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Beyond Citizenship

Nature operates in fluidity. Between the land and the sea, the coast blends into the ocean. A river does not separate two landscapes - it is a part of the whole. Borders, however, are man-made. They are imaginary constructs that serve practical purposes; but borders cannot contain us. 

We tend to think of human beings as naturally sedentary, remaining in one homeland or region. But human nature, like that of over 50 per cent of the world’s species, is linked to movement and migration. As early as 300,000 years ago, Homo sapiens moved around Africa and then, 70,000 years ago, spread to previously undiscovered regions of the planet. Since then, humans have constantly been on the move.

On the other hand, borders to designate territorial boundaries are relatively new inventions: throughout antiquity until the 17th century, most borders did not serve to delineate territories or keep out intruders, but rather to contain groups of people who paid common taxes and had access to shared natural resources. It was not until the Thirty Years’ War ended in Europe that the modern concept of the nation-state, with its sealed frontiers, took hold.

Today, borders are often used to alienate people: to discriminate, to denigrate or ostracise groups of different races, ethnicities and nationalities, both locking people in and out of a territory. As unnatural impositions built on a principle of inequality, borders are often the causes of injustice.

But a discussion of national borders cannot be complete without a close inspection of the traditional concept of citizenship, which ideally confers rights, privileges and responsibilities on residents of a specific polity. This view of citizenship, which is rooted in the reciprocal relationship of protection and allegiance first conceived in Ancient Greece, faces challenges in the context of our globalised world. The growing demand for equitable resource distribution and the need to accommodate human mobility highlight the system's flaws, particularly its exclusionary undertones.

The imperfection of a system built on a territorial and colonialist ideology has engendered the phenomenon of statelessness - when individuals are not considered nationals or citizens of any country.

Many governments have abused their power by stripping people of citizenship, or denying them one altogether, in order to expel them from their countries’ borders. In other cases, governments have forced people into statelessness to discriminate against them, denying them the same basic services, legal protection and rights as other citizens. 

Take a deep-dive into the UN Convention on Statelessness 

This dossier delves into the challenges and complications arising from a discriminatory border system, focusing on those marginalised by it. It seeks to question and redefine the concept of 'citizenship' in a world destabilised by conflict and environmental degradation. How do we ensure human rights for everyone, regardless of their citizenship?

Anticipating the migrations driven by climate change and natural catastrophes, this dossier calls for a reconsideration of our perspectives and policies on national borders, urging a reconnection with our fundamental nature to move and migrate.

Image by Max Böhme.

Header image by Barbara Zandoval.