all the borders I crossed without you

map illustration

Borders are funny things. We tend to think of them as stable points as part of a journey: you show your passport, go through security, and you're across the border. Sometimes they're as simple as getting on a train or bus and arriving in another country.

And yet in recent years we've increasingly seen them as volatile things, ever-shifting, different depending which side you're standing on and the colour of your passport.

We've seen borders that are open, closed, closing, hard, soft, changing. With the national lockdowns that came with Covid-19, borders could suddenly close for months at a time, leaving people stuck on one side. Or they could close and reopen again within a few hours.

The Nationality and Borders Act, the so-called 'small boats crisis', and the redrafting of border rules thanks to the UK's withdrawal from the EU have kept the discussion ever-present, asking: what are our borders in the UK, land and sea, how do we want people to cross them, where do they start and where do they end? We've heard stories of people waiting hours at Dover, lorry drivers and confiscated sandwiches, blue passports and red passports. We saw the tragicomedy of little Union Jacks being waved while MEPs sang Auld Lang Syne.

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
England, bound in with the triumphant sea
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds:
That England, that was wont to conquer others,
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.
[Enter KING RICHARD II and QUEEN, DUKE OF AUMERLE, BUSHY, GREEN, BAGOT, LORD ROSS, and LORD WILLOUGHBY]

It's ironic perhaps that this speech is often coopted into patriotic or nationalist discourse, when if people read slightly further on they would see it for what it is, an elegy.

I've watched as the border between the UK and France, between the UK and the EU, has changed with the ever-developing rules about Brexit. Although that would be reason enough to take a personal interest in the state of the border, of who can and can't cross, what was more of an abstract concept became suddenly an everyday reality for me when I met my partner, who was then an asylum seeker and is now a recognised refugee in France. With every easy crossing I made, with just the annoyance of a stamp in my passport to show for the new rules, I became more and more aware that there was a door that was open for me but not for many others.

Of course, there are many reasons why you might need to cross a border and leave someone you love on the other side, from passport disparities to visas to schedules, but this is for anyone who's had to unwillingly wave to their loved ones from one side of a border they can traverse but the other cannot.

From 2021 until May 2022, my partner is still waiting for an answer to his asylum request. He has no passport and no ID documents.

We develop a routine: if I need to go somewhere, he takes me to the border, as far as he can go, and I wave from the other side and take a photo of him out of superstition - the photograph is supposed to mean that next time (or next next time), we'll be travelling together.

While I'm away, I take photographs of the things I eat, the places I go, the people I meet. I worry about the cold, about what he'll wear when he finally comes to the UK.

In May, he receives a positive answer and is granted asylum in France.

When he receives his identity documents, he applies for a passport: the first he's had in around 8 years.

Passport rankings according to passportindex.org for 2024

Country

Ranking

Number of countries that can be visited without a visa

Number of countries that need a visa obtainable upon arrival

Number of countries that require a visa before travel

United Arab Emirates

1

132

47

19

France

2

136

41

21

United Kingdom

20

128

46

24

United States of America

34

123

49

26

Mexico

52

104

49

45

Turkey

81

77

51

70

Bolivia

119

39

47

112

Mongolia

129

37

42

119

India

138

29

45

124

Bhutan

161

20

45

133

Iraq

197

11

31

156

Afghanistan

198

7

33

158

Syria

199

9

30

159