De-confining borders towards a politics of freedom of movement in the time of the pandemic

Charles HELLER

This article, primarily focused on Europe, charts some of the momentous transformations in bordering practices, migration and global mobility that have been sparked by the new coronavirus pandemic. In a first part it argues that since the onset of the pandemic, the enduring ‘global mobility apartheid’ which uses citizenship and visa restrictions to police the differential access to mobility founded on race and class, has been supplemented by a fluctuating ‘sanitary apartheid’, seeking to separate populations designated as at risk of Covid-19 infection from those designated as Covid-free. While these logics are distinct, where states have conflated them, we have seen eruptive and mutating border violence. In a second more normative part the article seeks to rethink the demand for freedom of movement in the context of the pandemic, arguing that allowing migrants who today are illegalised to move in safe and legal ways is also the condition to implement sanitary measures to protect the health of migrants and sedentary populations alike. Adopting a mobility justice approach, the article also argues that the excessive mobility of the privileged through air travel that has been a major factor in spreading the virus and contributes to ecological destruction should be limited. Ultimately this article calls for re-thinking the politics of (im)mobility in the context of the pandemic as part of the process of transformation towards a more just and sustainable world.