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Who builds the walls?

A sycamore tree grows next to the remains of the Roman Hadrian's wall between Scotland and England By Tomorrow Never Knows/CC BY 2.0
A sycamore tree grows next to the remains of the Roman Hadrian's wall between Scotland and England

You are a German, remembering the Berlin Wall. It seemed like it would last forever, but it was only 30 years before the pressure became too much and people spilled over it like water – but not before the fissure represented by the wall created deep and lasting divisions between the two halves of Germany. An icon of certainty, a dividing line between good and evil, although which was good and which was evil depended on which side of the wall you wanted to be on, of course. In the end everybody agreed though: the side that built the wall was on the wrong side of history.


You are an American, hoping to stop illegal immigrants. You want jobs for American citizens, and that means no more Central Americans fleeing from violence and poverty. You know it's not “politically correct” to call them walls – in Europe they call them “border fences” – but you like it when Donald Trump tells it like it really is. It doesn't matter if Mexico pays for it or not, at least a wall will keep all those problems in Mexico. It's not racism to want more jobs for Americans – although little do you realise that Mexican companies employing Mexican workers are more likely to benefit when Trump becomes President.


You are a Palestinian, running a business in the West Bank. The wall – no, the “separation barrier” – is the most visible aspect of the occupation that has hit the Palestinian economy hard, but business has been good for you. You run a cement company, and if there’s one thing that's needed to build a separation barrier it's a lot of cement. So you sold Egyptian cement to Israel and walled yourself in, trying to avoid answering awkward questions about how your business was pulling in millions instead of rebuilding homes in Gaza.


You are a Hungarian, serving time for assault. You are happy to have more time outside your prison cell, joining other prisoners working in an old steel mill, receiving $117 a day to produce the girders and razor wire that form the basis of the border fence with Serbia. Hungary had a border fence before, to prevent people from fleeing to Austria during the Cold War; that fence came down in 1989, but now Austria is planning to build a fence on that same border. The border fences going up around your country looks a lot like the fence around your jail.


You are a Sahrawi, living in an open-air prison. You wonder why the Moroccan government would build a berm in the middle of a desert, with nothing much on either side. Ensuring security is the reason given for the wall, but increasing poverty is the result. The evidence that shows that the core predictor of wall construction is economic inequality, and the claim that the people on the far side of any wall – whether they're labelled refugees or terrorists – pose a threat to the country rings deeply unconvincing when those people are the ones doing the dying.


You are an Iraqi, running for your life. There is nowhere left to run, and especially not to the south. That's where Saudi Arabia has built a wall that's like something out of the future: of course there's the girders and razor wire, but there's also the radar towers, movement sensors, thermal cameras, and a million and a half metres of fibre-optic cable connecting it all together. They say it's to protect the kingdom from ISIS, but they're building a similar wall against Yemen in the south, and eventually the entire country will be fenced in – all in the name of security.

You're a journalist, writing your next column. Every country you read about has justifications for their border walls, but they all seem to be suffering from a similar delusion to the fiction of quarantine that emerged during the Ebola crisis. It's a fantasy of exclusivity and distinction that is unattainable in a globalised world and completely fails to address the underlying drivers of migration. Despite this, nothing seems able to stop the trend: the increase in the number of border walls has been matched only by an increase in the number of articles about border walls. Meanwhile, spare a thought for those stuck on the wrong side of these walls – although probably on the right side of history.

(TOP PHOTO: The Sycamore Gap, Hadrian's Wall, UK - By Tomorrow Never Knows / CC BY 2.0)
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