This is a guest post by Gülin De Vincentiis on her personal journey towards open borders. She did her doctoral study in mechanical engineering at Boğaziçi University. You can read more about Gulin and her travels on her personal website. Do you wish to share your own thoughts on open borders? Consider submitting a guest submission.
Why would anybody want to go to every country in the world? Why would anybody like me, who believes crossing some arbitrary line on a map of the world and ticking a list is meaningless, want to go to every country in the world?
Well… I want to do it so that I can burn my passports to protest the injustice of borders, the idiocy of visa practices, the absurdity of defining people by their statehood, the total illogicality of making people spend billions (let alone put their life at risk) to cross the borders you’ve set up while you yourself spend billions on police, building walls and fences to block those people and then complaining that you need to look after these people whom you let into your fictional line because of your international obligations. In short, to make a tangible, a noticeable complaint about the absurd workings of this world.
What are borders? They are imaginary lines drawn by either a literally bloody war or by metaphorically bloody politics called diplomacy. Defining people by the imaginary line they are born in, defining their radius of movement on the earth they were born, again by that imaginary line is nothing but madness.
How Did I Get Here?
I did three circumnavigations of the world. The important detail here is: I did the first two of these trips on a Turkish passport. My first round-the-world tour was in 2001. I quit my PhD studies at Mechanical Engineering and decided to travel the world. When you wish to travel, the first thing you do is make a research on visas: Which countries require them and what they ask for to give you a visa.
Tanzania was on my route. I heard that until recently, we (the Turkish) did not need a visa to go there. However, there was a bombing in some embassy and allegedly a Turkish was involved in the case. So now we needed to get a visa. I didn’t think anything about this news. I found out the contacts of the Honorary Consulate, went there, paid my dues, and got my visa.
It was only after a second round-the-world tour in 2008 and many beatings with dealings for visas that I came to question the premises of that Tanzania visa requirement:
So… One guy did something bad and millions need to pay a price. Let’s suspect all the people who happened to be born within the same imaginary boundary as that man. “From the baby in the cradle to the 80 year-old ladies, all people born within the same imaginary line as that bad guy are suspects from now on!” goes the firman. Yeah, right. Sounds pretty rational to me!
Grouping people according to the imaginary line they were born in and treating them as one is the most ridiculous thing ever. Yet, it is done so thoughtlessly and so matter of factly by “big big” people who are our “leaders” and respected by almost all of us “small” people.
Citizens of the so-called “Western” countries do not need visas to visit most of the UN countries. There are 193 “recognized” countries, and EU and American passport holders are exempt from visas to go to about 160-173 of them. The rest, the ones they need a visa for, they are mostly not interested to visit anyway. As for the citizens of the “not so Western” or developing countries, they do not usually get to travel much. Even when they do, they usually travel with tour groups or for short periods of time, they just pay the agencies the fees and go along with their life. Sure, there are backpackers too. Even so, they travel in places where they’re not asked for a visa or go get their visas like I did. Only when you travel on a not-so-prestigious passport and without any plans and you bump into so many imaginary lines that you become aware of those lines. Someone sitting on a booth at the airport, asking you why you are going somewhere… where your stamp is… Someone being paid for this…
Someone being paid to sit at a desk and process papers from you to judge if you are “fit” to go into the imaginary line they were born in. It is also so illogical, the papers they ask from you to “grant” you a visa, like a hotel reservation which can be cancelled anytime, that it makes you want to pull your hair out.
Then there is the arbitrariness of it. I was returned from the border of Panama because I had completely forgotten that I needed a visa for it while skipping happily in Central America. Two weeks after my “expulsion,” the visa requirement was lifted. On two grounds: One, the Turkish no longer needed a visa because of some diplomatic relations. Two, there passed an Executive Decree saying those who held US visas valid for three months which had been used at least once could enter Panama with a simple Tourist Card. Regardless of their nationality… So had I been there just a month later, I would have gone in without any trouble.
Ah, sometimes it works the other way around too, in happy ways. I was ready to pay my due to get a visa for Brazil. I went to the embassy and found out that I no longer needed one. Why? Because the son of a Brazilian politician had recently married a Turkish girl. Good for them. Thank you. (And please don’t get divorced. I’d like to visit Brazil again. Without hassle if possible…) But is it logical, is it just, is it fair? That things should work this way?
