Last month, it was announced that a 12.5km border wall between Greece and Turkey will be complete within 5 months. The EU is not happy with the plans. Already labelled as the black sheep of the EU family, Greece has been criticised by the EU for falling back on ineffective and heavy handed tactics. A wall is too obvious; too Realpolitik! Human rights groups have condemned the plans, labelling the planned fence as the ‘wall of shame’, an edifice that will tarnish Europe’s desired image as a haven for human rights.
In the wake of all this criticism, Greece is defending the plans as a valid tactic against what it presents as an unending tide of ‘illegal migrants’ (more than 90% all illegalised migrants come to Europe via Greece’s land border); exceptional times call for exceptional measures. No? But what does this tough talk, and these tough plans, mean? Let’s put the wall in some context. What does experience tell us walls do?
We have plenty of examples to draw upon. There’s the US-Mexico border. Almost 2000 miles long, famed for demarcating the greatest wealth disparity in the world, as well as the site of around 500 deaths, year on year. Then there’s the West Bank Barrier. 470 miles of recently completed wall that has contributed to the displacement of 17.3% of Palestinians. There are borders in Europe too: the Morocco-Cueta razor-wire that defends 8 km of annexed Spanish territory on the northern tip of Africa.
These examples teach us many things; but there are some common features among them. For a start, they all suffer from rather bad reputations. They also reinforce inequality. As such, they become self-fulfilling prophesies. Lines of separation make sure the inequality continues, indeed increases. In that sense these walls both create and perpetuate the security problem they seek to resolve. They’re not called separation barriers for nothing. They also kill people.
Will the Greek fence share these morbid characteristics? Well, in part, it already does. The plans are to build along the natural barrier of the Evros river. Migrant solidarity groups such as Welcome2Europe and Clandestina have been tirelessly documenting the perils people face when crossing into Europe here, already. An estimated 58 died there last year as a result of drowning, exposure, and (until recently) minefields. Last year, a group of solidarity activists uncovered the site of a mass grave of unnamed migrants who had died in the crossing. If the wall is Greece’s attempt at playing hard ball, what on earth do such statistics suggest has been happening before the wall?
In the face of human experience, political argument and statistics seem weak. And it is at this level that we need to think about this wall. Walls, and the logic they fit within, make permissible violent means to keep people out. The deaths reported at such walls become collateral damage because these people have already been pre-labelled as committing a crime, and their deaths consequently pre-absolved. But such logic makes sense only when we accept a number of prior principles: that labelling the movement of some as an illegal act makes sense; that maintaining and perpetuating inequalities makes sense; that creating a fortress for some is a valid cost for our freedom and also makes sense. None of this makes sense to me. A place with such a logic is not a place where I want to live.
Natasha King is a postgraduate student at the University of Nottingham, and is currently writing about autonomy, resistance and migration. She has recently returned from 9 months living in Athens. Natasha is involved with the NoBorder Network and is interested in the possibilities of connections between academic practice and activism