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More and More Walls in a World Without Borders : The Comeback of Frontiers

by Thibault Gavalda

We thought border was a past concept and an outdated reality. But, at the beginning of the 21st century, we are seeing the comeback of boundary. We have all grown up with a preconceived idea about the fact that globalization and freedom of movement for humans and goods will make boundaries disappear. But since the year 2000, geographers estimate that humans have drawn about 26.000 kilometers of additional borders.

Humankind has built more walls since the year 2000 than during its entire history. There were 65 built or planned border walls in 2017. This is 40.000 kilometers long, the circumference of the Earth.

For some people, this resurgence of a space marker is, most of the time, a nostalgic claim of a former own territory that they assure it was better protected before. For others, the comeback of borders is synonym for nationalistic and protectionist returns.

Current border Walls in the World. Source: https:/

Walls break the development of essential cross-border areas

A cross-border area is constantly evolving, especially in terms of environment and ecology. First, the animals, the fauna, do not recognize any borders except the natural ones. Monica Embrey, a Greenpeace activist said in 2017 that "Trump's proposed border wall would be devastating for people and animals that have migrated for centuries across the US's southern border with Mexico"(Aljazeera, 2017). She added that building the wall includes severing a “wildlife corridor for endangered species”.

The India-Bangladesh border wall is the longest wall in the world. Made of bricks or a double fence of barbed wire, it measures 3200 km following the border but inside the Indian territory, at 150 meters of the “real” boundary. Narendra Modi has succeeded in passing the budget for the rebuilding of the wall that costs $4 billion. Approximately 220.000 men are employed by the Border Security Force (BSF). It includes between 60,000 and 80,000 soldiers that are stationed permanently at the wall. Despite costs of equipping and maintaining the army that are quite substantial, the Indian population seems to be convinced of the value of this separation.

One of the major consequences of the Indian wall is the fact that on each side of this wall, there are enclaves, isolated territories, of each country that cannot anymore communicate with their home country. A joint census in 2010 found 51,549 people residing in these enclaves: 37,334 in Indian enclaves within Bangladesh and 14,215 in Bangladeshi enclaves within India. The fact that the enclave, especially the Indian ones within Bangladesh, can no longer communicate with their country creates huge poverty. They do not possess any modern infrastructures such as running water, electricity or public services. The wall prevents each Indian and Bangladeshi citizen to cross the border to reach schools, administrations and other services. These territories are considered abandoned.

The human development as the major negative externality of a wall

A wall is a concrete separation. The action of separating means to isolate, to set apart, to break. In the US, the wall tears apart people, family or friends. Indeed, migrants who succeeded in reaching the US and crossing the border wall, are now stranded in the United States. They are “stuck in a country that does not want them”, as Elisabeth Vallet said. Once illegal migrants reached the US, they cannot come back to their former country because of both their illegal status and the presence of the wall.

In the same way, the India-Bangladesh wall has divided lives, villages, lands, family, people. The journalist Ananya Bhattacharya has anonymously interviewed several Indians that are directly touched by the wall. One said “There are people whose houses have fallen on the wrong side of the fence - in the No Man's Land - while their fields and livelihoods lie on the other. In this No Man’s Land, people have, or at least had, their life”.

To allow Indians to still work in their land, gates have been set up and are open during one or two hours, twice or thrice a day according to Indian official authorities. But the reality that Bhattacharya reports is another one: “People who live in the no man's land have alleged for several years now that the border-gates are not opened for more than an hour at one time”. Indeed, people need to cross these gates because they have their farm fields into this zone or because people, who live into the zone, need to go to schools, markets or workplaces.

Border Security Forces’ guards control each identity of the crosser. These people must carry their voter I-cards along (a sort of ID). It is this crucial piece of paper that will ensure them access to their own country. No transgression is officially possible so it could be dangerous for sick, injured or old people if they lose or forget their ID.

Because of permanent tensions and fear of foreigners, violence and drifts have been recorded. In 2010, Human Rights Watch issued an 81-page report which brought up the BSF’s uncountable abuses. The report stated that over 1000 Bangladeshi citizens were killed during the first decade of the 21st century. According to HRW, the BSF did not only shoot illegal migrants or smugglers but even innocents who were seen near the wall, sometimes even people working in fields near the border.

According to Elisabeth Vallet, a wall at a border induces mechanically logics of transgression. Despite the existing wall between the US and Mexico, the American authority calculated that, despite the wall, each year 300.000 migrants cross the border. It appears that tunnels are a kind of automatic response to fences. The tunnels have grown more sophisticated as border security above ground has become more elaborate and extensive.

At the wall border between India and Bangladesh, the number of illegal smugglers is currently increasing between Bangladesh and India but also within the Indian territory. Farmers that still have their land within this No Man’s Land must illegally transport their product when the gates are closed.

Boundaries, borders, frontiers are part of the State-building process of our modern states. Our states have needed to be externally recognized to exist. In a broad way of thinking, the delimitation of the territory and the control of its borders are part of so-called sovereign missions of a State.

However, delimitation does not mean separation. History has proved that autarky is inefficient and, even, undesirable. We return to the nature itself of human beings: the contact, the meet, the exchange. Cultures have been forged by sharing and meeting of other cultures.


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