Persona Non Grata
At the end of the second world tour which was to be by sea, I was faced with another ordeal. I carried a special passport which did not require a visa for EU countries. So I came to Italy without any hassle. However, on the way back to Turkey, I was going to go through Greece, which demanded a visa even from the special passport holders. But there are no borders between Italy and Greece.: Which means there are no check-points. I went to the Greek Embassy in Rome just to make sure. They told me that I needed a visa, I couldn’t get it from Rome. “Go to Turkey to get a visa,” they said.
What??! Go fly to Turkey and back in order to go to Turkey by sea? Didn’t make any sense to me. I had had a similar experience passing from Sweden to Norway which was not in the EU. No problem at all. I also had not been let into Switzerland from the Geneva airport, but once I got in France, I walked into Switzerland freely, smiling at the immigration officer. So I said I’ll go through Greece too. And I did.
On the way out, that is going back to Turkey from Greece, I was stopped and told I was to pay a fine of 600 Euros and they’d be putting a “Persona Non Grata” stamp on my passport. Person Not Wanted… I was so indignant, I told the immigration officer to go ahead with it. I had not done anything wrong, I had not sneaked in to “their” precious country, I was just going back to “my” country. Returning with a “persona non grata” on my passport from a second circumnavigation of the world would be my badge of honor!
My Italian boyfriend, who was to become my husband, did not look kindly or approve of my retort to “officials”. He was thinking about the practical problems we would be faced with, basically the fact that I wouldn’t be able to enter the EU to be with him were I to be labeled “persona non grata.” Anyway… A sweet and reasonable supervisor intervened and I went back to Turkey only to get married (in Las Vegas, which again was by force of law, but that’s another long story) and settled in Italy.
Needless to say, the third round-the-world tour I did with my family was uneventful as far as visas went, because I now possessed two passports. An EU one along with the Muslim one which covered the countries that did not “like” the Westerners so much. I used whichever was convenient. I was the same person, but now that I had found myself a husband who was born in a prestigious place in the world from a prestigious womb, my status had changed.
It took me about 90-100 countries (to travel to) to see the injustice of visas and borders. I felt it in my skin. The humiliation of being made to go around for papers as if I was a rat in a maze, being returned from a “border”… Just because of the passport I carried. My wanderings were for me to realize how the world is partitioned off to political parcels, how we are not born as a human being but as a “citizen”, how we belong to governments and therefore subject to their whims and mandates/dictates.
To me, it’s about an injustice. The one main unarguable, undeniable reason for removing the need for visas and letting people roam the world they were born on freely is the injustice and unfairness of it. Discriminating people according to the imaginary line they were born in is Global Apartheid. It is Birthplace Racism. It is Injustice at Birth.
I care so very much, because I have such an unshakeable belief that this global apartheid is so very utterly unacceptably unjust, and therefore, even if impractical needs to end.
Looking For Logic…
It’s also the illogicality of it. You happen to be born in some place to some parents and it shapes all your life and the extent of your movement on the Earth you were born. I don’t believe in equality. We are not born equal on this Earth. We all have our physical and psychological challenges to face. However, simply striving to get a basic decent life overcoming the obstacle of your geographical birthplace, your “statehood” should not be among those challenges.
There is also the economical illogicality. According to the migration researcher, professor Hein de Haas, we spend 1 billion euros a year to keep “them” out, the refugees and/or economic migrants spend another billion euros to get in. Now tell me how does this make sense??! It’s all such a huge WASTE of resources. We force migrants to use up all their money on human smugglers, wasting time and exhausting themselves trying to cross borders just to get somewhere. If we, that is governments removed the visa requirements, these people could just get on a plane for a couple of hundred bucks and have money in their pockets to pay for their expenses, have the energy to contribute to society etc.
Think of all the money that could be saved on “our” side too, all the money saved from all the controls and blocks trying to keep people out… That could be used for a much more useful purpose. I have no doubt the world would be in a much better and much secure place for all of us if that money was spent on people and their basic needs. The warlords’ making profit out of arms sales need to stop. There is no real security in this world but just the “feeling” of it. I understand even the feeling of security is important; however, the price we are paying is unacceptably too high!
What’s more, if visas were lifted, they would move back if they didn’t feel good in one place. Now, because the price they pay to settle in one place is so high, they cannot give it up.
I quote from the article “Humanity Adrift: Why Refugees Deserve Better” in New Internationalist:
“Until early 1990, Moroccans did not need visas to enter Spain. They would come for seasonal work and then leave. As soon as visas were introduced, immigration from Morocco rocketed. And instead of returning, people stayed put. ‘If we had visa-free migration, more people are likely to come to work, and to have a look around – but also to go home again,’ says Hein de Haas. It’s only when you obstruct this flow that you get a crisis.”
