means of obstruction of movement – it is also the means through which legal status is granted. Regimes of legal status recognition whereby British authorities determine entitlement to citizenship, settlement and refugee status serve to legitimise the claim that colonial wealth belongs behind Britain’s borders, only to be accessed with permission.

Similar to the way in which indigenous people in Canada and Australia must submit to the rules and evidentiary standards of those colonial legal systems in order to be recognised as having enforceable rights to land (for example, Mabo and Others vs Queensland 1992), those with ancestral, geographical and personal histories of British colonialism who wish to access stolen colonial wealth and resources in Britain must submit to the rules and evidentiary standards of British immigration law. In this way the vast majority of racialised people are prevented from accessing Britain and its wealth in part through the operation of internal and external borders, produced and enforced through law.

The traditional acceptance of legal categories as defined in international and domestic law in and outside academia has the effect of concealing law’s role in producing racialised subjects and racial violence. It further impedes an understanding of law as racial violence. Addressing the historical contingency and artificiality of legal categories, the violence in their production and ongoing material effects allows us to understand how Britain remains colonially and racially configured. It also helps to mitigate against a liberal politics of recognition and opens the way for the development of emancipatory and reparative discourses and strategies for migrant solidarity and racial justice.

Legal status does not alter the way in which racialised people are cast in white spaces as undeserving guests, outsiders or intruders – as here today but always potentially gone tomorrow. Immigration law is, after all, the prop used to teach white British citizens that what Britain plundered from its colonies is theirs and theirs alone. Understanding that immigration law is an extension of colonialism enables us to question Britain’s claim to being a legitimately bordered, sovereign nation-state. If we, as critical scholars and activists, can imbibe a counter-pedagogy to that of immigration law and bordering, one which rejects the violence of legal categorisation and paves the way for a more empowering, redistributive and radical politics of racial justice, we can begin to work our way towards new strategies for organising collectively in the service of anti-racism and migrant solidarity. We should not wait for the law to rule on our entitlement to colonial spoils. A Britain understood as the spoils of empire already belongs to us.

Nadine El-Enany is Reader in Law at Birkbeck School of Law and Co-Director of the Centre for Research on Race and Law. She researches migration and refugee law and one of her current research projects focuses on questions of race and justice in death in custody cases. (B)ordering Britain: Law, Race and Empire (2020) is available from Manchester University Press.

A longer version of this blog post was originally published by Manchester University Press on 6th November 2019.

(de)Bordering the human and non-human worlds

By Bridget Anderson.

In October 2016 the French authorities evicted more than a thousand people from their shelters in the Calais ‘Jungle’. This had become a hub for people seeking to cross the Channel to come to the UK, and a focus of solidarity and rights activism. It was to be replaced with a nature reserve. Who can object to the restoration of an ecosystem, symbolised by the re-establishment of endangered native species? To uncovering and nurturing back to life the seeds of the Liparis loeselii, the endangered fen orchid, dormant under 60 years of detritus and topsoil? The subsequent Fort Vert nature reserve is now a resting ground for migrating birds but designed so it provides no shelter for migrating humans. Calais has been a point of tension between England and France for centuries, yet today the UK Border Force is a partner in this ‘projet de territoire’.

The Liparis Loeselii orchid, now growing on the site of the Calais ‘Jungle’ (image: orchidsworld on flickr)

The ‘natural world’ is often imagined as pre-political, as a kind of innocent space that must be conserved and protected from human beings. Yet environmental issues are bound up with power, domination and forms of violence that cannot escape politics. Moreover, at the same time as being pre-political, ‘nature’ is also imagined as national – think about national parks, the claiming of iconic national animals and the determination to stamp out ‘invasive species’. Fort Vert is incorporated into France’s ‘National Restoration Plan’.

The interface between environment and human mobility is likely to become increasingly politically fraught. There is growing anxiety about ‘environmental refugees’ and the consequences that environmental change will have for mobility to rich countries. This raises extremely important questions for the politics of migration and global justice. It also demands that we think carefully about the language used in environmental and migration justice. The pollution and destruction that people are seeking to escape compounded by racism easily becomes associated with them. Migrants are routinely seen to scurry, scuttle, sneak and swarm. It is legitimate to respond to vermin through the creation of a ‘hostile environment’.

These metaphors pass unremarked into press coverage. We often hear the language of insects and vermin, low down on the animal phyla, invading not the national territory but the national home. One insect is trivial, of no consequence, but they travel in swarms, so just one is likely to presage millions. Unlike beasts of burden, these are not perceived as productive animals. They are strongly associated with human waste and thrive in the places we try to forget: sewers, empty lots, derelict buildings, mountainous landfills. In the same way that vermin serve as a reminder of ecosystems of dirt and waste that are thrown up by and live on the by-products of production, so the people at the borders of Europe and those whose bodies wash up on Mediterranean beaches are part of the ecosystems of global economic, social and political relations, and the living histories of colonialism and patriarchy – ecosystems that many would rather forget.

