Borders within: Unveiling the consequences of ‘duty of information’

By Lovisa Bard

On October 14, 2022, the new Swedish government presented the ā€œThe Tidƶ Agreementā€. Within this agreement, several policy changes were suggested with a stronger focus on immigration policies. Almost a year later in August 2023, the government announced that one of the proposals, the so-called ā€œduty of informationā€, would further be considered to be implemented. The proposed changes would mean that employees in the public sector such as doctors, teachers and librarians would be obligated under law to report persons suspected to live in Sweden without documentation. 

This has sparked protests from various trade unions, public sector employees, NGOs, and many others. The words resonate on the streets of Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmƶ as thousands march to protest the proposal. ā€œI’m not a border guard; I’m a doctorā€ is one of the chants echoing through the streets. This proposal has garnered significant criticism due to its potential conflicts with human rights and the challenging task it would impose on public employees, who would be required to differentiate individuals to determine their legal residence status.

Differentiating borders: the global legacy of apartheid

To differentiate among people within a defined region, such as a country, has been witnessed on numerous occasions throughout world-history until this day. One notable example is the apartheid era in South Africa. The term ‘apartheid’ entailed racial segregation and discrimination against black and coloured South Africans. Although apartheid ended in 1994, it left behind enduring socio-economic disparities and racial tensions. Today ‘Global apartheid’ extends this concept globally, manifesting in border policies that divide people based on citizenship and place of birth. Some enjoy privileges, while others, especially from the Global South, face discrimination and inequality. 

One example is how the European Union has shifted from an open and supportive stance on open borders to a more restrictive approach towards its external borders and migrants. The EU’s border policy has become increasingly security-oriented and nationalistic, emphasizing the protection of territory and national identity. Consequently, borders have become more closed, reasserting sovereignty. A central aspect of this regime is the creation of a ‘white Schengen list’ and a ‘black Schengen list’, categorizing countries where citizens are welcome and those where they are not; in this case, people from the Global South. The categorization of countries as ā€œdesirableā€ or ā€œundesirableā€ echoes colonial-era classifications, underlining the relevance of colonial modernity

This shift in border policies reflects not only a changing political landscape, but also the evolving narrative surrounding refugees. Over time, the media portrayal has moved from emphasizing vulnerability and the need for protection to framing refugees as potential risks to security and social stability. This not only reinforces harmful stereotypes but also perpetuates a global apartheid system where citizenship and place of birth determine one’s access to rights and opportunities.

Hospital gatekeepers: border police’s arrival at the door

The impact of the European Union’s border policies reaches beyond what may seem distant and vaguely defined borders in our daily lives. Not only have EU policies and attitudes towards immigrants shifted, but this transformation is also evident in many European countries, including Sweden.

The proposal for the ā€œduty of informationā€ highlights a shift from a more global level of border controls to an individual level. Regardless of the finality of this proposal, it implies that public employees will have to engage in profiling and differentiating people. This could lead to scenarios where an undocumented migrant child no longer knocks on a teacher’s door, a woman chooses to give birth at home, or a man, driven by fear, avoids going to the library. Such dehumanization strips away fundamental human rights, rendering a society characterized by insecurities for both undocumented individuals and public employees.

Upon closer examination, this proposal introduces a form of profiling that divides Sweden into an ‘us versus them’ paradigm instead of fostering a collective sense of unity. This kind of profiling, assessment, and suspicion inevitably fosters structural racism. Public employees, such as nurses and teachers, may face an ethical dilemma, torn between adhering to the law and fulfilling their job responsibilities while upholding human rights.

As we navigate through these complex policies, letā€™s not forget our history, ensuring that we do not compromise on human rights and remain critical of how words like security and insecurity are defined and described. May we always let the doors stand open, free from fear, to welcome those in need of healthcare, education, and knowledge.

*Cover image by Mumtahina Tanni.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *