30 border walls around the world today
The Great Wall of China is almost certainly the grandest and most famous extended border fortification in history—but it wasn't the world's first security wall, and it certainly isn’t the last. Since 2015, construction started on more barriers than at any time in recent history, a trend that began with 9/11 and quickly escalated, Washington Post recently reported. From the United States to Central Asia, Europe to the Middle East, 63 walls, fences, and other physical barriers now exist between countries to define borders, prevent movement, discourage smuggling, repel migrants and refugees, and sometimes, just to make a statement of authority to the region and the world.
In some cases, border walls are stone behemoths that remain standing centuries after the armies they were designed to repel have disbanded. Others are high-tech, minimalist wonders of engineering that rely more on technology than physical heft. Since walls by definition are designed to separate instead of unite, they often stand as controversial symbols of division, oppression, or humanitarian crisis.
In the U.S., a proposed border wall was recently the driving force behind the longest government shutdown in U.S. history and a political crisis that is still far from resolved. Here's a look at border walls around the world, the way they were built, the problems they were designed to solve, and the impact they've had on their regions and the entire world.
Israel's West Bank Wall
Arguably one of the world’s most controversial walls, the West Bank Wall, first erected in 2002, is the most visible and symbolically important structure in a network of barriers that separate Israel from the Palestinian territory it occupies in the West Bank. Many Israelis use language like "separation barrier" in describing the wall as a necessary buffer against what it perceives as violent, hostile neighbors. Palestinians, however, commonly refer to it simply as the "apartheid wall," since the vast majority of it cuts deep into West Bank territory, isolating and separating tens of thousands of Palestinians, severely restricting their movement, and serving as an accelerator for the confiscation of Palestinian land for Jewish settlements.
Israel-Egypt border fence
Although Israel's West Bank Wall is an imposing fortification, the Jewish state's border with Egypt relies more on cutting-edge technology than on guard towers positioned on massive slabs of concrete. One of the most successful barriers in the world, the so-called smart fence—dubbed "Hourglass" by the Israeli Defense Ministry—has stopped virtually all of what had been a nearly constant stream of illegal migration from Africa. The physical barrier itself is difficult to overcome, but the real deterrent is the network of high-tech sensors installed throughout.
Bangladesh-India border fence
The physical barrier that separates India from Bangladesh is more than 95% finished. India is building the single layer fence to reduce illegal immigration, border killings, and cross-border crime that have plagued the 4,000 miles of frontier the countries share. The new fence will secure more than 250 Indian villages that lie between it and the nearby international border fence.
Saudi Arabia-Iraq border wall
In 2006, Saudi Arabia began discussing plans for infrastructure to insulate the rich oil state from a conflict raging in neighboring Iraq. Although it's still under construction, the 600-mile barrier will include two parallel razor wire and chain-link fences that straddle concertina fencing, as well as ditches, sand berms, and watchtowers, all of which are manned by cameras and radar, while being patrolled by a fleet of military planes and ground vehicles.
As with so many other former Soviet republics, the border between the Central Asian nations of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are contentious by design, thanks to the divide-and-conquer occupation strategies favored by Joseph Stalin. Both nations, and the many different ethnic groups that have long called them home, engaged in violent border skirmishes throughout much of the post-Soviet 1990s, until Uzbekistan finally constructed a fence and laid landmines across much of the border. The 21st century has largely been defined by a tense stalemate between the embittered neighbors, but the recent arrival of a new Uzbek president compelled the two countries to finally start renegotiating the 800-mile border frontier.
Korean Peninsula's Demilitarized Zone
Referred to by newspaper The Hill as "the mother of all border walls," the 160-mile Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that has separated North Korea and South Korea since the end of the Korean War belies its name—it is, in fact, the most heavily militarized border in the world. As part of a tense stalemate that has endured since the early 1950s, tens of thousands of troops on both sides guard the DMZ, a labyrinth of electric fencing, razor wire, concrete, surveillance cameras, and landmines. In 2018, history was made when North Korean and South Korean troops crossed the DMZ and met peacefully in the middle.
Ukraine-Crimea border wall
In 2014, Russia defied international law when it annexed and occupied Crimea. Ukraine proved to be an explosive hotspot, with Russian-backed separatists battling against the government and Ukrainian loyalists ever since. Among the biggest areas of contention is the border wall that Russia quickly erected both to seal off Crimea and to make a statement of authority to international opposition.
Correction: An earlier version of this slide was titled the Russia-Crimea border wall. The title has been corrected and changed to the Ukraine-Crimea border wall.
Croatia-Slovenia border fence
Croatia and Slovenia share a roughly 400-mile border that was at the epicenter of Europe's refugee crisis. In 2015, Hungary closed its border with Croatia to redirect hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers—many of them en route to Austria and Germany from Africa and the Middle East—toward Slovenia is part of the passport-free travel area of Europe known as the Schengen Zone. In response, Slovenia erected a barbed wire fence along its border with Croatia in an effort to block the route.
Austria-Slovenia border fence
Like so many other nations in the mid-2010s, Austria began building a border barrier to address a growing migration crisis. By 2015, waves of asylum-seekers who endured long, dangerous journeys had been pouring into Austria as part of the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. That year, Austria built an approximately 7-foot-tall fence that spans 2.3 miles on its southern border in the passport-free Schengen Zone.
Nicaragua-Costa Rica containment wall
Nicaragua erected what it calls a "containment wall” on its southern border in response to an immigration crisis that began in 2015. That year, a wave of asylum-seekers and economic migrants arrived from South and Central America en route to the U.S., the latter of which was planning to soon tighten border controls. The wall was part of a hard-line policy designed to strand people in Costa Rica with no passage through Nicaragua, a move that created a humanitarian emergency. More recently, the wall has also prevented native Nicaraguans from fleeing an increasingly violent regime.
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