Logic is a forgotten word in the dictionary. People, conditioned by rules and regulations, do not know the meaning of it anymore.
Why Do People’s Mental Border Stop Too Short?
I’m fine with borders. Borders are necessary, we need them as human beings. What I’m not fine with, however, is being born into a border and being defined by it all your life. If people form groups by choice, then they’re welcome to set up borders for themselves. (For example, gated communities. I wouldn’t want to live in one, but they’re fine by me.) But how do we set borders? Some people in power set up borders, then we, are born into a border.
We no longer live in tribes. Being born into a border, in a village, could have been acceptable at those times. No longer… It is so self-righteous to claim a certain piece of land belongs to you and “your” people because you were born within some border. I claim the world to be mine.: Just because I was born on it. And I believe every single person on this Earth has a right to that claim.
An angry Bulgarian was asking “Why I should respect such people when they violently enter my country and my continent?” I understand people claiming a country to be theirs, as that’s how we’ve been raised to believe. This man was claiming a whole continent to be his too. I said “Good for you. But why do you stop at the continent? Why don’t you say the whole world belongs to you as you were born on it? Which is basically what I am saying. The world belongs to us all. Wherever we, you, they may have been born!”
The world we grow up in shapes our views. We are like kittens which were brought up in an only vertical line world and cannot recognize horizontal lines when they grow up. We’ve been looking at the world through the lens of political borders all our lives, it’s time to remove that lens to see things clearly.
Even though the contemporary political world order has turned it into this… The Earth is not a place to be parceled into countries and forbidden to people who themselves, their parents or spouses have not been born there or let in on conditions. It is a land as a whole, to be lived and traveled on for some time and then buried under.
Eppur Si Muoveranno
To be honest, I don’t know what I hope to accomplish by travelling to every country and then burning my passports. Perhaps I don’t even care to accomplish anything. I just know I have to do it. I feel the push to protest. Maybe it’s just to relieve the humiliations I have faced travelling the world. Of course it’s not personal, I hope to do this on behalf of all the people who have died in vain, all the wasted sad lives which are treated as just numbers. And perhaps maybe, just maybe, it could evoke a response, “raise awareness” as people say. Someone who has travelled the whole wide world burning her passports could make more people become aware of this injustice.
How nice it would be if more people would join me and we burnt all our passports together. But that’s getting too way ahead of myself…
I said I don’t care to accomplish anything; on the other hand, I have an ambition to change the world. I would like to have borders removed as barriers of movement, I would like visas to be abolished, I would like to end statehood and citizenship the way they are defined today. However, I do not set out to accomplish these. I only do what I have to do and let life and history take its course.
I wish to note that I do not believe in sacrificing one’s self. I mean I would sacrifice myself if I knew it would serve something, make a positive change in the world. So when I do burn my passports, I plan to burn the old ones as valid passports are official documents and burning them is a criminal offense. My husband thinks that wouldn’t be a real protest. “If someone whose life is travelling gives up that right, it would be meaningful only then,” he says.
However, change happens slowly, change happens when the time comes. I am on the side of Galileo who said that the Earth did not revolve around the Sun. I would have done the same. What would have happened if Galileo did not recant? Would the Catholic Church have said, “Ah see? Such a prominent scientist did not recant even with our threats; therefore, the Earth must be revolving around the Sun”? No. Galileo’s life would have been more of a hell unnecessarily, that’s it. What happened that Galileo recanted, did the truth change? No. Why would you put yourself through needless torture when your cries would only go through the deaf ears of ignorant rulers? For no reason… We got there. Nobody really believes in geocentrism anymore. Even though almost about four centuries later, the Church apologized.
Last year, when I started writing vigorously on being free to roam the earth we are born on, I felt there was not much hope. Now I see many people talking about open borders and I know we will be getting there too. It is so obvious that this is an injustice that cannot continue. Of course it cannot be done in spite of the people opposing the idea, a general consensus needs to be reached. Still, the fact remains… Opening up borders, acknowledging everyone’s right to move around and live anywhere they wish on the planet they are born is the moral imperative of our time.
Galileo allegedly said “Eppur si muove” after recanting. And yet it moves… I say “Eppur si muovono.” And yet people move… You may make laws, require people to carry passports and get visas, build walls and fences, put surveillance cameras, the police… Eppur si muoveranno. Yet people will be moving… True, some may die along the way. Yes, some may even give up. But you will never be able stop the movement of people. Because movement is not a right, it is a fact, it is a life force.
And so it will be as long the Earth keeps circling the Sun.