Malta and the Politics of Mobility

Malta and the Politics of Mobility[1]

Today, in the business section of the New York Times. There is a story with the title “Malta Citizenship and Perks for a Price”.[2] The story recounts how the wealthy mobile elite – people referred to in the story as the “0.1%” – are able to claim citizenship of Malta by renting a property on the island for one year in order to establish residency. Once residency has been established these super-elite avatars of a global world can claim citizenship of Malta and thus of the European Union.

One Vietnamese businessmen, eager to start the clock ticking on the 12 month timetable for residency, sent the necessary paperwork on his private jet to expedite renting a property he had never seen.” (pB1)

An immigration lawyer on the island claims that these new “citizens” come to Malta exactly twice – to claim a residency card and then to get a passport. They do not actually have to be in Malta during the 12 months. There is one other small matter. The would be “residents” have to pay 1.2 million euros in order to claim their passport. Some hope the scheme will raise 2 billion euros which equals 25% of the island’s GDP. It turns out that the two times the new citizens have to visit the island is a dramatic improvement on an earlier version of the scheme where the global elite could simply pay. The residency requirement is a new hurdle they have to cross. The scheme is defended in the following way by the chief executive of “Identity Malta” – the body which administers the program.

“We want to attract individuals who can add value to our country because of their ideas, and their networks and their businesses and their talent.”


The article is framed within a recognition of Malta’s history as a node of multiculturalism formed through a series of invasions “The Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Fatimids, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, French, a European lay religious order and the British all tried to conquer or rule Malta and many succeeded. Maltese, the official language with English, looks and sounds Arabic, but its speakers are primarily Roman Catholics who pray to Allah, or God.”(B7).

The article concludes with the Identity Malta chief executive expressing his belief that it would be too much to expect the new citizens to actually spend more time in Malta as they want to attract the “real high flyers”. Given the case of the private jet owning Vietnamese businessmen this would appear to be both figurative and literal.


The idea of the citizen has, of course, long been attached to two geographies, the geography of a particular place or territory that the citizen belongs to (originally the city-state, then the medieval market city then the nation-state in the classic formulation) and a geography of mobility. The citizen belonged to a place and was able to move within that place and across its borders.[3] It has increasingly been argued that those geographies are being reconfigured. One form of reconfiguration is the new global elite for whom, it is argued, national boundaries are becoming less and less important. These are the private-jet owners – the inhabitants of a smooth space of flows in which bodies move alongside capital at a global scale. Another form of reconfiguration is the shadow-citizens who are increasingly incarcerated within ever more limited worlds. For these citizens even being a member of a nation-state does not appear to bring the full parcel of rights you might expect.

On both of these cases geographies of citizenship are tangled up with meanings and practices of mobility as well as emerging senses of borders as things which are being relocated and multiplied in such a way that they can no longer be simply reduced to the black lines on a political world map.[4] This question of the meaning of borders has become particularly acute in the European Union where the promotion of mobility as an ideal has been matched by the removal of internal borders (particularly in the Schengen zone) and the strengthening of external borders. Etienne Balibar, the French political theorist, has argued that the whole of Europe has become a “borderland” in which the external borders have been replicated internally along lines of race and national identity such that some Europeans (ones with dark skins mostly) experience borderness as part of daily life – not just at an actual political border.[5] So what is happening in Malta is part of this process of “bordering” and the reconfiguration of geographies of citizenship.


This raises the issue of a strange absence in the New York Times Malta piece. There is one other reason that Malta has been in the news over the last few years that is logically and politically related to the story of the global mobile elite. Malta has also been the site of the mass incarceration of African immigrants arriving, uninvited, by boat. And these are just the ‘lucky’ ones who do not drown in the attempt. On 12 October 2013 the BBC reported the Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, as saying that the Mediterranean was turning into a cemetery due to the number of Africans who were drowning in and around Malta during attempts to enter the European Union. “I don’t know how many more people need to die at sea” he said, “before something gets done”.[6] Part of Muscat’s complaint was that the European Union was doing nothing and leaving it up to Malta (and Italy) to deal with what was an EU problem. Between then and now the issue of dangerous attempt by Africans to migrate in unseaworthy and overcrowded boats (the opposite of private jets with residency papers) has become many times worse. Muscat attempted to have some of the migrants flown back to Libya against their wishes. Malta, he pointed out, is an island with 400,000 people that was struggling to deal with tens of thousands of uninvited guests. In the last few years Malta has developed a regime of detention as the immigrants who want to arrive in the European mainland arrive instead in Malta and do not want to be there. They are stuck within a fairly unique regime of mandatory detention. The states of the EU, meanwhile, do not want the immigrants either and effectively use Malta in its historic role as fortress island. The geographer Alison Mountz has been examining this use of islands as sites for the management of global migration – where the process of ‘bordering’ gets relocated “offshore”. Malta becomes part of what Mountz calls “the enforcement archipelago”[7] – a collection of islands that includes Guantanamo, Christmas Island, the Canary Islands and Lampedusa.


