The question of countries building walls and other forms of barriers

The Question of countries building walls and other forms of barriers


Globalisation was supposed to tear down barriers, but security fears and a widespread refusal to help migrants and refugees have fuelled a new spate of wall-building across the world, with a third of the world's countries constructing them along their borders. When the Berlin Wall was torn down a quarter-century ago, there were 16 border fences around the world. Today, there are 65 either completed or under construction, according to Quebec University expert Elisabeth Vallet.


From Israel's separation barrier (or 'apartheid wall' as it is known by the Palestinians), to the 2,500-mile barbed-wire fence India is building around Bangladesh, to the enormous sand 'berm' that separates Morocco from rebel-held parts of the Western Sahara – walls and fences are ever-more popular with politicians wanting to look tough on migration and security. US presidential hopeful Donald Trump has made plans for a wall along the border with Mexico – to keep out what he called 'criminals, drug dealers, rapists' – central to his inflammatory campaign.


Yet experts say there is little proof of their effectiveness in stopping people crossing borders. In July, Hungary's right-wing government began building a four-metre-high fence along its border with Serbia to stanch the flow of refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. 'We have only recently taken down walls in Europe; we should not be putting them up,' was one EU spokesperson's exasperated response. Three other countries – Kenya, Saudi Arabia and Turkey – are all constructing border fences in a bid to keep out jihadist groups next door in Somalia, Iraq and Syria. Seven miles of barrier have already been erected along the border at Reyhanli town in Hatay province - a main point for smuggling and border-crossing from Syria - the private Dogan news agency said.


The fence in Turkey will eventually stretch for 28 miles along a key stretch of its border with Syria. But the Turkish wall pales into insignificance when compared to the multi-layered fence which will one day stretch 600 miles from Jordan to Kuwait along Saudi's border with Iraq - a line of defence against ISIS.


'The one thing all these walls have in common is that their main function is theatre,' said Marcello Di Cintio, author of 'Walls: Travels Along the Barricades'. 'You can't dismiss that illusion, it's important to people, but they provide the sense of security, not real security.' The limits of their effectiveness are visible everywhere - not least, with the migrants and refugees sitting on top of the fence along the border with Morocco and the small Spanish enclave of Mellila, on the North African coast.


Even the fearsome Berlin Wall with its trigger-happy sentries still leaked thousands of refugees even in its most forbidding years. Supporters of walls say a few leaks are better than a flood. But, Di Cintio argues we must also consider the psychological price they exact. Shutting down border crossings only 'funnels immigrants to more dangerous routes through the deserts of the US southwest or on rickety boats across the Mediterranean. 'The substantial increase in deaths at borders is the predictable result,' said Jones. More than 40,000 people have died trying to migrate since 2000, the International Organisation for Migration said last year. Real border control comes only through the slow, exhaustive work of building ties and sharing information with other countries, says Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly, from Canada's University of Victoria. 'But with the intense flows of people we see today, walls are perhaps necessary for politicians. 'They tap into old myths about what borders should be – the line in the sand – which humans relate to,' he said. 'It's a lot more difficult for people to accept that diplomatic cooperation and sharing databases are much more effective in the long term.'




According to data researched by Élisabeth Vallet, a scholar at the University ofQuebec in Montreal, and visualized by The Washington Post, the number of walls worldwide remained stagnant after the fall of the Berlin Wall briefly. However, wall construction projects proliferated dramatically after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 -- reflecting instability in the Middle East and elsewhere. By 2011, more than 45 walls separated countries and territories.


Clara Ringel