The world has now more border walls than ever before and there are no signs that this trend will slow, reads a report co-authored by three independent European research centers.
The contemporary trend can even be referred to as “the walling of the world”, according to Damien Simonneau, researcher at the Collège de France and author of L’Obsession du Mur.
From just six in 1989, there are nearly 63 physical walls today, according to the report co-authored by the Dutch think-tank Transnational Institute, the Center Delàs d’Estudis per la Pau in Barcelona, and the German group Stop Wapenhandel.
The last two decades have been particularly prolific in terms of building walls and other electrified fences. But while the Berlin Wall was intended to prevent residents of the Eastern Bloc from fleeing, these new walls serve to prevent others from entering.
“Walling and militarizing borders has become very common,” explained Damien Simonneau, researcher at the Collège de France and author of L’Obsession du Mur. “Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the border has been associated with an idea of security and control, which was not the case before.”
Almost 60 percent of the world’s population lives in a country that has walled up its borders, most often to fight terrorism, smuggling, or unauthorized immigration.
The European Union is no exception. Contrary to the image of openness conveyed by the free movement allowed by the Schengen agreements, 1,000 kilometers of walls have been built along its borders over the past 20 years, mainly aimed at fighting unauthorized immigration.
“Building of walls presents a strong state that controls its borders and its territory,” said Simonneau. “This aims above all to respond to the anxieties of citizens and to make certain political actors fruitful.”
The fence built in 2015 by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the border between Hungary and Serbia stretches 175 kilometers with its barbed wire top reaches four-meters high. Designed to “preserve the Christian roots“ of Hungary against real or perceived migratory danger, it inspired Austria, Slovenia, and Macedonia, which have done the same at their borders. Bulgaria has also built nearly 176 kilometers of barbed wire fence along its border with Turkey, the mainland entry point for migrants to Europe, and Greece has also built up its border wall.
However, according to Damien Simonneau, “the construction of walls against immigration is more part of political show than the issue of controlling mobility. Rather than reducing migration, the construction of a wall mainly involves moving the migrants.“
It is complicated to estimate the real impact of these walls on unauthorized immigration. Deprived of land access routes, migrants now use the dangerous sea route to reach Europe.
At the same time, for countries such as Hungary that installed barriers, migration to those countries has dropped dramatically. Overall migration to Europe has also fallen overall since the 2016 crisis, but some of the drop can also be accounted for by agreements with countries like Turkey designed to stem migration.
In the United States, the closure of the border with Mexico has pushed South Americans to the desert areas of Arizona, making the migration route more dangerous and deadly. At the same time, there is general recognition that border walls or fencing are just part of a comprehensive package to reduce immigration, and not in their self a panacea that will solve the problem, which also applies to the US.
Other walls are being built in areas that have suffered conflict. Constructed to limit mobility and separate the belligerents, Simonneau claims they contribute to the “stagnation“ of the situation.
In Cyprus as in Belfast, Northern Ireland, these barriers survived the armed conflict. They then mark, according to the researcher, the “freezing of tensions and the absence of a diplomatic process“, which could lead to a more lasting solution between the two parties.
Ditto for the demilitarized border which separates South Korea from North Korea since 1953, or for the fortified “wall of sand” stretching 2,700 kilometers between Morocco and the areas controlled by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, proclaimed in 1976 by the Front Polisario.
In Georgia, Russia and the de facto authorities have been trying to establish a physical border between the separatist territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the rest of the country since the end of the 2008 conflict. The construction of barbed wire fences establishes, according to Simonneau, “a zone of ceasefire, while registering the presence of Russia on the territory”.
Likewise, while the wall built in 2002 by Israel along the “green line” in the West Bank was originally designed to combat terrorist attacks in the context of the Second Intifada, it has since, according to the researcher, changed the function.
“The wall was intended by certain Israeli actors as a policy of annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank,” he asserted, “and as a means of control of the Palestinian populations, which prolongs the grip of the Israeli state.”
Condemned since 2004 by the International Court of Justice, the nine-meter-high concrete wall is from 85 percent in the West Bank and isolates almost 10 percent of the Palestinian Territory. Still under construction, the structure should eventually reach 712 kilometers in length.
The construction of walls, therefore, shows no signs of slowing. In 2009, the militarization of the border between Saudi Arabia and Iraq turned out to be a profitable contract for the Franco-German company EADS. In 2018, a report from the Transnational Institute estimated the international border security market at €17.5 billion and predicted growth of at least 8 percent in the years to come. Announced last February, the project of a new wall between Haiti and the Dominican Republic shows there is little contradicting this trend.
Title image: In this Oct. 13, 2016 file picture a police officer, second right, and border guard, right, of Poland patrol with Hungarian policemen along the temporary border fence on the Hungarian-Serbian border near Roszke, 180 kms southeast of Budapest, Hungary. (Zoltan Mathe/MTI via AP,file)