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Border walls have become a prominent focus in the world today. At the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, globally there were only about 15 border/security walls in place or under construction. In contrast, today there are more than 70 walls, with additional ones being proposed. The longest physical border wall, still under construction, lies between India and Bangladesh (3,268 km).
Although human migration has been a fundamental element of the human condition throughout history, walls are built mainly as barriers to control the mobility of people and commerce. Today, virtual walls (advanced technological surveillance systems) add another barrier layer. However, with very few military exceptions, no wall achieves complete closure. Despite the physical danger and material barriers, people have always found a way under, over, and through the walls. Decades of anthropological and archaeological research clearly demonstrate that walls don’t work at preventing movement, but they do succeed at deepening discrimination and intensifying social and cultural divisions.
Walls are symbols. They stand for an enclosed “inside,” separating from and protecting against an uncontrolled or threatening “outside.” Walls are usually proposed in times of manufactured “crisis,” which easily slips into racism. Once established, walls enhance perceived racial divisions by segregating individuals, communities, and regions.
Walls perpetuate inequalities, where the privileged and essential workers pass. Those who are not allowed and cannot pass face the payment of large sums to human smugglers, and often the physical risk of death and injury in dangerous routes around walls.
Walls have devastating consequences for environmental and cultural resources. They disrupt the movement of animals, destroying habitat through construction activities, and wiping out plants and wildlife by rechanneling or blocking the flow of surface water. Walls destroy some sacred sites and landscapes and obstruct access to others.
Walls have adverse impacts on human rights. They prevent people from gaining a livelihood, fleeing from religious persecution and war, and they place people at risk of injury and death when they encounter barriers and intensive enforcement zones. When people wait in camps and towns for a chance to move lawfully through checkpoints, they find themselves in the midst of danger and extreme exploitation.
Based on these well-documented harms, we call on the global community to seriously consider the likely adverse consequences associated with the formation of border walls, call into question the stated purpose of walls, and appeal for further research on those who shoulder the baleful burdens created in the name of benefits that walls purportedly confer.