Fort Vert exemplifies the ‘green washing’ of border enforcement. It is vitally important to be able to think about environmental justice, sustainability and mobility justice together, rather than as a zero-sum game. A pristine national space is a fantasy, but that does not mean it is not important to act on environmental destruction, climate change and migration justice: rather, it is important to act on them together. This demands analysis and mutual learning, and universities are an important space to facilitate these conversations. At Bristol, MMB has been working with the Brigstow Institute and two fantastic artist/gardeners, Charli Clark and Paul Hurley, to develop a living lab where we can observe, debate and learn from the multiple mobilities that are part of our worlds. (de)Bordering explores ideas of the native, the natural and concepts of place, and how they feature in the politics of environment and ecology and the politics of migration and mobility.  

The (de)Bordering project is set in the University of Bristol’s Royal Fort Gardens and comprises two plots planted up to attract migrants and welcome weeds and out-of-place plants. The summer garden, for example, has different thistle species and mallow, ideal for the painted lady butterfly to lay its eggs on and for its caterpillars to pupate. The painted lady migrates to and from North Africa. Cow parsley, summer ragwort and lady’s bedstraw will attract insects such as the marmalade hoverfly, an aphid-eating pollinator that arrives in its billions in the summer months. They are food for swifts and swallows.

A painted lady butterfly, migrating to the UK from North Africa, feeds on a thistle as planted in the (de)Bordering plot (image: hedera.baltica on flickr)

The winter friendly garden will be stocked with berries and seeds from hawthorn and ivy – the food of fieldfares and redwings – and from elder and dogwood – beloved of blackbirds and robins. Did you know that while most robins in the UK scarcely leave their ‘territory’, some (mainly female) ones fly to southern Spain in the winter? Those that stay put are in turn joined by robins from Scandinavia escaping the severe winter up north. We hope both long-term residents and those passing through will enjoy the rosehip and blackthorn they will find on our plot.

There are also two structures being built in this space. One is a hide, where two people will be able to observe insect life, and the other, larger structure is a space for debate, modelled on the shelters in the Calais ‘Jungle’ from which people were evicted. We hope that both will enable us to learn from the ways that people co-exist with and in our world, and how we can co-exist better. We will be completing it and making a firepit on 28th June, finishing with poems and stories around the fire. Come and join us then!

Bridget Anderson is the Director of MMB and Professor of Migration, Mobilities and Citizenship in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies at the University of Bristol. She leads the online course Migration, Mobilities and Citizenship: The MMB Online Academy 2021.

Bridget would like to thank Professor Miriam Ticktin and acknowledge the organisers and participants of the conference ‘Invasive Others’, held on 20th-21st April 2016 in the New School for Social Research, New York, for the conversations that helped her develop these ideas. Those wanting to know more might be interested in the special issue of Social Research that was dedicated to the conference papers.

Race and the making of migration regimes

Race, nation and migration – the blog series reframing thinking on movement and racism.

By Radhika Mongia.

Indian Migration and Empire: A Colonial Genealogy of the Modern State (2018) is an investigation into the history of state control over migration. At the heart of the book are two main questions: first, what histories can we chart of the increasing and incremental state control over migration that culminate, by the early decades of the twentieth century, in a state monopoly over migration? Second, what can these histories tell us about state formation, inter-state relations, state sovereignty and modern subject constitution? The book considers colonial Indian migration from about 1834, when Britain abolished slavery in its plantation colonies, up to about 1914, when, with the onset of World War I, the world confronted a new geopolitical reality. In less than a century, we see profound transformations in the logics, rationales, institutions and legal forms of state control over mobility.

My book shows that racial thinking was absolutely central to these logics and rationales. Traversing a diverse array of British colonial formations, including India, Britain, Mauritius, the Caribbean, Canada and South Africa, it examines the relational processes, across these varied sites, that produced a state monopoly over migration. This monopoly, accompanied by the ‘nationalisation’ of migration, is an integral part of a fundamental shift in the twentieth century from a world composed of empire-states to a world composed of nation-states.

To appreciate the kinds of shifts that occurred between approximately 1834 and 1914 we should note three important facets of the nineteenth-century system of Indian indenture, provoked by the abolition of slavery: first, that to meet the labour demands of the plantocracy state intervention to regulate Indian indenture was directed at facilitating, not prohibiting, the movement. Second, state intervention regulating indenture was authorised as a limited and temporary exception to the then-prevalent principle of free movement. Instituted to guard against charges of a second slave trade, this exception was justified by a racialised and paternalistic desire to ‘protect’ the Indians and the formerly enslaved Africans. Moreover, even as Indian migration to the plantation economies was regulated, other, far larger, streams of Indian migration occurred outside the ambit of state control. In other words, through most of the nineteenth century, the state oversaw and controlled Indian migration only in the exceptional case of the erstwhile slave colonies. Third, that this change, despite its exceptional status, nonetheless expanded the purview of state authority, or sovereignty, in terms of mobility. It thus constituted a remaking of the terms and limits of sovereign authority.

