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Nationalism is on the rise, and with it the need to separate those that belong, and those that should remain outside. All over the world we see societal boundaries and physical borders gaining importance on the global and local levels. The global discussion that arose from Trump’s wall, reflects a global trend of countries building border walls and reinforcing national boundaries. Some Countries in Europe and the Middle East have built walls and fences to protect their borders. However, do walls really matter?
Building a wall to protect a sovereign territory is nothing new. The Great Wall of China is probably one of the most famous examples. However, today’s border walls are not being built in order to protect the land from a possible invasion or raids; contemporary borders are aimed to prevent the movement of “unauthorized civilians”. Unlike in the past, at least in most cases, states respect to and agree on each other’s national borders and most of the contemporary borders are fixed. Today, the rising popularity of border walls and fences can be seen parallel to rising popularity of nationalist and conservative politics all around the world.
The numbers of border walls all around the world has skyrocketed in the last ten years. Most notably, after the ‘refugee crisis’ and with the emergence of new global terror threats like ISIS, Europe and the Middle East have seen increased securitization of borders. With the fear of terror and for the prevention of irregular migration, affected countries started to increase the security of their borders by building fences and walls together with surveillance techniques such as drones and high-tech cameras.
As the crisis in Syria and Iraq remains unsolved, neighbouring countries have begun to increase their border security. Turkey, often used as a transit country for refugees fleeing to Europe, has built a concrete wall which is supported by military troops, high-tech radars, and surveillance systems alongside its southern border with Syria. The Turkish government recently built a 556-kilometre concrete wall, and authorities are planning to cover all of the southern borders of the country with an 826-kilometre-long concrete wall. Saudi Arabia is also building a 900-kilometre wall alongside its border with Iraq to keep out the threat of Islamic State.
In the past few years most of the transit countries in Europe built border fences or walls for preventing irregular migration. Together with the reintroduction of the temporary borders controls within the European Union’s internal borders, securitization of European borders became an important domain of debate. Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Slovenia, Hungry, Austria, and Spain have recently built new fences alongside their borders. Bulgaria sealed its border with Turkey by building a razor wire fence in 2013. Greece also built new fences and improved its border security at the Turkish border.
Construction of a border fence in Slovenia, 2015. Source: Borut Podgoršek, Flickr.
Another transit country, Slovenia, also decided to build a razor wire fence on its border to Croatia in 2015. In addition to the fence, police officers from other EU members were deployed in Slovenia to support the local force. Austria only built a short 4-km-long border fence on its border with Slovenia. However in 2016, Austrian authorities revealed their plans to build a 100-km-long border fence alongside the country’s entire southern border with Hungary. In 2015, Hungary completed the construction of a double lined security fence alongside its border with Serbia, which was followed by a construction of another border fence at Hungary’s border with Croatia. All of these border barriers started to emerge in Europe after EU countries failed to agree on a common policy towards the ‘refugee crisis’. Today, different opinions about the construction of new border walls and fences in Europe can be interpreted as a sign of a crisis in the European governance and politics.
Moving from the EU to the US, Trump’s rhetoric about his wall is a symbol of his nationalist and conservative views. It has been a way to attract votes, which has been the case also in the EU.
Opinions differ to the effectiveness of border walls, but it is obvious that walls are not solving the humanitarian crisis. Walls do not stop terrorists, but usually only stop the victims of war. Countries should think critically about the construction of border walls and fences since they are not solving any real problems. If European politicians are willing to stop the uncontrolled influx of people towards Europe, instead of building barriers they should focus on sustainable solutions for problems in immigrant countries.