It is surprising that the New York Times journalist does not connect these two stories. They illustrate the increasingly stark politics of mobility in today’s mobile world.[8] In one case we see a set of laws made up to encourage Maltese and thus EU citizenship based on money and a spurious notion of residency. On the other we see the policing of citizenship through the outsourcing and offshoring of border construction. Malta is a semi-permeable membrane. The Maltese Immigration Act that regulates the African arrivals defines a group known as prohibited immigrants – immigrants who are not authorized or whose authorization is invalid because they are unable to support themselves of their families. Once labeled in this way the immigrants are issued a “removal order” which requires that they are removed from Malta – an action that cannot actually take place. Any person with a removal order can then detained.[9] The chief executive of ‘Identity Malta’ wanted to attract the “real high flyers” in order to “add value to our country” through the enrollment of their ideas and networks. Clearly there are other networks they would rather not be part of.

Balibar E, 2004 We, the people of Europe? : reflections on transnational citizenship (Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.)

Balibar E, 2009, “Europe as borderland” Environment and Planning D-Society & Space 27 190-215

Cresswell T, 2009, “The Prosthetic Citizen: New Geographies of Citizenship” Political Power and Social Theory 20 259-273

Cresswell T, 2010, “Towards a Politics of Mobility” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 28 17-31

Cresswell T, 2013, “Citizenship in Worlds of Mobility”, in Critical Mobilities Eds O Soderstrom, S Randeria, D Ruedin, G D’Amato, F Panese (Routledge, London) pp 81-100

Mountz A, 2011, “The enforcement archipelago: Detention, haunting, and asylum on islands” Political Geography 30 118-128

Rumford C, 2006, “Theorising Borders” European journal of social theory 9 155-169

[1] I am grateful for conversations with Owen Jennings concerning the role of Malta as an island in the politics of migration.

[2] Jenny Anderson, ‘Malta Citizenship and Perks for a Price’ New York Times, Friday May 1, 2015 pages B1 and B7.

[3] For my accounts of this see Cresswell T, 2009, “The Prosthetic Citizen: New Geographies of Citizenship” Political Power and Social Theory 20 259-273, Cresswell T, 2013, “Citizenship in Worlds of Mobility”, in Critical Mobilities Eds O Soderstrom, S Randeria, D Ruedin, G D’Amato, F Panese (Routledge, London) pp 81-100

[4] See Rumford C, 2006, “Theorising Borders” European journal of social theory 9 155-169

[5] Balibar E, 2004 We, the people of Europe? : reflections on transnational citizenship (Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.), Balibar E, 2009, “Europe as borderland” Environment and Planning D-Society & Space 27 190-215


[7] Mountz A, 2011, “The enforcement archipelago: Detention, haunting, and asylum on islands” Political Geography 30 118-128

[8] Cresswell T, 2010, “Towards a Politics of Mobility” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 28 17-31

[9] For an account of the detention regime in Malta see

2015 – Adventures in Critical Geosophy

2015 is shaping up to be an eventful year. A number of significant projects and events are on the horizon and they are all exciting and somewhat interconnected. The connecting point is my longstanding interest in what I call ‘Critical Geosophy” – the interpretation of geographical knowledge and its role in the constitution of culture and society. I am thinking here of the ways we are informed by ideas such as ‘place’ and ‘mobility’ in particular. The particular projects/events are:

1) Fence My second poetry book, Fence, is being published by Penned in the Margins in October. I am at the final editing stage. I have been fortunate to read this in its entirety three times (Guelph, Concordia, Queens) and am going to read it again at Cornell later this month. I will also do a selection of it at the Nordic Geography conference in Estonia in June. The book is a sequence that takes the form of a polyvocal montage of my own journey to Svalbard (with Nowhereisland) along with fragmented versions of parts of the travel accounts of English explorer, Robert Fothery from 1613 and 1614 and Leonie D’Aunet – the first woman to visit Svalbard in 1838.The sequence uses a number of different vocabularies to explore the relationship between language, a particular place, the flows in and out of it and a fence. The fence stands for both the separations of territories and the flows that make up place. Along the way we encounter whaling, migrant species, a disco, geology and economic imperialism. It is a form of place-writing that enacts and enlivens my more academic considerations of place and mobility.

2) GeoHumanities Fence is also a example of GeoHumanities in action. While GeoHumanities is a recent term it represents an exciting coming together of the humanities side of geography (the longest standing version of geography), the spatial turn across the humanities and social sciences, recent developments in geocoded software, GIS, forms of visualisation of space, place and mobility, and new ways of engaging with the earth in the creative arts and practices. I have been appointed as one of the first Managing Editors of the new Taylor and Francis journal – GeoHumanities (along with Deborah Dixon at the University of Glasgow). The journal is an initiative of the Association of American Geographers and is the culmination of years of meetings and special sessions at AAG conferences. Despite its disciplinary home, GeoHumanities is a genuinely interdisciplinary journal and will include contributions from across the humanities as well as creative contributions from creative practitioners. We are putting together an international and interdisciplinary editorial board which includes creative writers and artists. The journal will be launched at the AAG conference in Chicago in April and the first issue will appear in October.

