Too Many Walls, Not Enough Bridges


“I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” That was one of the main pledges of President-elect, Donald Trump during his campaign. The controversial promise has probably made more headlines than any other topic during 2016. The international media has depicted Trump’s words as xenophobic, fanatic, fascist, and bigotry. In addition, demonstrations and statements all around the world have rightly shown deep outrage towards Trump’s wall and his fanatic remarks on Mexicans and Muslims.

At this precise moment in history, many are concerned that the wall will be erected with the aim to alienate a community, a race or a country, therefore resulting in social deprivation and social exclusion. Walls commonly grounded on security, economic needs, and cultural identities have never shown a positive outcome. On the contrary, they reproduce those barriers in people’s minds. Therefore, it is the perfect opportunity to extend the narrative momentum and condemn as emphatically every single wall dividing the human race.

Firstly, it is appropriate to remind the international community that there is already a series of walls and fences supported by a complex system of cameras and sensors between Mexico and the United States. Moreover, these physical divisions were built to block precisely the same undocumented immigrants President-elect Trump vilified throughout his campaign. While it is obvious that the tone is unprecedented, the narrative is not novel. Instead, it has been in place since the 90’s and reached its heated peak during the last presidential campaign.

One of the most controversial walls is the Israeli-West Bank barrier. Considered a wall against terrorism by authorities, it is more realistically a confiscation of Palestinian land that facilitates further colony expansion, redefines borders, and obstructs Palestinians from reaching their farms, schools, workplaces, and water resources. The 700 km long wall has created a de facto border violating the green line, which is the internationally recognized demarcation lines between the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Israel. The United Nations’ former Secretary General, Kofi Annan labeled the wall as “a deeply counterproductive act” causing the Palestinian population “serious socio-economic harm.” On July 9, 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that the wall was illegal and disproportionate in regards to Israel’s security needs. The ICJ stated that the barrier should be dismantled. Today, the wall still stands larger and higher.

There is also a place where Spain meets Africa with fences and walls. The Spanish cities of Melilla and Ceuta, located on the north coast of Africa, are a popular destination for immigrants and refugees seeking passage to Europe. Separated from the rest of Europe by the Mediterranean, and separated from the rest of Africa by huge fences, Melilla and Ceuta are images of Fortress Europe, exposing the consequences of the European Union immigration policy. Until the 90s, the border between Morocco and Melilla was barely noticeable. Today, the border consists of two walls of 6 metres with barbed wire, and a road between them with towropes, watch-posts, sensors, and cameras.

The most recent example of shameful walls is being constructed in Munich, Germany. The almost 4-metre wall aims to separate a housing development from a new migrant centre, which will accommodate 160 minors. Der Spiegel reports that Germans living in the area fear bad behaviour and are concerned about levels of noise, which eventually may lower the value of those properties if the migrant centre remains located there. Some residents are drawing parallels with the Berlin Wall that separated West and East Germany, and symbolically remark that it is a half metre higher. A local judge of the Administrative Court in Munich agreed with the residents and ordered the construction of the wall to go ahead as planned, and added that residents of the centre should not be allowed to use the wall for “ball throwing games” or other “leisure use.”

Another few examples are as follows: the Berm between Morocco, Algeria, and South Sahara; the barbed-wire fence India is constructed along the 2500 km border with neighbouring Bangladesh; fences between Greece-Turkey and Hungary-Serbia that was put in place to prevent migrants from entering Europe; along with a buffer zone and wall dividing Cyprus into two segregated ethnic groups. Walls have become the most common policy in recent decades. A geographer of Quebec University, Elisabeth Vallet writes in her book “Borders, Fences and Walls” that there are 65 barriers that are either completed or under construction. These elements are built to divide and confront communities and individuals, and cannot be justified by realpolitik or defended under a flag of convenience due to political interests or cultural affinities. In recent years, the anti-immigrant and apartheid walls have evidently enlarged, along with a politically motivated narrative that subtly dehumanizes those denied an opportunity to obtain authorization or develop as a community.

On the one hand, there is a long list of territorial claims and occupied territories around the world. Those claims and occupations frequently highlight ideas of national interest and identity. These are undoubtedly very complex issues, and it is well-known that conflict that provides significant incentives for some politicians and social elites. However, creating a peaceful domestic and international political environment is imperative to resolving these issues. As one of the main figures of peace and conflict studies, Johan Galtung wrote “The dynamics of peacebuilding are affected by dialectic human interactions and perceptions as well as the social environment. It takes time to overcome both psychological and structural obstacles resulting from protracted conflict locked in vicious cycles of confrontation. Social reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation are essential elements that make a peace process durable and sustainable.”

On the other hand, the powerful anti-immigrant narrative uses language to shape our realities and, can therefore profoundly affect how we see the world, and it has been very efficient in doing so. Although it is journalistically irresponsible to describe individuals without legal status as illegal immigrants or, more recently, illegal aliens, those terms are too often found in media or some politicians speeches. As expressed by holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, “those who are so-called illegal aliens must know that no human being is illegal. That is a contradiction in terms. Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be illegal?”

Human rights and democracy values should not be simply rhetorical twists that serve a particular agenda or ideology, but the human cause. Walls must not be subject to selective memory for self-deception in order to appear credible. A wall is a wall, regardless the builder, and double standards are precisely the worst enemy of noble causes. Let us not forget there are no walls without division, as there is not division without conflict. In the human right’s field, there are no gradients that determine the height a wall is allowed to reach, so as to not be considered discriminatory, or simply unjust.