Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move

Author:   Reece Jones
Publisher:   GRFDT
Reviewer:   Angelo Gianturco Coletta

Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move

Reece Jones (2016), Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move, New York: Verso, ISBN-13:978-1-78478-474-4, 222 pages.

Forced migration has been a growing concern for governments and scholars across the globe for the last few years. As of the end of 2020, the UNHCR accounts for more than 34 million forcibly displaced people between refugees and asylum seekers, changing countries' migration responses and making it imperative to study not only the migration phenomena but the problems that caused it and its repercussions.

Reece Jones Violent Borders explores the refugee crisis through the recent country border protection evolution, emphasizing in new government’s policies effects not only on migrants’ movement but in the mounting violence they have caused.

Jones is an American political geographer. He has been focusing his studies on borders walls, geopolitics, and immigration. His work is considered to be one of the most influential in his area by his peers, winning international honors and awards during his career. He is a Guggenheim Fellow, a highly competitive grant awarded by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to professionals with demonstrated exceptional capacity. Jones is currently the editor-in-chief of the journal Geopolitics and the co-editor of the Routledge Geopolitics Book Series.

Violent Borders: Refugee and the Right to Move is divided into seven chapters, grouped at the same time into two sections where the author offers statistical secondary data together with practical qualitative cases to support his views of sovereignty, movement, and violence in migration.

The first section revolves around current border policies practices, with two chapters focusing on the European Union and the United States - Mexico borders. Linking concrete examples with analytical data, Jones argues how the last government actions supposedly aimed to protect their sovereignty have exacerbated the already complex refugee crisis. In the European Union, he reviews policies and alliances with third nations that are designed to create a hostile environment with the purpose of deterring migrants from even attempting to cross, as well as making migrants escaping war-like situations asylum claims more difficult. Jones highlights how all of this helped the growth of migrant traffickers, worsening migrants' risks. The chapter further describes how the European nations, despite their historically claimed adaptions of the Schengen area and freedom of movement within their borders for European citizens, are today at the forefront of the migration crisis, with spiking migrant dead numbers since 2005. 

The second chapter is dedicated to the US-Mexican border, where the author discusses how these have now become deadly spaces for crossers since changes in regulations allow the use of deadly force from migration patrols. Jones narrates the gruesome crossing of a Mexican teenager that resulted in his passing, evidencing a despicable treatment of migrants at this border and the difference in the usage of force in comparison to American citizens. In both cases, he emphasizes the increase in funding for border security, reaching the billions of dollars yearly, supposedly justified behind preserving countries' authority, while in reality, it only translates in the decease of millions of migrants. The first section of the book closes with a chapter dedicated to borders practices outside of the western hemisphere, narrating violent migration stories and their repercussions in migrant life. In this way, Jones brings a global perspective on the changes in the borders, showing how migrants’ movement has been affected not only in developed countries but worldwide.

The second section focused on establishing boundaries beside borders, and how they have contributed to movement restrictions. Jones debates on how these have served to control the movement of the poor and maintain the privilege of some nations. He gives a summary of the evolution of movement restrictions through history, highlighting the enclosure of land into private property and states, as well as the oceans into economic zones with the introduction of the Law of the Sea. This section also aims to correlate poor working conditions in third world countries with the implemented movement restrictions, using the case example of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh. In the final chapter of the book, the author provides his views on the current and future problems, like climate change, and how borders seem to uphold the established power of developed nations before humanity.

Overall, the book centers on how western countries' borders policies have contributed to the countless deaths of migrants, either by “militarizing” the border itself or by implementing specific strategies intended to worst the condition and preclude migrants’ movements. While Jones does not deny the right of world states to protect their people, and resources from threats by controlling their borders, he invites the reader to reflect on the importance of movement in humanity, upholding it to Human Rights basis. The author firmly sustains that this principle is in jeopardy by the introduction of new border policies, where the construction of barriers to prevent “illegal” passing seems to be a focal function of the state. Jones goes further stating that today’s border system “seeks to preserve privilege and opportunity for some by restricting access to resources and movement for others”.

Even though his views could be categorized as liberal from a political standpoint, in reality, he defines a much bigger issue: world preservation. The author not only reviews history but links the current migration crisis and the way it has been treated with the crisis to come, and the importance of revisiting nations' border control policies in order to ensure our subsistence. He justifies his opinion on freedom of movement has a part of human nature, which has served as a pivotal player in world advancement throughout history. “In the era of globalization, as the gap between the wealthiest and poorest states has grown, states around the world have deployed new security infrastructure along borders, designed to detect and prevent the movement of the world’s poor.” Jones writes (p. 46) Jones successfully explains how borders inevitably originate violence around them, inviting the reader to think beyond the current policies and focus on the consequences for the people behind them. 

While the book presents a clear argument about the amounting violence refugees are facing today in their journey, it mostly focuses on very specific examples, Melilla for the European border and El Paso for the US-Mexican one, where the author offers detailed stories as a frame to the underlying problem. In the same way, Jones centers his discussion around the occidental region borders, offering an overview on how the refugee treatment replicates around the world, leaving space for a more comprehensive analysis of the African and Asia region. The book particularly covers the refugee migrant population, without a particular emphasis on gender, and even though the authors' opinions are well proved and documented, additional case examples and data disaggregation for women and other forcibly displaced populations will be fundamental for future studies.

Whereas first published in 2016, the presented arguments are as relevant today as they were six years ago. Jones Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move while focusing specifically on refugees, sheer a light on the broader and persisting problem of movement across the globe. One that needs to be addressed not only by scholars but engaged by the general public as well, in order to rearrange our priorities, reassess the current situation, and ensure proper management of migration.


Angelo Gianturco Coletta is an Independent Scholar. He holds an Economy Bachelor, MA in Humanitarian Action and Peace-building, and Conflict Resolution Specialist with experience in sustainable development empowerment project for vulnerable women in Venezuela. He is working both in the private and NGO sector as a consultant. Email: [email protected]

The book review was originally published at on 28/02/2022 at 

© 2012-20 GRFDT, All Rights Reserved.Maintained by GRFDT.Designed by Abhinav Jain