Border Vigils: Keeping Migrants Out of the Rich World by Jeremy Harding - review

From Global development | The Guardian Fri Nov 16 2012, 17:55:04

Andy Beckett on the troubles of refugees and economic migrants

Near the end of this tightly-coiled, unpredictable book, a border guard invites the author to try scaling a fence. The fence is one of a pair intended to stop illegal immigrants entering Ceuta, the Spanish city surrounded by Morocco which is a favoured way into Europe from Africa. Overcoming this barrier, Harding discovers, "took about 45 seconds. Balancing for the turn at the top, where the only handhold is a straight line of clipped wire, I cut both hands." The guard is unmoved: "[He] said he had watched migrants take both fences in less than 20 seconds."

In an era of footloose capitalism, stark inequality between countries, and ever more information about foreign job possibilities, it is not hard to present the fortifying of national frontiers against immigration as essentially futile. Harding sees restricting migration this way as a "morose task": the European Union, he points out, has a land border of "nearly 9,000km" and a coastline of "another 42,000km". Ingenious people-smugglers and indefatigable would-be migrants talk to him in stranger-than-fiction, concrete detail about their schemes for gatecrashing the rich world. One regular breacher of the Mexican-American desert border endured a three-day, not untypical crossing: "He was flayed below the knees by cacti and when his shoes came to pieces ... he walked the last day barefoot over red rock, a coarse oxidised sandstone ... The soles of each foot [became] a single blister from ball to heel, like a gel pack. [From America] he was deported again... [He made] his next attempt shortly afterwards ..."

Yet apparently doomed government policies can still have large ...

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