Skip to main content
KBS_Icon_questionmark link-ico
Graffiti on a dirty wall, near barbed wire and an abandoned tent ;

The Border Follows Me

For the past five years I have been working with an Iranian man seeking asylum in the UK. Mohammad Reza has fought for better conditions for asylum seekers both in France and the UK. I ask Mohammad Reza what comes to mind when I say ‘border’. He says depression, illness, death, the cold, becoming small, the police and brutality. He remembers how in France the police would shoot people with rubber bullets. But, as a sanctuary seeker, he is still subjected to borders, internal borders. Borders that follow Mohammad Reza every second of the day.

Writing this article wasn’t an easy process and was itself a demonstration of how borders follow people. I asked Mohammad Reza questions in Persian over the phone. Translated versions of these answers gradually came together to form an article. The problem is that his English isn’t that great. And it isn’t that great because he doesn’t really live in London as we know it. He lives in a marginal version of London on the peripheries, where contact with English speakers is limited. This world of the margins is the ‘asylum seeking dimension’. A world that occupies the same geographical space as London but looks completely different.

Mohammad Reza describes his monthly visit to a reporting centre in London Bridge to sign that he is compliant. His bus route takes him past famous London landmarks such as the Tower of London, the Shard and the London Eye. But he says he never really noticed them. Instead, his geography centres on the reporting centre where people seeking asylum are forced to queue up for many hours, often in the rain. Mohammad Reza also talks about how he moves through London differently. He walks for hours between destinations to avoid paying for public transport. He can't afford it because the Home Office will not give him permission to work, a legal border". The Home Office legal border pushes people to exploitative spaces, such as the black market.

Initially, I had asked Mohammad Reza to write down ideas that I would translate and type up. But he explained how, every time he picked up a pen, all his worries would come back to him, and he would be unable to write. The border refuses to let you pass mentally and intellectually. This suggests that though Mohammad Reza might be physically in London, his mind hasn’t been let in yet. The asylum process keeps people in stasis and frozen, waiting to become human.

The border penetrates every aspect of Mohammad Reza’s life. He doesn’t feel like he can go outside much, for fear that he’ll be stopped and arrested by the police. He feels uncertain of the law and unsure that it will be correctly enforced. His experience suggests that the law is never applied properly and that the Home Office could do anything. The border even follows him to his room at home. He describes how legal restrictions on his daily life make his room feel like an isolated prison. His everyday space acquires a viscosity, and everything moves slowly.

When Mohammad Reza went to give a friend in an asylum seeker hostel a spare phone, the manager threw him out almost immediately. The border even stands between social relationships and solidarity, an issue that Mohammad Reza argues has been exacerbated and excused by COVID.

Yet, despite all these borders, Mohammad Reza and others like him are constantly moving. Moving across the social, economic and mental health borders to make a life for themselves. The social border is a great example. My research demonstrates that Home Office policy can divide diaspora communities by sowing seeds of shame and suspicion. Yet, people often created or joined sanctuary seeking communities. These communities reach across nationalities and ethnicities, encompassing sanctuary seekers and charity volunteers.

As the anti-colonial and feminist writer Foluke Taylor says, ‘they tried to stop the moving, but it doesn’t stop the moving’.

In this story

Sohail Jannesari

Sohail Jannesari

Post-doctoral Researcher

Latest news