Beyond Trump: New Surge in Border Walls Around the World


Even as Donald Trump's dream of a 2,000-mile-long border wall fades with his election chances, heated debate continues over controversial barriers that stand elsewhere, such as the massive concrete barrier Israel has built along and inside the West Bank beginning in 2002. It is now nearly three times as long, and in some places twice as high, as the late, unlamented Berlin Wall (about which I wrote a book) and complete with its own checkpoints, guard towers and death strips to deter Palestinians bent on passage or revenge.

The International Court of Justice, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the World Council of Churches have all condemned the existence of the wall, its route destroying Palestinian farmland, or both. It is hard to say who the wall degrades more: Palestinians or Israelis.

But while this may be the most infamous political wall today, it is far from the only one. In fact, walls, or lavish fencing and other strong barriers, are going up all over the world.

"In 2015, work started on more new barriers around the world than at any other point in modern history," the Washington Post reported this month in a revelatory three-part, text-plus-video package. This brings the current total to 63 borders across four continents where walls/fences separate countries. In most cases, the barrier-building is being driven by fear.

I can recommend the entire series, but here are few surprising highlights:

  • "Most of the new walls are being erected within the European Union, which until recently was nearly borderless. [But] these moves are not limited to Europe. In the Middle East, Tunisia is erecting a desert barrier with lawless Libya to insulate itself from unrest and an Islamic State-led insurgency. In Asia, India and Burma are encircling Bangladesh with hundreds of miles of razor wire to block migrants and counterreligious extremism."
  • "This new age of barriers is not just about chain links and concrete. It also reflects the rise of populist politicians. The effectiveness of their nationalist rhetoric suggests that even as globalization was working its magic on trade, mobility and investment, a seditious resentment was brewing among those left behind."
  • "Walls can also fan the flames of old tensions. In the Alps, Italy and Austria have jostled over the ancient Brenner Pass, where Austria says a fence may be needed to halt the flow of African migrants into the heart of Europe. Italy has expressed outrage, saying that a fence would severely hinder trucking and trade in one of Europe’s busiest corridors."
  • "Thousands of migrants now live in a detention center in the Negev desert in southern Israel. Osman Mohammed Ali, a Sudanese refugee from Darfur who was living in Israel, was given two options: leave the country or go to the Holot detention center. Rather than risk his life returning to Africa, he chose the desert facility."
  • "Facing an influx of more than 3,000 people a day, Hungary built a 109-mile barrier along its border with Croatia. Ultimately, Hungary, a major transit nation, would construct more new miles of fence than any other E.U. nation. The fences resulted in a huge drop in arrivals to Hungary, but they did not stop migration. Many migrants simply shifted routes and entered neighboring nations. Soon, other countries began to build fences of their own."
  • "In Greece, the newly closed border with Macedonia left thousands stranded in miserable camps, stopped by barbed wire and armed guards. Frustration mounted, erupting in clashes such as one on April 10 between stranded migrants and the Macedonian military. As migrants rushed the border fence, the Macedonians responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, resulting in dozens of injuries, including to children."
  • "Some in Europe are now asking whether the new walls are enough. To prevent migrants from crossing the English Channel, Britain is funding construction of a wall in Calais, France. Austria is preparing to erect more barriers if migrant numbers again begin to surge....There is reason for uneasiness. The E.U. deal with Turkey to halt the flow across the Aegean Sea is in danger of falling apart."

And naturally: "Turkey, too, has been building a concrete wall—this one on its southern border with Syria."

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