Each of these three facets would become points of contention in the twentieth century with regard to controlling Indian and, more broadly, Asian migration to white-settler colonies within and beyond the British empire – ranging from Canada, South Africa and Australia to Argentina and the United States. First, the overwhelming concern now was with restricting rather than facilitating migration, requiring a thorough revamping, indeed abandonment, of the principle of free movement. Second, in the new circumstances, the earlier rationale of protection justifying intervention was unavailable; new discourses of protection needed to be mobilised. And third, a completely new understanding of sovereignty, conceived in specifically racialised-national terms, emerged. This understanding would generate a decisive shift in the logics of migration control, from state regulation of migration in exceptional cases (like indenture) to state regulation in all cases. This shift yielded our current verity, of a (national) state monopoly over migration as an unquestioned element of state sovereignty.

Indian Migration and Empire shows that myriad varieties of racial thinking saturated and structured the making of migration regimes. For instance, the nineteenth-century transformations to the limits and purview of state sovereignty, impelled by the movement of indentured labour to the slave plantation colonies, were overtly subtended by notions of race understood in the temporal, developmentalist register of ‘stages of civilisation’. By contrast, in the early twentieth century, the ascendance of notions of liberal equality and of rights-bearing subjects would make a civilisational understanding of race less available and migration law would reflect and provoke new forms of racial thinking. Thus, we see in migration law and practice transmogrifications that displace race thinking to fashion novel understandings of liberal equality, through the conduits of culture, religion and nationality.

Racial discrimination in immigration was implemented through a host of mechanisms such as the imposition of a ‘head tax’; the prescription of education/literacy tests; specifications regarding identity documents; precise regulations regarding the trajectory of voyages; and ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ of compromises between states on imposing restrictions on emigration. The mechanisms deployed were occasioned by context-specific social, political and economic conditions that spoke to and utilized differing – sometimes conflicting – legal logics and justifications. Often, certain mechanisms, such as the education/literacy tests would, as Marilyn Lake has shown, circulate and be adopted and adapted at a range of disparate sites, from the US to South Africa to Australia.

But perhaps the most enduring technology of racial exclusion to emerge in this period – which was subsequently thoroughly standardized and globalized – was the modern passport. In analysing the decade-long debate over Indian migration to Canada in the early twentieth century (Chapter 4), I show how the seemingly neutral category of ‘nationality’ came to operate as a proxy for race and how this relation was enduringly encapsulated in the development of the modern passport. The emergence of the modern passport, as it took shape to resolve the conundrum of how to prohibit the migration of Indians to Canada, without naming race, would result in a profound remaking of state sovereignty and the inter-state system in specifically national terms. Such reconfigurations would apply an enormous pressure on the framework of empire and on the globe-spanning category of ‘British subject’, contributing to their fissuring, fragmentation and eventual dissolution. These reconfigurations would also dispense entirely with the principle of free movement and bring all migration under state control.

Nowadays, it is taken as an incontrovertible fact that a defining element of the modern (nation) state is the authority to control migration. A historical investigation reveals that this is a very recent aspect of the state and of state sovereignty; it also reveals that the regulation of colonial migrations played a critical part in bringing about the transformations that yielded this outcome. In other words, the book seeks to denaturalise the current dominant view that controlling migration, particularly by restricting entry, is an uncontested and immemorial aspect of the state. Instead, it details the myriad complex processes through which migration, race, nation and state have come to be so tightly intertwined.

Radhika Mongia is Associate Professor of Sociology at York University, Toronto. Her current research concerns recent changes in Indian citizenship law. Radhika’s book, Indian Migration and Empire: A Colonial Genealogy of the Modern State (2018) is available from Duke University Press.

Intimate state encounters: Brexit, European Roma and contested home-lands

Race, nation and migration – the blog series reframing thinking on movement and racism.

By Rachel Humphris.

Brexit and the UK’s relationship with the European Union foregrounds questions of identity, nationhood and who is included or excluded. For those identified as ‘Roma’ these are perennial questions as purported ‘European citizenship’ made little difference to their position as Europe’s enduring ‘internal Other’, who have never and cannot ‘belong’ (Sardelić 2019). Roma are always positioned ‘in’ but never ‘of’ Europe. Often overlooked in histories of modern Europe, Roma have been enslaved, forcibly settled and sterilised, suffered state kidnap, and targeted during the Holocaust. Their current experiences continue to reveal the force of stigmatization and racialisation embedded in society, law and governance.

I came to a partial understanding of these experiences through spending 14 months living in Luton, UK, with ‘Romanian Roma’ families (a bureaucratic category used by frontline workers) with the aim of exploring migration, statecraft, race and urban marginalisation. Luton has suffered the brunt of ‘austerity localism’, post-welfare reforms, rising xenophobia, and the dehumanizing ‘hostile environment’ created to make living in the UK so difficult that migrants ‘self-deport’.

