Challenging Borders: The Citizenship of Undocumented Immigrants in Belgium



"Crossing Borders" Lecture Series
Thursday 14 April, 2-4 p.m.
Facultaire Raadzaal, Emile Braunschool, Volderstraat 3, 9000 Gent

Challenging Borders: The Citizenship of Undocumented Immigrants in Belgium.

By Thomas Swerts (OASeS, University of Antwerp) & Anas Salih (Samenlevingsopbouw Brussels)

Borders have become one of the primary strategic sites of state governance in times of globalization. Practices such as border enforcement, locking up refugees in closed detention centers, forcing people to be deported and limiting immigrants’ rights to mobility constitute the cornerstone of contemporary citizenship policies in Europe. As a result, the fault lines between citizen and non-citizen, who are considered to be ‘from here’ and ‘from there’ and who are labeled ‘illegal’ and ‘legal’ are becoming more pronounced. In this lecture, we take it as our starting point that borders are not just geographical markers delineating and separating physical areas, but political constructions that produce strangers – and, conversely, citizens - rather than the other way around. Furthermore, we argue that borders are continuously (re-)produced through border spectacles, bureaucratic procedures and everyday exclusions aimed at controlling ‘illegal aliens’ .

Immigrants who are subjected to such bordering practices are not just victims of state violence, but agents with the ability to resist and contest their exclusion from citizenship. We use the case of the political practices of undocumented immigrants in Belgium to illustrate how citizenship’s borders and boundaries are being challenged from below. We rely on two types of knowledge in order to get a deeper understanding of what it means to cross the border, transition into illegality and become politically active. On the one hand, Thomas Swerts provides an academic perspective informed by four years of participant observation among undocumented activists. On the other hand, Anas Salih draws on his lived experience as the former spokesperson of the Collectif Sans-Papiers Belgique (SP-Belgique). Together, they will touch upon the tumultuous history of the sans-papiers movement, the rise and fall of SP-Belgique, its attempts to develop innovative tactics and strategies to contest borders and future prospects for undocumented-led initiatives in Belgium.