Wall for noth­ing: mis­judged but grow­ing taste for bor­der fences

The China Post - - LIFE - BY ERIC RAN­DOLPH

Glob­al­iza­tion 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, even if ex­perts doubt their long-term ef­fec­tive­ness.

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 4,000-kilo­me­ter 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.

U.S. 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.

In July, Hungary’s right-wing gov­ern­ment be­gan build­ing a fourme­ter-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.

The Il­lu­sion of Se­cu­rity

But in spite of the ag­gres­sive sym­bol­ism, it is not clear that walls are truly ef­fec­tive.

“The one thing all these walls have in com­mon is that their main func­tion is theater,” 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.

Mi­grants still reach their El­do­ra­dos. Co­caine still reaches the cof­fee ta­bles of Man­hat­tan. 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.

He cites the Na­tive Amer­i­can To­hono O’odham tribe, whose el­ders started to die off in ap­par­ent grief when the Mex­i­can bor­der fence cut them off from their cer­e­mo­nial sites.

Their story car­ries shades of the “wall dis­ease” di­ag­nosed by Ber­lin psy­chol­o­gist Di­et­fried Muller-Hege­mann in the 1970s af­ter he found height­ened lev­els of de­pres­sion, al­co­holism and do­mes­tic abuse among those liv­ing in the shadow of the bar­ri­cade.

Di Cintio also talked to Bangladeshi farm­ers sud­denly cut off from their neigh­bours when In­dia erected the sim­ple barbed-wire fence be­tween them in the last decade. Within a few months, he said, they had started ex­press­ing dis­trust and dis­like for “those peo­ple” on the other side.

“I was struck ev­ery time at how a struc­ture so sim­ple as a wall or fence can have these pro­found psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fects,” says Di Cintio.

Hit­ting the Poor Hard­est

At a lo­cal­ized level, a wall of­fers more se­cu­rity than no wall.

But they do lit­tle to ad­dress the roots of in­se­cu­rity and mi­gra­tion — global asy­lum ap­pli­ca­tions and ter­ror­ist at­tacks have risen hugely de­spite the flurry of wall-build­ing. Rather, they just force groups to adapt.

They are mostly ef­fec­tive against the poor­est and most des­per­ate, says Reece Jones, a Univer­sity of Hawaii pro­fes­sor and au­thor of “Bor­der Walls: Se­cu­rity and the War on Terror in the United States, In­dia and Is­rael.”

“Well-funded drug car­tels and ter­ror­ist groups are not af­fected by walls at all be­cause they have the re­sources to en­ter by safer meth­ods, most likely us­ing fake doc­u­ments,” he said.

Shut­ting down bor­der cross­ings only “fun­nels im­mi­grants to more dan­ger­ous routes through the deserts of the U.S. 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 Or­ga­ni­za­tion 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 tells AFP.

“It’s a lot more dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to ac­cept that diplo­matic co­op­er­a­tion and shar­ing data­bases are much more ef­fec­tive in the long term.”


A pic­ture taken on July 3 shows Pales­tini­ans walk­ing along the sep­a­ra­tion wall bar­rier at the Is­raeli army check point of Qa­lan­dia, be­tween the West Bank city of Ra­mal­lah and Jerusalem.

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