I observed the gendered and racialized effects of the hostile environment as migrant households were the subject of ubiquitous value judgements, targeted surveillance and an imposed racialized exceptionalism tending toward differential treatment premised on mythical assumptions (Stewart 2012). For example, mothers were judged on the food they ate, whether their front garden was tidy, the other people in the house (particularly men) who were not part of the ‘nuclear family’ and the disorienting rhythms of the domestic space, which did not map onto prevailing norms of domesticity, intimacy and intensive mothering. While these mothers have a particular experience, these processes are based in deep histories of surveillance and disciplining of the racialized and classed urban poor (Picker 2017).

However, I was also acutely aware that the frontline workers conducting home visits were themselves caught in the entanglements of a retreating welfare state and securitised migration apparatus. Casting aside the usual binary of social care/social control, these observations made me attend to the manifestations of ambivalence and uncertainty for migrant mothers and frontline workers. I shifted my emphasis from ‘state acts’ to ‘state encounters’ to open up the processual and relational quality of how states are made in practice and to account for emplaced and embodied positions of all social actors.

So while frontline workers determine the fate of new migrant families (potentially causing their deportation or state kidnap) they are themselves often racialized mothers, subject to migration control and invested in proving themselves as ‘good citizens’ resonating with Cohen’s (1999) notion of ‘advanced marginalisation’. They must negotiate their way through a complex, constantly shifting and messy terrain of migration policies, border policing and surveillance. They must reconcile these duties with their professional commitment to an ethics of care, often taking on work well beyond their formal role and the hours that they are paid (through processes of New Public Management they are employed in short-term, target driven, precarious contracts at the lowest end of the local state). They carry with them enormous and contradictory burdens, responsibilities and anxieties with the fate of new migrant families and their futures at times in their sole hands.

These intimate state encounters are one instance where decisions about who belongs and who deserves discretionary extra support rests on the strange and unsettling mingling of established categories. These citizenship decisions emerge at the intersection of public and private, formal and informal, political and personal. Drawing inspiration from Mbembe’s observations of colonial governance (2001: 28), this research showed that governing political belonging through the home space does more than confuse the public and private: it depends on and reproduces that confused space to ensure the continual reproduction of marginalisation based on raced, classed and gendered hierarchies.

As critical race, gender and queer scholars have long pointed out, the distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is most fundamentally drawn in the intimate sphere. From British imperialism to the present day, racialized relations have come to be shaped and governed through intimacy (McClintock 1995; Stoler 1995). My work has tried to draw a line from these debates to the role of the family and the domestic in the contemporary UK state and how they relate to conceptions of nationhood, identity and belonging today.

The stories of new migrant mothers and those tasked to govern them are not often heard. Legal migration statuses are proliferating and becoming more precarious. Brexit seems unlikely to reverse the trend. Austerity is still biting hard and likely to continue in the current context of a stagnating economy and casualties of COVID-19. The privatisation of services is carrying on apace creating complex relationships in frontline provision.

Marginalised families, like the Roma in Luton, are more likely than ever to fall through the gaps or become subject to bordering, sometimes from those who have the best of intentions but work in a harsh and broken system. In this context, the most mundane everyday actions in the home become crucial for how families can secure a safe status in the home-land. This research raises fundamental questions about the types of homes – and the type of home-land – we want and what we need to change to achieve them.

Rachel Humphris is a Lecturer in Sociology and Politics at Queen Mary University of London. She is a political ethnographer whose research and teaching focuses on immigration and citizenship, urban governance, gender and race.

Home-Land: Romanian Roma, Domestic Spaces and the State (2019) is available from Bristol University Press.

Racism and the UK’s immigration system

Race, nation and migration – the blog series reframing thinking on movement and racism.

By Maya Goodfellow.

‘Hard Brexit,’ Labour’s Andy Burnham warned a few months after the EU referendum result in 2016, would ‘turn Britain into a place it has never been: divided, hostile, narrow-minded.’ This is a theme that has persisted since the initial aftermath of the referendum; some of the people most vocally opposed to Brexit seem to assume that this country will become or is becoming a hostile and racist place for migrants. This erases a whole history of racist and racialising thinking on immigration. My book, Hostile Environment: How Immigrants Became Scapegoats (2020, Verso) seeks to challenge this thinking, partly by showing how race and racism have long impacted and been produced by policy.

The UK’s hostile environment did not start with Brexit nor did it begin with the sets of policies introduced through the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts. Saying this does not mean arguing that there are no distinct, significant impacts of these more recent and punitive forms of ‘immigration control’. People are being denied access to healthcare, housing and work, their data being shared between different government departments if they cannot show they have the ‘right’ documentation to be in the UK. Even in the middle of a global pandemic, the hostile environment has largely continued.  

