BORDERLINES – THE PRIVILEGE OF PASSPORTS AND THE DANGER OF DUAL CITIZENSHIP

Borderlines is a collection of thought pieces, some creative, some direct accounts, some memoirs, all true. Borderlines collects stories from people who are not fleeing from one country to another, but rather chose to move, or were made to do so by a series of non-threatening circumstances. In these stories there is anger, hope, disappointment, joy, fear, optimism. They are all different, and yet all striking in their approach to the subject matter.

Borderlines aims to show the reality of migration, and how we are all, in our own way, migrants.

by Rowan Whiteside

Of all the things my mother has given me, British citizenship is the one I am the most grateful for (not including life itself, of course). Being British, at least nominally, means I’m in possession of one of the world’s most powerful passports. Through an accident of birth, I inherited citizenship for a country that people are quite literally killing themselves to reach.

That little maroon rectangle is the most important thing I own. It gives me rights here in Britain. It means people around the globe treat me with more respect than I deserve. It means that I am able to stay in the UK, unlike so many of my friends who are fighting for the right to remain and failing because they don’t fit Theresa May’s appropriate criteria.

passport_epa

( © gov.uk )

I live in fear of losing it. I obsessively check that I am still carrying it whenever I travel. (Travelling to the airport? Check. In the queue to check in? Check. Going through security? Check. Just got out of passport control? Check. Taking off? Check. Mid-air? Check.) I have a deep-boned dread that one day there’ll be a knock on my door and some black-hatted official will demand it back, curling their fingers up until I slap it down into their hand. And I have a spare state to depend on. That’s the miracle of dual citizenship.

But it also seems like a precarious position. In the event of a global disaster, would I be disinherited from both? How easy would it be for me to become a stateless drifter, to become one of the dispossessed? In a world where people’s homes are bombed, flooded, burnt, where refugees are abandoned by roadsides and stranded in ghettoised camps, is anyone safe? (Just writing this fills me with anxiety that one citizenship or the other will be stripped from me, that I’m ducking under a piece of red tape and that this article will expose me…)

How easy would it be for me to become a stateless drifter, to become one of the dispossessed?

Because having dual citizenship also leaves me straddling two borders. It means I’m not quite one, not quite the other. I’d feel safer being British if I was born here, I’d feel more secure in my South African identity if I lived there. As it is, I burble when I’m asked where I’m from because neither claim seems valid.

I talk about moving home (home?)—back—to South Africa on a regular basis, citing the sun, the sea, the food, the people, and brushing the crime rate under the carpet. But I worry that to move back would be to reassert my rights on a country that I don’t belong in any more. That, historically, I didn’t belong in to begin with.

PekaBridge_BorderPost_SouthAfrica

( © Wikimedia )

I question my right to live in a (my?) country on the basis of my skin colour and because of an inheritance of exploitation. But, simultaneously, I believe in migration. I believe that people, no matter their race, religion or birthplace, should be allowed to settle in the country of their choosing. I do not believe in containing people according to largely arbitrary borders, most of which were defined by outside (and Western) powers.

It becomes a game of ‘us’ and ‘them’. And in that game, the rules change quickly.

I can see a future where borders and pre-defined citizenships become even more enforced. Already we live in a society where governments bomb countries and turn away the subsequently desperate. As climate change alters weather patterns, more and more people will be displaced: forced out of their homes by rising waters, long-lasting drought, raging forest fires. And where are these people to go?

Not here, people say, there’s no room. They’ll change things too much. They’ll take things from us. It becomes a game of ‘us’ and ‘them’. And in that game, the rules change quickly. Having two citizenships should mean I have an extra counter, a position of advantage, (and selfishly, I hope it does), but could equally mean I become a ‘them’. I hope for a better game. One where the colours of the counters don’t matter so much. One which is less Risk and more Jenga (without the clattering tumble).

Until then, I’ll keep going as I am, storing both my passports in a safe place, and feeling so very grateful for the luck of my birth.

 

If you have a migration story from your experience that you would like to share, please get in touch at thenorwichradical@gmail.com, with BORDERLINES in the subject line.

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