When the aeroplane starts to decent and breaks through the clouds, you see for the first time your new home. On this day in January the sun has already sunk deep and the green Norwegian hills with the snowy mountains behind were bathed in this winter light, which is soft and sleepy. And then, of course, the ocean, glistening in the sun and surrounding the rocky coastline. Arriving at this new place promises adventure and a new undiscovered world. For many people, however, arriving means the end of a dangerous journey rather than the promise of a romantic adventure. It may entail the police, a long asylum process, or a life full of ‘illegality’ and racism. A strange unknown and so often unwelcoming country awaits them. “With a few steps, I crossed the border and so began my odyssey, outside all regulations and laws, without travel documents and across many national borders.” Shahram Khosravi, an Anthropologist at the University of Stockholm, describes in this sentence the beginning of his journey from Iran to Sweden as an ‘illegal’ traveller.
As the two stories show, moving and mobility are determined by time, place and socio-economical background of the traveller. While my European passport and blond hair walks unquestioned through border control, the other is stopped, examined, and exposed by this invisible and visible line drawn by nation-states to protect their territory, sovereignty and their citizens. Our system encourages and worships global mobility the same way it condemns and rejects the mobility of migrants and refugees – the unwanted traveller. The global north just waves his or her passport and the policeman at the border says welcome – the people who seek protection are put into an interrogation room – into a camp. As Stephen Castel puts it: “The new global economic and political elites are able to cross borders at will, while the poor are meant to stay at home”.
After all, the word “move” reflects with its two meanings on what most people who relocate to a different place have in common: To pass from one place or position to another and causing strong feelings of sadness or joy and sympathy. In a way the second meaning is inherent to the first. Moving always means leaving something behind. Everyone who has ever moved has shared similar experiences, may it be sadness over leaving friends and family or the feeling of excitement and joy in the anticipation of what lies in front of them. In most cases it is both.
Castles, Stephen. 2003. Towards a Sociology of Forced Migration and Social Transformation, in Sociology 37 (1): 13 -34. Khosravi, Shahram. 2010. ‘Illegal’ Traveller: An Auto-Ethnography of Borders. Basingstoke, Hampshire: palagrave macmillan.