But to imply that these policies were fundamental ruptures that made once ‘liberal’ and welcoming Britain into a place it had never been before is to ignore recent history. Britain has long been a hostile environment for migrants and people racialised as a threat.

Though it is rarely engaged with or properly understood in the public domain,  there is much work examining the UK’s immigration histories. From the racist policies of the Sixties and Seventies, which were concerned with restricting the ability of people of colour from former colonies and colonies to come to this country, through to the way people were treated when they arrived. Racism and immigration policy are inseparable in so many ways.

But too often it is assumed that this relationship is mostly a relic of the past, or only discernible in deeply damaging but seemingly rare cases like the Windrush scandal. This is partly to do with how race and racism are understood: as largely isolated to individual acts, where racist sentiment is overtly expressed. In this telling, it is divorced from the material and the structural realities.

With this narrow understanding of racism as a jumping off point, the role of race in immigration policy and rhetoric is also obscured in how the debate is constructed. It is thought that anti-immigration attitudes rose during the New Labour years because the government ‘let too many people in’ without the consent of the public. Here, dislike of immigration tends to be thought of as a natural reaction to too many people of a ‘certain kind’ coming into the country. When particular groups of migrants arrive, the argument goes, they bring with them ‘cultural change’, which threatens a fabled and supposedly stable, unified British culture. This, then, produces racism and xenophobia. It is thought that to have a ‘cohesive’ society there needs to be more focus on common values and traditions, rather than social and economic emancipation. The only way to address this is to reduce immigration, in particular by reducing the number of racialised people entering the country.

This relies on a specific form of racialised thinking, which in the Eighties was dubbed the ‘new racism’. In the years preceding, ideas about ‘culture’ had really come to the forefront of the immigration debate (though it certainly wasn’t a new concept and has older roots). We can see it is about race by understanding that it is based on the thinking that particular ‘traditions’ are based on biological or ancestral difference. So too, such thinking goes, is the desire to defend those very traditions against so-called outsiders. Such an understanding and production of difference is often at the heart of conceptualisations of race.

If you look a little closer at the New Labour years, you find one of many problems with how the ‘culture’ argument is understood. As well as being deeply racialised, it is not as if anti-immigration politics flourished all on its own: it was cultivated by the Conservatives, the British National Party and eventually the UK Independence Party. New Labour were reproducing this thinking too. Almost from the get go they were anti-asylum, perpetuating stereotypes and implementing restrictive legislation. This was largely on the basis that some people were pretending to be seeking asylum and came to the UK because of so-called ‘pull factors’.

New Labour never significantly challenged the racialised thinking that some groups were a threat to the UK. Instead, they reproduced it in their own specific way: those who were Muslim or thought to be Muslim, for instance. It is against this backdrop that New Labour became increasingly critical of immigration more broadly. So the ‘cultural’ arguments against immigration are both deeply racialised and historically and politically produced; they are not some natural inevitability.

There is no rosy liberal past, then, where processes of racialisation were insignificant or rejected. Understanding this is key not only to making sense of the ways race is produced and operates in policy now but to forging a new, better world together.

Maya Goodfellow is a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute. Her research looks at the relationship between capitalism, racism and immigration. 

Hostile Environment: How Immigrants Became Scapegoats (2020) is available from Verso with a 40% discount. 

The permanent ‘crisis’ of the borders of ‘Europe’

Race, nation and migration – the blog series reframing thinking on movement and racism.

By Nicholas De Genova

The borders of Europe seem to be the site of a protracted crisis. The fires that devastated the scandalously overcrowded Moria detention camp on 9 September 2020 on the Greek island of Lesvos, which summarily displaced upwards of 13,000 migrants and refugees including small children, who were then left abandoned to sleep on roadsides, signal only one of the most dramatic recent flashpoints of an endemically dismal predicament of misery and despair. Notably, whatever the precise circumstances that caused them, the fires arose in a context of draconian yet woefully insufficient sanitary measures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. On a global scale, the pandemic has thus exposed the inherent contradictions of state power and its (in)capacities to manage the public health emergency. The recourse to curfews, mass quarantines, and more or less severe forms of social ‘shutdown’ or ‘lockdown’ has likewise served to legitimate and bolster a predictably insular governmentality of ‘national’ or ‘European’ quarantine, manifest above all in border closures that only exacerbate the public health crisis by rendering the health and wellbeing of some categories of non-citizens’ bodies expendable, and thereby relegating some human lives to a debased status of disposability.

Since its very implementation in 2015, the EU’s ‘hotspot’ mechanism for migrant and refugee reception and detention has been a very prominent instance of the indefinite coercive immobilization of human mobility. The hotspots’ premier function in practice has been the preemptive rejection and containment of migrants and refugees at the borders, whereby the EU-ropean border regime operationalizes a more or less permanent state of exception. In this respect, therefore, the borders of Europe are not merely the site of an ostensible ‘crisis’ that intrudes upon ‘Europe’ from outside, bringing to its doorstep all the proverbial bad news of the world as embodied in a motley crew of ‘unwanted’ (illegalized) migrants and refugees. No. Instead, the borders of Europe are a means for producing and sustaining a permanent sociopolitical condition of ‘crisis’ that mediates the rejection, illegalization and prospective expulsion of the great majority of migrants and refugees who arrive.