3) All Possible Worlds In the summer of 2007, on holiday with my family, we got to the end of reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I had been reading the whole series  aloud to Owen and Sam and now Maddy too (she wasn’t around when all this started). The whole reading aloud as a family thing had centred on this series. Anyway – suddenly there was nothing to read so I started writing my own story for the same age group. I wrote 1000 words a day and read it aloud in the evening. Since then I have continued to write it and read it aloud (even as Owen became 21) on family holidays. This last year the momentum has grown and I am almost done. About three chapters left and I know everything that is going to happen. I am excited about the story and my kids all apparently love it. At the centre of it is lovely London (actually several Londons) and the magic of maps. It was partly inspired by the book Sophie’s World which introduced children to philosophy and partly by the Inkheart series which I also read aloud and which featured the danger of writing stories that become real. So – this is another exercise in representing geographical knowledge and its relationship to power. I just need an agent!

4) Living in the Mobility Transition 2014 saw the start of a large comparative project on the future of mobilities. More specifically the project looks at the possible transitions to low(er) carbon mobilities in a range of sites around the world including Canada, the UK, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, New Zealand, South Korea, the Netherlands, Russia, Singapore, South Africa and Turkey. This has meant engaging with the literature on socio-technical transitions as well as the policy arena – both of which are new to me. Central to the emerging project is the way imaginations about mobility and the practice of mobility need to be part of any transition to a post-peak oil and lower carbon world. This is something a geographical imagination can bring to this crucial field of enquiry.

5) Topo-poetics I recently finished and defended my doctorate in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway that involved 50 pages of poems as well as 40,000 words of theory. The theory section revolved around the idea of poems as space and places (as well as poems about spaces and places). I developed ideas around the topos of the poem and then explored this in four poets – Elizabeth Bishop, John Burnside, Don McKay and Jorie Graham.  I am going to add a few more poets to this list – probably Lorine Niedecker and Roy Fisher and submit it as a book.

These are all linked by critical geosophy. They all engage with the way geography informs imaginations and forms of representation in worlds that are shot through with power.

New Video on Mobile Lives Forum “Mobility Channel”

Before leaving London for Boston (my new home) I visited Paris for the day to film three short films for the Mobile Lives Forum – a research institute set up and resourced by SNCF – French national railways. It was a good day which ended with a visit to Shakespeare’s Books and a quick wine and steak tartare. It was then I realised that I had not changed by watch and had to get to Gare de Nord in a hurry! Anyway, the filming was fun. Now the first of those films has gone live and can be seen at

In the film I outline the basic structure of my approach to mobility developed in my book, On the Move: Mobility in the Modern Western World.

Geography in Action – Two recent events

As i have been involved in a big move from London to Boston/Brookline my attention has been to drawn to a couple of news stories in which geography, as I understand it, looms large.


A recent legal ruling in New York City cast doubt on the legality of police stop and frisk powers. The New York Civil Liberties Union tells us that these powers have been used more than 4 million times since 2002. Around 9 out of 10 of those stopped have been completely innocent of having done anything illegal. Close to 90% of these stopped were black or Latino.  This is a stark example of the politics of (im)mobility  that mirrors similar practices from London’s past with the so-called ‘sus’ laws of the 1970s. But this is not just about non-white people being stopped from moving around the city. Movement at the bodily scale was also implicated.  The New York Times reports that the Judge who has questioned the legality of the practice “noted that officers routinely stopped people partly on the basis of “furtive movements,” a category that officers have testified might encompass any of the following: being fidgety, changing directions, walking in a certain way, grabbing at a pocket or looking over one’s shoulder.” (New York Times 12 August 2013). This forms part of a long history of ‘furtive movements’ that have been policed, regulated and disciplined in the workplace, in leisure activities (such as dance), in transit spaces (such as airports) and simply moving through the city.


On arrival at Heathrow Airport, David Miranda, the partner of the Guardian journalist, Glenn Greenwald, was detained and questions without legal representation for nine hours. Glenn Greenwald had been reporting on the NSA leaks by Edward Snowden. Miranda was detained under anti-terrorism laws from 2000. Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act. There are many disturbing aspects to this incident. But one that caught my eye as a geographer was the way in which schedule 7 defines certain spaces as ones in which it is possible to detain a person for up to 9 hours without legal representation or any charges being made. It is only at airports and other border spaces that the police can act in this way. An innocent person detained in these spaces has fewer rights than an actual terrorist being detained in a police station. Anywhere else in the UK such actions would be entirely illegal. Miranda is only the most high profile person to be stopped under these laws. As with the stop and frisk laws there has been considerable concern that schedule 7 unfairly targets minority groups. Geography Matters.