Waiting for Trump's Wall? Europe's Already Busy Building

02/05/2016 19:13

If there are five stages of grief then we should all get started with the process now. After months of nervous laughter and disbelief it looks like Donald Trump will get the nomination. He'll be one step closer to the presidency. And with it, one step closer to making good on promises like building a Great Wall of Mexico. This is his big idea to stop people crossing the border into the United States. At 65ft high and counting it's now taller than the lie that he's a self-made billionaire. But for many on both sides of the Atlantic it's simply not long enough (no penis jokes from the presidential candidates please). There's probably a fair few that would want Trump to be more ambitious; a big ask for a man who thinks he had a chance to sleep with Princess Diana. After all, the US needs protecting from criminals and rapists. And Europe needs defending from tired, hungry and war-torn refugees. Though they're all the same thing if you read certain sections of the press.

For many Europeans on the other side of the political spectrum the US election has been a disturbing spectacle. We've all watched a little too smugly at Trump's ranting and raving. The idea of walling off the USA's southern border seems so preposterous. The problem is we've been so obsessed rolling our eyes at America (Europe's favourite past time) that we've failed to see our own reflection staring back at us. The fact is, Europe will soon have more physical barriers on our national borders than during the Cold War. From Sweden to Serbia we've been very busy with bricks, cement and barbed wire. All in the name of solving the refugee crisis. Yet we think America's the one with the problem. We're like a neighbour tutting at plans for a new fence as we peer over the bricks and mortar we've already put up the year before. Remember when Europe used to cheer when walls that divided us fell? No longer.

Ask people about the walls we're building now and those that actually have an inkling of what's going on will claim it's different. They'll say the iron curtain was a prison. That it kept people trapped, poor and persecuted under Soviet oppression. The walls we're building now are to keep people out, they'll argue. But think about it for just a moment; it all depends on being lucky enough to face the right side of the barrier. Walls can imprison people outside or in, it really doesn't matter either way. If you're trying to escape the Soviet Union or Syria, a wall is a wall, blocking your escape from whatever terror is upon you. Why are people so quick to say it's different now? Draw your own conclusions. Although a lot of people no doubt agree with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán - Putin's very own 'Mini-Me' in the heart of Europe. He's quite clear on the issue. Europe needs to keep out Muslims, he said, to keep the continent Christian. Presumably that means most of my friends and I are about to be kicked over every wall between here and the Balkans and will be refused re-entry, for being agnostic, atheist and at best, apathetic? But then they do say that whenever God closes a door somewhere He opens a window. So perhaps we could sneak back in that way?

Forget morality for a moment though. Building barriers to keep people in or out solves very little. "Show me a 50-foot wall and I'll show you a 51-foot ladder" said former US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. Whether it's immigration, drugs or terrorism, walls rarely work. They're one of the bluntest tools in geopolitics; big, ugly monuments to failure. Like any tool, they have their place, but by and large walls are failed policies designed to address a failure of policy.

Take the current refugee crisis. You may think this problem starts and ends in Syria. But as human rights organisations like Waging Peace have been saying for years, we've happily let other crises slip under the radar. Mention Darfur and Sudan to almost anyone and they'll tell you the problems ended years ago. They don't see that the wars and persecution have continued. Or that they've spread to other parts of the country. Little wonder that numbers of Sudanese families on refugee lists have ranked high for years, making Sudan consistently one of the top-five sources of refugees worldwide according to the UNHCR. Despite this, the UK government and its European partners have recently decided to give money direct to the government, despite its responsibility for most of the violence people are fleeing. This won't work, because it doesn't address the problems which force people to come. For the same reason, walls won't stops them arriving on European shores.

If refugees and asylum seekers had safe, legitimate routes into Europe do you really think they'd be piling into boats, using all their savings to risk the lives of their children? They're braving the sea because it's their last means of escape. The EU is 500 million strong. If we acted collectively - with other countries worldwide as well - the numbers could be managed. Our grandparents managed it, under far worse conditions than today. It happened again three decades later when 4 million fled Indochina. But now? The walls are up. Those made of bricks, mortar and barbed wire. And the ones we've built in our minds, from ignorance, stereotypes and misguided self-interest.