From their very inception, the hotspots by which EU-rope sought to manage the mass influx of migrants and refugees in 2015 were deployed to lend credence to the spectacle of a purported ‘crisis’ that appeared to command  ‘emergency’ measures. Yet, even that ‘refugee crisis,’ which was speedily re-branded as the by-now infamous ‘migrant crisis,’ had itself been preceded by one maritime disaster after another, year after year, as overcrowded and unseaworthy boats carrying migrant and refugee border-crossers capsized or were otherwise shipwrecked in the Mediterranean. Indeed, for more than two decades, the persistent fortification of the borders of Europe has made the crossing more perilous and ever more potentially lethal.

The vast majority of migrants and refugees seeking to remake their lives in ‘Europe’ arrive from places formerly colonized by European powers (or in any case, places otherwise deeply implicated in centuries of European imperial projects). Likewise, the vast majority of ‘migrants’ and ‘refugees’ who perish as a consequence of the policing of the borders of ‘Europe’ are people who come to be racialized as non-white and ‘non-European’. When the EU-ropean border regime systematically generates and predictably cultivates the conditions of possibility for the mass death of Black and Brown people, what else can it mean, then, other than that the borders of ‘Europe’ are an apparatus for the postcolonial reconfiguration of a global regime of white supremacy? The borders of Europe thus emerge a premier site for staging the unfinished business and open-ended struggles of our shared postcolonial condition.

This helps to explain why and how the mere term ‘migration’ serves in the European context as a discursive proxy for the antagonisms of race. Official disavowals of the legitimacy of ‘race’ and sanctimonious repudiations of racism undermine a frank confrontation with the historical and contemporary realities of European colonial and postcolonial racism as an ongoing and unresolved affair. This notorious and increasingly futile European evasiveness around questions of race — even as virtually every public debate over ‘migration’, or ‘refugees’ or ‘integration’ is inevitably saturated with racial significance — thus infuses and perverts the very possibility of an honest reckoning with the questions of what ‘Europe’ is or could be in the future, or who is or can be counted as ‘European’.  This is the complex that I call the ‘European’ Question.

In a book that I edited, The Borders of ‘Europe’: Autonomy of Migration, Tactics of Bordering (Duke University Press, 2017) the contributing authors and I investigate a variety of examples of the bordering tactics of ‘Europe’ as reaction formations to the elementary human exercise of a freedom of movement that is not granted by any authority. In this manner, we emphasize the primacy of human mobility — what we and other critical scholars call the autonomy of migration — as an incorrigible subjective force enacted in practice, prior to all the tactics and technologies for imposing and policing borders. The research engages various moments leading up to and culminating in the so-called ‘crisis’ of 2015-16, but also excavates a variety of episodes that earlier instigated analogous invocations of a ‘crisis’ at Europe’s borders, which have always tended to signify first and foremost a crisis of control.

As the events of last year verify anew, the European border regime cannot cease to be convulsed by ‘crisis’, because it is a reaction formation dedicated to controlling a force that is elemental and incorrigible within any apparatus of state power. The exercise of our freedom of movement — objectively speaking, in defiance of any border, the police, the law and the state, and even at the risk of our very lives — is an assertion of the primacy of our human needs. In this way, these perennial struggles over human mobility that provoke an effectively permanent ‘crisis’ of the border are expressions, in practice, of a desire and a demand for another way of life. And they gesture, however humbly, toward a horizon where another world is possible.

Nicholas De Genova is Professor and Chair of the Department of Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Houston. As an anthropologist, geographer and social theorist he studies migration, borders, race, citizenship and labour.

The Borders of ‘Europe’: Autonomy of Migration, Tactics of Bordering is available from Duke University Press.

 

Queer liberalisms and marginal mobility – special issue and interview series

By Mengia Tschalaer.

To live a life in fear of violence, incarceration, torture, excommunication and isolation is a reality for many lesbian, gay, trans*, bi, intersex and non-binary persons worldwide. Homosexuality is criminalized in 77 countries, out of which seven apply the death penalty. According to the UNHCR, the number of persons who flee their country due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and who qualify for protection as ‘members of a particular social group’ under the 1951 Refugee Convention has increased.

The criminalization of homosexuality has generally decreased over the last two decades, but the rise of populist and authoritarian politics in large parts of Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Russia and Southeast Asia currently fuels anti-LGBTQI+ attitudes and politics. In addition, many of the colonial anti-LGBTQI+ penal laws that up to this day populate constitutional and criminal law legislations in South Asia, the MENA region, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia are currently experiencing a revival in the context of the rise of religious fundamentalism and authoritarianism. Similarly, Europe and North America, two world regions that have so far been associated with their ‘progressive’ views on LGBTQI+ issues, seem to be backtracking by issuing restrictive case laws, exerting violence and expressing fierce opposition to LGBTQI+ anti-discrimination laws.

