The Freedom to Move

Harsha Walia is the award-winning author of “Undoing Border Imperialism” and, most recently, “Border and Rule.” Trained in the law, she is a community organiser and campaigner in migrant justice, feminist, anti-capitalist, abolitionist, and anti-imperialist movements, including “No One Is Illegal” and “Women’s Memorial March Committee”.

This is an extract of a conversation between Veronica Yates and Harsha Walia from the third edition of our magazine on Movement.

Perhaps I can start by asking you to explain what you mean by border imperialism?

For me border imperialism is the idea that we can’t think of borders simply as a domesticated immigration policy issue, that we have to locate the existence and production of borders in a global context and especially in the context of imperialism. The fact that there are mass inequities in this world that are underwritten by colonialism, settler colonialism, enslavement, war, impoverishment, racial capitalism, all of that; and that creates mass asymmetries when it comes to life, life on this planet. And border imperialism is a way to maintain power. And for me citizenship is one of the pillars of global inequity. A lot of the time we talk about it as a very domestic issue, like immigration policies and quotas, how many people are we going to let in, these very policies that question at a national level without implicating these mass forces of inequities that forces people to migrate and constrict their mobility. So for me border imperialism is looking at all those forces in a global context and locating them squarely in the historic and contemporary realities of imperialism.

In your book you write ‘undoing border imperialism would mean a freer society for everyone.’ Could you speak a bit to that?

I think borders really are at the nexus of a lot of social issues. If you think about, for example, global poverty, again global poverty is not a function of individuals or the kind of liberal narrative of meritocracy, it’s a function of mass deliberate impoverishment.

Or if we look at issues related to climate justice, if we look at issues related to gender violence, if we look at issues around living wages and labour rights, all of these are connected to the fact that we live in a world that is fortified, and one of the main ways that gender violence is upheld, one of the main reasons racial justice is upheld, one of the main ways in which labour inequities are upheld, all of these are related to the border. 

You’ve spoken about the freedom to stay, the freedom to move and the freedom to return. And in relation to that, you also make compelling links between different groups, for example Indigenous communities and migrant rights. Can you explain this?

Yes to me they are related because the freedom to move and the freedom to stay are intertwined in the sense that one of the things that forces people to move, whether that is trade agreements, whether that’s environmental catastrophe, whether that’s a mining company, an oil company on the land, whatever it is, whether it’s war or work, those forces that are compelling you to move are also the ones that are denying you the right to stay.  

So to me that is the connection, that people have as much a right to move, as they have a right to stay, a right to live in their land. Indigenous people have the right to remain on their land, Indigenous communities resisting climate change have a right to remain on their land and not have to become climate refugees, Palestinian people have the right to stay or to return on their land and to resist Israeli apartheid and occupation. So those are intertwined and that the right to migration must be under conditions of freedom. And also, nobody should have to be forced to move, which is the corollary to the right to stay.

Read the full interview:


Border and Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism, Harsha Walia

Undoing Border Imperialism, Harsha Walia

Oct 22, 2021

The (Lost) Art of Conversation

“The world right now needs the most vivid, transformative universe of words that you and I can muster. And we can begin immediately to start having the conversations we want to be hearing, and telling the story of our time anew.” — Krista Tippett

Jun 11, 2021

A Compassion Revolution

"Humility is admitting that I don’t know the whole story. Compassion is recognising that you don’t know it either."— Anon

Jul 16, 2021

From Busywork to Meaningful Action

No items found.