By Margaret Woods
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No Borders

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Issue 420

The author explains that this book is a combination of PhD research, time spent as an activist in Calais and as a researcher activist in Athens. She says it has been undertaken in this way in order to avoid the artificial separation between theory and practice, which often takes place.

The introduction describes the recent refugee drownings in 2015 and the way in which they were reported. The movement of thousands of people to Europe is presented in most reports as a problem for Europe, and the refugees described first as victims of smugglers and then as criminals themselves.

The book is essentially divided into a theoretical discussion on the political ideas of no borders, followed by an account of the writer’s experiences in both Calais and Athens. Inevitably there is considerable comment on the nature of the state, how to refuse it, and how to live beyond it, with the author defining it in the tradition of anarchist scholars of social revolution: “The state is more than a territorialised society, but the practice of certain forms of social relations based on hierarchy and domination.” She claims that no borders politics is driven by anarchism while nevertheless emphasising the diversity of the campaign for free movement.

When the author aims to draw out the main dilemma — how to seek an alternative to the state, while having to navigate through it — she describes and considers many of the same issues dealt with by socialists, such as how to work in solidarity with people migrating and crossing borders without state permission.

The period spent in Calais and Athens is from 2011 to 2016. Because the author lived in the camp in Calais she is able to describe some of its best aspects of friendship, caring and helping, without minimising the dreadful conditions and the dangers of constant attempts to cross the border.

Some of the most interesting writing is from her time in Athens. It is written in a slightly more detached way, possibly because this is when the author is both a researcher and an activist simultaneously. The revelations and descriptions of the arguments and disagreements around a fairly successful hunger strike of the “300” refugees in Athens and Thessaloniki are all too realistic and are a strong argument for a more united front approach.

In the end though, there is no real solution presented in the book to the problem of the state. It is possible that the format of this book may be unappealing to some because of the way in which it deals in both theory and practice and yet there is perhaps no subject more suited to such an approach. Certainly the ideas and experiences of a committed activist should prove of interest to many who want to challenge the existence of borders and the appalling treatment of those attempting to cross them without the requisite papers.

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