It is within such politically and socially charged contexts that Fadi Saleh (University of Göttingen), Bridget Anderson (MMB, University of Bristol) and I (City University of New York/University of Bristol) have imagined our special issue on ‘Queer Liberalisms and Marginal Mobility’, which will be published by Ethnic and Racial Studies in 2022. Prior to this, we are all taking part in an interview series this month that covers many of the themes touched on in the papers of the special issue (further details below).

An interview series in April 2021 explores the themes of the special issue

The special issue addresses queer migration through the intersectional lens of queer liberalisms, authoritarianism and marginal mobilities. Globally, LGBTIQ+ rights form an inherent part of human rights discourse and politics. At the same time, this very human rights language is increasingly used by nation-states to defend their borders, control migration flows and intensify discrimination and prejudice against the ‘other’. Queer migration scholarship has therefore maintained a critical approach to such forms of national queer liberalism, which risk marginalizing LGBTIQ+ refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers.

The aim of this special issue is to unpack the tenuous relationship between politics of queer liberalisms and securitization within contested political contexts in the Global South and North by thinking about the ways in which the precarity of ‘marginal mobility’ (Kalčić et. al. 2013) for LGBTIQ+ persons on the move is produced within different (trans-)national contexts. Focusing on the changing mobility dynamics for LGBTIQ+ people on the move in the aftermath of pivotal recent events such as the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ of 2015-16, Trump’s presidency and the rise of authoritarianism worldwide, the contributions in this special issue examine the interconnectedness of queer mobilities across and within different geographical contexts.

In so doing, we ask: How has the contentious terrain between political queer liberalisms, the racialization of borders, and (im)migration politics and policies changed? What effects did the recent developments in LGBTIQ+ human rights discourses have on migration and asylum politics, representations and policies? What types of new marginal mobilities have emerged and how can we rethink theoretical and methodological frameworks to these different types of mobility?

To answer these questions, this special issue brings into conversation queer migration scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds (anthropology, political science, sociology, security studies) whose work critically interrogates the many ways those transnational events transformed asylum and migration politics and policies and engages new analytical approaches to better address emerging issues and challenges facing LGBTIQ+ people on the move. In centralizing ‘marginal mobility’ as a concept – nationally and transnationally – this special issue aims to expand the purview of mobilities to include not only border-crossing (United States, Mexico, Germany), but also questions of migration and displacement within a given nation-state (United States) and mobilities within contexts that are often marginalized in academic research on queerness and migration, such as Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. Furthermore, the special issue foregrounds trans and non-binary migrants and refugees’ experiences of marginal mobility, thereby simultaneously challenging the often cis-homocentric and Eurocentric perspectives and views that continue to dominate queer migration scholarship.

For instance, Eithne Luibheid (University of Arizona) and Samuel Ritholz (Oxford University) explore the way in which queer persons in the United States, and particularly those with precarious immigration status, experience marginalization by means of anti-gay and anti-trans legislations, anti-immigration attitudes and policies, the carceral state as well as within families and communities. The papers authored by Fadi Saleh (University of Göttingen) and Razan Ghazzawi (University of Sussex) explore the experiences of Syrian LGBTQI+ persons on the move in the context of the UNHCR-led asylum selection process in Turkey and in the context of the Syrian and Palestinian diaspora in Beirut, Lebanon, respectively.

Martha Balaguera (University of Toronto) and myself are looking at asylum processes as a sexualized system and discuss them as gendered processes that shape LGBTQI+ persons’ experiences seeking asylum and waiting in Mexico and the United States (Balaguera) and Germany (Tschalaer). Ailsa Winton’s (independent researcher) paper takes us to Central America where she examines the manner in which labour precarity shapes mobility of trans women. Meanwhile, the paper authored by Anna Carastathis and Myrto Tsilimpounidi (Feminist Autonomous Center for Research, Athens, Greece) homes in on the question of representation in humanitarian discourse and imagery which, they argue, by and large rely on and portray a heteronormative understanding of vulnerability and pain. Lastly Bridget Anderson (University of Bristol) concludes the Special Issue with an afterword that offers some thoughts on what we can learn from queering the intersection of asylum, citizenship and ‘internal’ mobility.

If you want to get a glimpse into the themes and topics this special issue addresses before its launching in Spring 2022, we warmly invite you to join us for our Queer Liberalisms and Marginal Mobility interview series. This will take place every Friday in April 2021 from 5-6pm GMT (12-1pm EDT). The series is a collaboration between the Barnard Digital Humanities Center and the Barnard Center for Research on Women at Columbia University, the Queer European Asylum Network and Migration Mobilities Bristol.

Mengia Tschalaer is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Political Science at City University of New York and an Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies at the University of Bristol. 

