The much publicised economic turmoil in Greece has somewhat averted our attention from other issues affecting our continent. The issue of border control and immigration is making Europeans question their universal values. The proverbial elephant is in the room, and no coherent long-term plan on how to tackle the current migrant crisis has been presented by Brussels yet.
Fortifications, barriers, and other types of walls have all served mankind for generations as means of protection against a variety of outside elements and perceived dangers. Some walls have been long pronounced relics of the past, such as the Berlin Wall or the Great Wall of China. The construction of the Great Wall of Chine, an intricate system of fortifications, took place over the course of centuries and was overseen by various Chinese dynasties. After meticulous archaeological measurements of the existing structure its length was announced at a stunning 21,196 km. This is beyond impressive even today, with our all existing construction technologies, materials, advancements in engineering and other relevant resources at our disposal. It is undeniably mind-boggling to modern minds and leaves plenty of research topics for generations of archaeologists and scholars from all over the world.
The Great Wall of China has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. In that same year, Ronald Reagan, a republican and the president of the United States at the time, made a bold request during one of the most notable speeches delivered in the divided Berlin: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” The Wall came down some two years later. The ultimate symbol of the division between the two worlds, the east and the west fell at last. Since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, on November 9th 1989, and its subsequent dismemberment, a rather peculiar and bulky collection of historic rubble has been kept on display as reminders of the past world order in various locations all over the world. One such segment of the wall stands next to the entrance of the prominent Imperial War Museum in south London.
Without a doubt the US- Mexico Wall, the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, the border wall between the Gaza Strip and Israel are all well-known examples of inter-state barriers. Now we add to the list the brand new Hungarian Wall on the border with Serbia. All this to stop migrants entering the Hungarian territory. Hungary is a member of the Schengen Area along with 25 other EU states. So far this year the crossing has been made by an estimated 80,000 migrants, mostly refugees fleeing war-torn states of Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Viktor Orbán and his administration have taken their stand on the matter and their objective is crystal clear, namely: keep the non- Europeans out. Orbán seems to be convinced that his new wall will successfully ward off the unwanted newcomers. (the construction started on July 13th 2015, and is being overseen by the military). Perhaps Mr. Orbán sees this purely as a security issue, but at the same time the construction of the wall expresses the fear of the ‘other’ as defined brilliantly by Ryszard Kapuściński.
According to the plans of the Hungarian administration, the Hungary-Serbia border wall would stretch for 175 km, making it the longest existing wall in Europe. Another EU member state which constructed a fence serving a purpose akin to the Hungarian project is Bulgaria with its 30 km structure fencing off its neighbor - Turkey.
Melilla (11 km long), the Spanish enclave in Morocco, has had a barrier since 1998; Ceuta (spanning 8 km), another Spanish territory, had its border fence installed in 2001. They both fall into the “anti- immigration” category. Grim photos were circulated by the media last year. They picture immigrants seating atop the fence attempting to jump to the Spanish side while the guests of an adjacent golf course are enjoying a quiet day swinging their golf clubs. A very different kind of clubs are being swung at migrants by law enforcement from both sides of the fence. Unfortunately beatings and mistreatment of migrants are common occurrences. The Spanish Ministry of Interior reports that the maintenance of the two Spanish structures in their enclaves in Africa costs the taxpayers 4,24 million euros.
The European Union has become an inherently exclusive organisation with a strict ‘members-only beyond this point’ policy. Is this the kind of Europe we want to grow old in? Is this indeed the kind of Europe we stand for as Europeans? Europeans will have to choose whether to shy away from the problem and postpone finding a lasting solution, divert public opinion with ad-hoc solutions, or possibly pressure the policy makers to come up with a well-structured, coherent, long term plan which will secure the future of this issue. Chances are the majority of Europeans would prefer to witness the implementation of the latter option.