‘Barbed wire-plus’: Borders know no love

Across Europe and North America, governments have gone to great cruelty to stop migration.

Mexico US border Reuters
A migrant girl from Central America cries next to the border wall while she tries to cross with her family from Mexico to the US, in Tijuana, Mexico, December 11, 2018 [Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters]

During a Thanksgiving Day teleconference with members of the US armed forces, US President Donald Trump took the opportunity to exult over the intensified militarisation of the nation’s southern border in response to the US-bound Central American migrant and refugee caravan:

“We have the concertina fencing and we have things that people don’t even believe. We took [the] old, broken wall and we wrapped it with barbed wire-plus … We’re fighting for our country. If we don’t have borders, we don’t have a country”. 

Nevermind that the United States‘ disregard for other people’s borders is a major cause of Central American migration in the first place, as US political and economic meddling in the region continues to increase poverty and violence.

A certain ‘Nazi practice’

Now, the “barbed wire-plus” scheme has resulted in a situation in which thousands of asylum seekers are stuck on the Mexican side of the border waiting to have their cases processed, with black numbers written on their arms as part of an informal tracking system.

Even the ultra-Zionist Times of Israel – another country well known for its manic and deadly border fortification projects – felt compelled to note that the “marking of asylum seekers” recalled the “Nazi practice of tattooing prisoner numbers”.

Nor has “barbed wire-plus” worked out well for some of Trump’s fellow citizens as 32 people were recently arrested at a pro-migrant demonstration on the border, organised by a Quaker group. Time Magazine explains that the protest “was meant to launch a national week of action called Love Knows No Borders: A moral call for migrant justice, which falls between Human Rights Day on [December 10], and International Migrants’ Day on December 18″.

And as we mark this year’s International Migrants’ Day, right-wing efforts rage on to selectively criminalise not only migration but also human solidarity and empathy. After all, the prevailing capitalist system – in which the financial tyranny of the minority is predicated on the severance of interpersonal bonds – can’t really handle love. 

Meanwhile in ‘fortress Europe’… 

Across the Atlantic, European countries are flaunting their own borders, as xenophobia and the demonisation of the “other” are ever-handy means of detracting public attention from domestic malaise.

Take Italy, for example – a primary landing point for migrants from Africa and elsewhere and a wellspring of racist political rhetoric. During his successful campaign for president of the region of Lombardy earlier this year, Attilio Fontana warned Italian radio listeners about the perils of immigration: “We must decide whether our ethnicity, our white race, our society should continue to exist or should be erased”.

Meanwhile, far-right leader Matteo Salvini, who in 2018 acquired the posts of Italian interior minister and deputy prime minister, set about propagating the idea that Italy was “under attack” by Muslims. This apocalyptic scenario, he claimed, had been foretold by Oriana Fallaci, late Italian journalist-nutcase who had also excoriated US universities for allowing persons by the name of Mustafa and Muhammad to study biology and chemistry despite the threat of germ warfare.

Salvini pledged to deport half-a-million migrants as part of his vision of a “mass cleaning” of Italy. Upon assuming office, he declared Italian ports closed to migrant rescue vessels – the transparent murderousness of which policy was made clear by news headlines from around the same time: “Mediterranean: more than 200 migrants drown in three days”.

Eradicating ‘virtuousness’ 

In October, Domenico Lucano – mayor of the Italian town of Riace, which made a name for itself and flourished by welcoming migrants – was arrested, charged with abetting illegal immigration, and banned from the town. 

The Guardian quoted Italian writer Gioacchino Criaco on the fundamental reasons for the arrest: “Efficiency and humanity are not welcomed in a cynical system. This is a system that only takes consensus from politics of fear. In this respect, examples of virtuousness must be eradicated”.

Elsewhere in Europe, too, eradication proceeds apace. In August, Sara Mardini – the Syrian refugee swimmer who along with her sister saved a boatload of refugees from drowning in 2015 – was thrown in prison in Athens for allegedly aiding illegal immigration. She was only recently released on bail.

This month, 15 activists in the United Kingdom were convicted for nonviolently blocking a deportation flight from London Stansted Airport in 2017. Ludicrously, they’ve been slammed with a terrorism-related charge that entails a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

So much for virtues.

Also this month, Doctors Without Borders, known by its French initials MSF, announced that it and its partner SOS MEDITERRANEE had been “forced to terminate operations by the search and rescue vessel Aquarius”, credited with rescuing 30,000 people in international waters since February 2016.

Talk about toxic

MSF says that the decision came after a “sustained campaign, spearheaded by the Italian government and backed by other European states, to delegitimise, slander and obstruct aid organisations providing assistance to vulnerable people … [T]his campaign has undermined international law and humanitarian principles.” 

An Al Jazeera article on the demise of the Aquarius observes that, in November, 24 people associated with the ship were “put under investigation by Italian prosecutors for ‘trafficking and illegal management of waste’ because the ship’s crew had labelled migrants’ clothing as ‘special waste’ rather than ‘toxic waste’.”

But if we want to talk about “toxic”, it seems a border-obsessed world of gross inequality is as good a place as any to start.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.