Charting mobilities, intellectual histories and the Black Humanities

By Madhu Krishnan.

The October 2018 issue of the Chimurenga Chronic, originally a quarterly (and now occasional) broadsheet produced by the Cape Town based Chimurenga collective, opens with a two-page spread titled ‘The African Imagination of a Borderless World’ . This title piece is comprised of two texts placed in juxtaposition. The first, a map titled On Circulations and the African Imagination of a Borderless World’, serves as an ad hoc depiction of intellectual, cultural and political networks that spread across the globe, encompassing the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia, tracing the movement of thought, ideas and anticipatory projections of the world across shifting pan-African movements over time. Here, for instance, it is possible to watch as mid-century Pan-Africanism flows into Congolese rhumba, in turn flowing into the post-Bandung Afro-Asian movement, then Marxism, then Cultural Studies and the work of Stuart Hall.

Front cover of the Chronic, October 2018

Accompanying this is a second text, titled ‘The Idea of a Borderless World’ by Achille Mbembe. Here, Mbembe sets his aims – aims which serve as an echo of the rest of the issue – in plain terms, stating his desire ‘to see whether and under what conditions we could re-engineer the utopia of a borderless world, and by extension, a borderless world, since, as far as I know, Africa is part of the world. And the world is part of Africa’. For Mbembe, as for the Chronic more broadly, this attempt, to see and to imagine and, by so doing, to return Africa to its place in the world, of the world and as the world, cannot be decoupled from its longer histories.

These histories are well known: the pillaging of the continent and expropriation of its resources; the colonial interruption; the long-term impact of enslavement and the trafficking of enslaved persons; the parcelling out of the continent amongst imperial powers in Berlin; forced migration, displacement and brain drain. Perhaps less known is the extent to which Africa’s intellectual resources, too, have been blighted by their exploitation under multinational capital and neoliberalisation, including the patenting by pharmaceutical corporations of traditional practices, and sometimes farcical attempts to monetise culture (best characterised, perhaps, by Disney registering to trademark the expression ‘hakuna matata’, a phrase which, incidentally, no Kiswahili speaker would actually say). In sum, as the South African critic Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni argues, the continent’s place in the world can be characterized by its marginalization under the three faces of coloniality: the coloniality of power, the coloniality of knowledge and the coloniality of being.

And yet, there are other ways of conceiving of the continent beyond the commonly-held deficit view, even while recognising the material injustices that it has survived. It is precisely this task that the October 2018 issue of the Chronic partakes in, constituting an intellectual history and cartography of the world from an African centre of origin. Borders, boundaries and entrapments: the trappings of coloniality, on the one hand; versus networks, circulation and flow: the concept of the boundary, the border, not as immutable, impenetrable, but as permeable, evolving and in flux, a radically decolonial mode of knowledge production, on the other. This is a task made all the more urgent given how, as Sylvia Tamale reminds us, ‘colonial intellectualism deliberately denigrated Indigenous oral traditions and wisdom as illegitimate methodologies and tools of storing records’, enabling the perpetuation of the myth of African peoples as outside of history, outside of the world, static and fixed.

The editors of the Chronic position the October 2018 issue as ‘part of an ever growing library that re-images our world beyond so-called progressive discourse on “freedom of movement” and “no borders” against the backdrop of deeply Western individualist thinking’. In this respect, ‘The African Imagination of a Borderless World’ is an exemplar of the kinds of intellectual production that undergirds the larger project of the Black Humanities. This line of intellectual recuperation is one that relies, moreover, on the reconfiguration of the borders and boundaries that are perceived as absolute. By re-constituting an archive of knowledge(s), movements and circulations of understanding, which have been effaced under coloniality, the Chronic participates in the effort to make visible the temporalities, genealogies and modalities that have always arisen from the intellectual and cultural labour of Black and African peoples. This is a kind of knowledge production that travels and is characterised by mobilities and circulations, which defy the rigid topographies of colonialism/coloniality in favour of an ungovernable vision of space and time that is, all the same, productive of a logic of its own.

The Chronic thus provides one small example of the ways in which cultural study and the Black Humanities can offer us ways of understanding intellectual histories and intellectual mappings whose own movements might be unexpected, unorthodox or function outside of the typical boundaries of the academy. Projects like the Chronic, which is one amongst many instances of independent cultural and intellectual production from the African continent and its diasporas, illustrate the urgency of transversal approaches to the archive, to bibliography and to our concept of the library more widely. At the same time, these projects are not merely abstract: to return to Mbembe’s ‘The Idea of a Borderless World’, they speak directly to the African continent’s place in the world and the world’s place within it, with all of the material impact that may have.

Madhu Krishnan is Professor of African, World and Comparative Literature in the Department of English, and Director of the Centre for Black Humanities, University of Bristol.

The front cover of the October 2018 issue of the Chimurenga Chronic is published here with permission of the Chimurenga collective.