The free movement of people across state borders is a taboo in international political debates. Borders, it is often argued, would play a decreasing role in a globalising world. And indeed, there is strong support for the free circulation of goods, capitals, services or information. But when it comes to people, this no longer applies. The idea that human beings could be free to move from one state to another, choosing where they want to live, is usually dismissed as unrealistic. The unchallenged assumption is that peoples’ access to countries other than their own should be carefully monitored and controlled.
Opening state borders to human migration would certainly be no easy scenario. It would constitute a complete upheaval in the world’s organisation and raise more than a few fundamental questions. But does this prevent us from at least thinking about this scenario? Many of today’s realities used to be deemed ‘unrealistic’, from the abolition of slavery to gender equality. Yet, even those who are deeply dissatisfied with today’s world rarely consider this particular scenario. The United Nations repeatedly calls for many goals that are hardly ‘realistic’ – world peace, ending poverty, and so on – but never mentions open borders. The same could be said of NGOs. Most of them, even those that are actively engaged in the promotion of migrants’ rights, take migration control for granted. In other words, many objectives exist that are extraordinarily difficult to achieve yet are never rejected as illegitimate. The free movement of people is not one of them.