Border in Three Dimensions

Rome, February 18, 2018 – In global terms, national, regional or international asymmetries are accentuated. Everywhere the gap of socio-economic imbalances deepens. The peak of the social pyramid moves more and more away from the base. The globalization of the economy brings the concentration of income and wealth on one hand and social exclusion on the other. At the same time that a privileged minority benefits from the goods of technology, progress and growth, the increase in poverty, misery and hunger expands. And, concluding the domino effect, it also increases the search for alternatives through mass migrations.

Such displacements, however, soon discover that “in the middle of the road had a stone”, to use the expression of the Brazilian poet Carlos Drumond de Andrade. Not one, but many stones! One in each border, or better, in each dimension of the border. At the geographical, territorial, maritime or physical border, they encounter the surveillance of the federal police and the customs service. On the legal-political border, it is the laws of immigration policy that sweep the road. On the cultural-religious border, they face discrimination and hostility, intransigence and xenophobia.

Many manage to cross the geographical border, in spite of the walls that multiply. But, in the absence of the necessary documents, they cannot go further. They remain in the country of arrival on the condition of irregular or “clandestine”, with all that means for immediate survival and the future. Others, with the documentation up to date, manage to cross the geographic and political border. Soon, however, they realize the difficulty of adaptation, feeling aliens and strangers at the destination. Others, in addition, after they cross the three dimensions of the physical, political and cultural border, experience prejudice and rarely pure and simple reasoning. The opportunity of citizenship is closed.

It follows that intolerance – ideological, religious or cultural – constitutes the most difficult border to overcome. It’s a border that is in the mind, in the heart and culture of a lot of people, sectors and entire nations. A dividing wall that we carry within us, be it as inhabitants of the places of welcome, or even as migrants. It is a barrier that, to a greater or lesser degree, is part of the human condition itself. Border that is built not with cement blocks, armed soldiers or barbed wire, but sewn through different languages and ideas, different customs and ways of interpreting the world and history. It’s an invisible wall and, therefore, more difficult to overcome. Here extremist groups often appeal to the concept of race or nationalism, in order to reject any approach. It is enough to think about the advance of neo-fascism and right-wing populist nationalism in various parts of the world.

It is the border between those of “inside” and those of “outside,” “us” and “them,” “known” and “unknown” “national” and “foreign.” Even worse when that division is tempered and reinforced with the color of the skin or with a kind of exclusive moralism, ethical-religious and Manichaean, sort of “good” and “bad”. It is then that the walls replace the bridges, the mismatch takes the place of the meeting, the exchange ends up being aborted before being born, the doors close one by one, the isolation degenerates into hostile behavior … It is given origin and ample space to the “culture of indifference”, in the expression of Pope Francis.

Against the political and economic globalization, there is an increasing restriction to the legal migration routes. The front door closed, the migrants forced the back door. That is to say, they press in mass on the physical, geographic, territorial or maritime border. This leads not only to an increase in so-called irregular migrations, but also to a greater visibility of migration flows. The challenge is to manage such displacements in a way, shall we say, humanitarian. Management that must take into account the countries of origin, transit and destination. It is unnecessary to insist that such management necessarily involves the fight against socioeconomic inequality, the defense of human rights, the creation of jobs and, at the end of the line, a fairer and more equitable income distribution. The asymmetries that divide countries, regions and the planet as a whole, mixed and increased by violence and war, are at the root of the forced movements of millions and millions of people.

Fr. Alfredo J. Gonçalves, cs