Writing is based on lived experience. I was born in Kenya, studied in England and I’m currently working in Italy. These experiences which constitute my life so far have been made possible by immigration. It then naturally follows that my research on immigration will be biased. Knowing this I decided to re-approach it, to suspend my bias and instead look at the complex realities that constitute immigration today. To allow conflict instead of indulging in my idealised utpoias, to embrace the fact that somethings are not entirely straightforward. With some certainty, I know I will not be able to define solutions for the current “crisis”, this is not what I aim to do. My goal is to add to the conversation in a meaningful way.
So begins the task with this post, the first of a three-part piece titled flow.
Carravagio, the Betrayal of Christ.
“We have witnessed an irresistible and irreversible globalization of economic and cultural exchanges.”-Antoni Negri
2016 New Years Eve, Cologne, about 80 women are sexually assaulted by men who appeared to be of Arab and North African descent.
For the community of cologne the attack must have felt like an act of betrayal, a stab in the back. Migrants who had been welcomed into a community had later inflicted violence on it. For the victims, the trauma they have suffered will leave a scar and probably a lifetime prejudice against North African and Arab men. For the North African and Arab community of cologne the attack is like the re-opening of a fresh wound, a return to precarity, a return to displacement.
Displacing conflict, the image of Aylan Kurdi.
4 months earlier September 2015, the image of Aylan Kurdi (a Syrian child who was photographed lying face down on the surf of a Turkish beach) causes a global outpour of sympathy for the refugee.
The ubiquitous sympathetic reaction to Aylan's image was due to our shared humanity, the image of a dead child is tragic and compelling. John Berger writes, seeing establishes our place in the surrounding world: the relationship between what we see and what we know is how we situate ourselves. The circulation of Aylan's image on mass and social media brought conflict within our reach.
Migration is how conflict resonates. When we saw Aylan’s image we began to identify our own childhood in relation to his, the children in our lives in relation to him, we began to situate Aylan's death within our own lives and as our collective retinas recorded the image, our minds figured Aylan Kurdi as the displaced refugee -the face of the migration crisis.
The sympathy aroused by Aylan's image pressured nation states in the E.U to do more to resettle refugees. Germany responded by opening it's borders to Syrian refugees and by 2015 it had accepted approximately one million refugees.
But not all refugees are children. They come from a society that is just as varied, just as complex, just as noble, just as flawed. Considering this, one begins to ask if Germany had not accepted more refugees in 2015 would the attacks in Cologne still have happened, maybe, maybe not.
There isn't a definitive answer.
On a point of accuracy, it must be noted that many of these attackers were already known to the police, and were not drawn from the recently-arrived refugees. - The New Statesman
2015 November, I am in the office working late with my boss. We were trying to figure out how to control the access within certain parts of our design, specifically how to separate the staff areas from the public areas. She then did something which I thought was quite peculiar. With a pencil she drew a thick line over the printed plan. This line created a wall, a boundary that restricted access for our imaginary users. After work I began to think about lines, a solid line, a perforated dotted line and a single dot. I began to think about maps and the impulses by which they were drawn, the impulses by which one grabbed a pen or pencil and decided this line should separate this from that, us from them.
Now, for the sake of narrative let us imagine a porous line. Where the gap represents access and the solid represents restriction. Let us imagine that the ratio between the gap and the solid is never the same, it fluctuates constantly shrinking and growing in relation to each other.
When the gap is large, the line short, when the gap is small, the line is long.
Let us think even more abstractly, let us imagine that this porous line is sentient, it is alive, it feels and this is what compels it to change its composition.
Let us call this gap the border.
When we restrict, the gap restricts.
When we slacken, the gap slackens.
And as we fluctuate and change unpredictably so does the gap.
Borders are sentient.
Borders are social.
Borders are political.
The border is a state of collective consciousness, its condition a reflection of both the political and social climate.
Let us return to Cologne, Germany.
Considering that the states priority is to take care of it's citizens first, then what should be the course of action after the Cologne attacks?
And as sympathy for the refugee wanes should the state close its borders to protect its citizens from potentially unknown dangers?
Does the dignity of the refugee outweigh the fears of the unknown ?
Rembrandt, self portrait.
Eventually as the border is guarded with increasingly strict regulatory systems those restricted will still migrate using whatever alternative means. Inevitably no nation can completely separate itself.
"We can only freely share Aylan’s image because it is a picture of the body of the other. When a charity uses a picture of a juvenile victim of war or crisis without parental consent especially for the purposes of fundraising, they sell that child’s body. We, who use and redistribute these images, are complicit in the underlying transaction. We individually need to decide if we’re okay with that."-Nanjala
“What would little Aylan have grown up to be? An ass groper in Germany.”-Charlie Hebdo
Image 1 Immigration Nodes.