Nadia Kiwan

Rethinking Political Community and Belonging in a Hostile Environment: Migration in the Age of ‘Fortress Europe’


In this paper, I will reflect on the notion of ‘Fortress Europe’, which has developed against the background of the contemporary ‘refugee crisis’, exploring how it constitutes a distortion mirror of the issues which are the focus of this conference, namely migration, belonging, citizenship, and coexistence. In particular, I will consider the escalation of the border control regime in the UK, under the post-Brexit Conservative government, whereby ‘taking back control of the borders’ has led to the political weaponization of what British politicians and media have dubbed the ‘small boats crisis’ and ‘asylum backlog’. Following in the footsteps of the former Home Secretary and Prime Minister Theresa May’s flagship policy of the ‘hostile environment’, designed to discourage would-be ‘illegal’ migrants, the two most recent Home Secretaries, Priti Patel and Suella Braverman have intensified hostility efforts by actively seeking to undermine the right of asylum itself. Their attack on the human right of asylum, enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention, of which the UK is signatory has taken wide-ranging forms: from the discursive manifesto mantra of ‘breaking the business model of the people traffickers’ to establishing the UK-Rwanda Deal, the France-UK Joint Strategy, the Illegal Migration Act, to the coercive removal of asylum-seekers onto an ‘accommodation barge’ (the ‘Bibby Stockholm’) anchored off the south coast of England. The politicisation of asylum-seekers by the current government is part of a broader fetishisation of the UK Border which has developed over the last decade at least. However, the nationalist politics of border control are part of a transnational system – the UK-Rwanda Deal, the French-UK Joint Strategy, the fact of Brexit itself are all testament to the inevitable intertwining of nation-centric preoccupations and global processes. As such, my talk, whilst prompted by the UK’s ‘hostile environment’, will also speak to the broader European context. Beyond the empirical conditions of what some observers have astutely called a ‘crisis of hospitality’, my paper above all seeks to make a conceptual contribution to the discussions that are taking place at this conference. To that end, I will examine the notion of political community and how this concept could be a useful way to reflect on our contemporary period. What might a hospitable as opposed to a hostile political community look like? What would a foundational commitment to such a community on the part of our political institutions, governments and media achieve? What would an ‘unlearning’ (Azoulay 2019) of the ‘border-control reflex’ do to conventional understandings of citizenship and belonging? What conditions and which social actors can facilitate such a process? How do diasporic and displaced artists complexify national models of citizenship and belonging through their transnational and locally-embedded networks?  


Nadia Kiwan is Professor of Francophone studies at the University of Aberdeen, UK and founding Director of the Centre for Modern Languages Research. Her research interests focus on European governmental and media discourses about postcolonial migration, secularism, Islam, ‘border control’, as well the contestation of such discourses, via transnational, and intersectional social movements. She is author of Identities, Discourses and Experiences: Young People of North African Origin in Contemporary France (2009); Cultural Globalization and Music: African Artists in Transnational Networks (with Ulrike H. Meinhof, 2011); Secularism, Islam and Public Intellectuals in Contemporary France (2022) and co-editor with Jim Wolfreys of ‘Islamophobia in France’, Modern and Contemporary France (vol. 31, no. 2, 2023).