This article is part of the Transeuropa Journal, the official publication of theTranseuropa Festival
by Alina Müller
The act of migrating extends far beyond the act of moving across a geographical space. Within the borders of Europe, migrants are increasingly mobilising in response to discrimination and socio-economical marginalisation to demand their rights. These struggles are producing new forms of democratic political participation, and in some cases have succeeded in bringing about stronger anti-discrimination legislation, workers’ rights and political recognition of cultural diversity.
At the external borders of the European Union, the violence at the border controls has exposed the disregard on the part of individual European governments for the protection of human rights. This inability or inadequacy of the nation state to guarantee and protect human rights has given rise to calls for alternative legislative frameworks and enforcement mechanisms that can operate at a supra-national and transnational level.
At the societal level, the superposition, construction and fracturing of identities effected by the process of crossing borders has transformed demographics and urban geographies across Europe and produced a new sense of self for the individual. Concepts like mestiza consciousness, hybrid identities, and multiculturalism are attempts to articulate and understand these changes that are visibly shaping the social and physical environment of European cities.
In this context, migration is better defined by the profound social and political transformations produced through the lived experience of people crossing and contesting borders. These transformations not only deeply mark the lives of men, women and children that choose to migrate, but also significantly affect European societies. By looking at, and giving centrality to the daily instances in which people collectively and individually come up against the array of borders and boundaries in Europe, we want to explore the role migration plays in creating new forms of active citizenship and social change.
Through a constant reshuffling and reassembly of internal and external borders coupled with the proliferation of mechanisms of surveillance and exclusion, in the last twenty years Europe has emerged as an ever-changing configuration of bounded spaces. These bounded spaces, both figurative and literal, operate on, and affect the condition of migrants at multiple stages of the migration process. Checkpoints, advanced surveillances systems, military operations and detention centres control the access of migrants to a territory. Point-based systems and immigration policies and legislation regulate their level of inclusion and indeed presence, in a wider sense, in European societies. Cultural hierarchies and an economical system that perpetuates inequality effectively determine their access to the labour and housing market and public and political life, re-enforcing this structure of selective inclusion.
It is the daily encounter with, and response to, these borders that has produced a set of transformations which place migrants at the heart of social and political change. At a specific level then, these transformations have redefined the act of moving, working and settling across nation state borders. In a wider sense, they have raised issues of the legitimacy of borders and prompted the questioning and reformulation of notions of citizenship, identity and social cohesion.
The act of migrating is therefore a force for social and political change, brought about through the efforts of individuals and groups to remove mechanisms of control and exclusion. The experience of people that cross borders and their struggles for justice and recognition clearly indicate to us the areas we need to address in our aim of promoting a society based on freedom and democratic participation. Not only this, they also clearly demonstrate the need and possibility for a form of political subjectivity and mobilisation beyond the boundaries of the nation state.
Through transnational campaigns for open access to detention centres and migrant rights as well as public events and performances that bring migrant struggles to the fore, Transeuropa Festival joins the migrant movement. A borderless Europe can never be fully achieved. At best it’s an ambition, a ‘tending towards’. But it is an ambition we share.
This article was written as part of the project Transnational Democracy Networked funded by the Youth in Action agency of the British Council.