Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Teaching Migration with Paddington Bear :)

In 2015 I attended a lecture entitled 'Borders, Migration and Globalisation: Changing Geographies of Mobility' by Dr Jonathan Darling at the GA's Annual Meeting in Manchester. I have summarized some of the key points below (with a few bits of my own research thrown in too!).

It contains some useful ideas for the new Geography A-level - I especially like the idea of using Paddington Bear to introduce the topic of migration - check out the article linked under the first photo as a possible teaching resource.

An Immigration Lawyer Reviews Paddington - Article

What would happen to Paddington Bear if he was a real stowaway from ‘darkest Peru’? 

This was the opening question posed by Jonathan Darling in his captivating lecture on the geography of borders. He started by introducing immigration as a highly controversial and politicised but very relevant issue; the subject of mainstream media headlines such as the protests that forced Channel 4 to cut short their documentary series ‘Immigration Street’. 

This lecture discussed a variety of issues involving borders: how we understand and enforce them in different ways, how they change over time and space, how they are used to extend the influence of governments and to re-route migration paths.

Although borders can be physical barriers, such as those dividing Israel and Palestine or Mexico and the USA, they can also be understood as a set of functions and processes. Internal security mechanisms such as visa checks and restrictive legislation that regulates people’s behaviour (e.g. those concerning benefits) could both be considered as types of borders. They also have a variety of functions and impacts. 

Methods of control

First and foremost they are methods of control: they demonstrate authority and provide sites for taxation and commerce. However they also mark national identity and belonging and as such, they can be a major source of controversy and conflict.

Darling cited Rosiere and Jones (2012), who described borders as ‘the antithesis of the borderless world of globalistion’ and a tool by which inequality is institutionalised and privilege is maintained. This is clearly evidenced by comparing the GDP of countries that build barriers (e.g. the USA) with the income of neighbouring countries on the other side of these barriers (e.g. Mexico). 

Per capita, the former average $7704, whilst the latter earn only $1968. Rather than addressing issues in the global economic system that may address this inequality, richer countries often chose to maintain their own advantage through teichopolitics (the politics of wall building).

Spatial stretching

The lecture then looked at the changing nature of borders; how they can be expanded beyond the national level (illustrated by the EU) and how they can be stretched both externally and internally. Italy’s changing policy to regulate immigration from North Africa provides an interesting example of the former. In 2009 they supplied helicopters, surveillance aircraft and naval patrol vessels to the Gaddafi regime as part of their ‘push back’ border control policy; thereby ‘stretching’ their border by placing it in another country. 

Conversely, examples from the UK and USA such as the vigilante style US border watch website (where ordinary citizens can monitor live video feeds of the Mexico border) and methods to police immigration status in the UK (such as checks by landlords and the infamous ‘go home vans’) demonstrate the internal stretching of borders.

Social impacts

These examples also highlight the demographic impact of border enforcement, not just in the immediate area but by re-routing migration paths. For example, huge investments by Spain in their border with Morocco and Algeria may have directed migrants to take other routes such as the treacherous Mediterranean crossing in which 3419 died in 2014. 

Similarly the number of deaths at the US-Mexico border have risen as border security has been increased in the most accessible areas, forcing migrants to take difficult routes through the Sonoran desert. Increasing border control has not reduced the numbers of migrants attempting to cross; it has simply increased the numbers who die trying to do so.


This brings up two issues. Firstly it has implications about the motivations of migrants, who are still determined to cross despite the ever increasing dangers. Secondly it brings up the issue of responsibility; both for enforcing the border in the first place and for dealing with its consequences.  Italy’s Mare Nostrum programme for example, which started off in 2013 as a border patrol but soon became a large-scale search and rescue mission to save migrants from drowning, cost the country 9 million euros per year. 

Anti-immigration sentiment meant that other EU countries were unwilling to help foot the cost and take shared responsibility despite being part of the same trade bloc and being concerned about the same issues of immigration. By 2014 the programme was shut down due to lack of funding and replaced by Operation Triton, a far more limited policy. Some critics have blamed this change for the almost ten-fold increase in migrant deaths that has happened since.

The lecture concluded by outlining the possible fate of poor Paddington Bear as a real immigrant. He would likely be detained and then deported back to Peru whilst his adoptive parents, the Browns, could face up to 14 years for harbouring an illegal immigrant. A series of maps were then displayed showing another face of borders that is not often shown. For example, UNITED for Intercultural Action mapped the different causes of death of migrants, many of whom are refugees fleeing from conflicts. 

Lessons for geographers

As geographers it is important for us to think about different perspectives and realities of maps and migration, to look past the simple lines and arrows typically used to show borders and the movement of people. We should consider where the responsibility lies for the consequences of border enforcement and think about the different scales at which we understand and interact with borders; from the politics and economics that govern national policies to the everyday lives that force individuals into dangerous boat journeys. 

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