Walls delimit, defend, preserve. But they also close in, encage, and divide. They make us feel (relatively) safe, but they certainly don’t expand our friendships, relationships, nor do they develop and further identities. This is true for a family hidden behind their home doors, “within four walls”; it’s true for a nation that erects reinforced concrete walls and barbed wire fences to avoid invasions, whether true or imagined.
The wall that London intends to build along the highway to Calais is meant as a response to the arrival of migrants that fled from Africa and the Middle East, crossing lands and seas with the mirage of northern Europe, where they are convinced they will find a rich, welcoming, modern civilization, champion of democracy and rights, that welcomes with open arms all those fleeing from death. The fugitives are mistaken and beguiled. Moreover, the British people, and not only them, have no intention to share their richness, security and modernity with those who knock on the doors of Calais or Dover. Thus after the criticized walls in Hungary, Austria, Greece, Bulgaria, and after the closures registered in Croatia, Slovenia, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, new trenches are seen throughout Europe. The question regarding the mass arrival of migrants and asylum-seekers is extremely complex, and supporting positions of principle alone – unlimited reception or rejections with no exceptions – has no meaning; it is not effective in terms of response and it does not solve the problem. Migrant inflows have escalated, and the widespread feeling is that “something should be done.” There is need for shared regulations, pragmatism, organizational capacities, and loads of money. All of this should be coupled by a certain amount of understanding of the tragedies experienced by a large part of humanity in various world regions today, in the year 2016.
Experts in geopolitics all agree that barriers, barbed wire and walls serve no purpose: humanity is on the move
Transit countries and countries of destination must roll up their sleeves without renouncing the protection of their national citizens, home security, and their hard-won wellbeing. Such approach must be coupled by “upstream” interventions in terms of development cooperation and policies supporting the development of the countries of origin of migrants, to ensure that the peoples live with dignity, in peace and security, in their “homeland.” Moreover, the European front must equally be marked by a sound dose of shared responsibility and solidarity, thereby containing the shock wave of refugees. In this area a lot can be learned from Italy, despite fringes that oppose the sense of humanity that has always been an integrating part of the Italian spirit. There remains the wall of Calais. For now, the barrier is “against” migrants. What if one day also Poles and Hungarians, Greeks, Italians, Germans and Spaniards were stopped at the border? If, conversely, on this side of the continent were erected barriers stopping Her Majesty’s subjects, against goods made in the United Kingdom, or against the financial services of the City?
In 1989 the whole of Europe called for the collapse of every “curtain” which until then had divided peoples and States, along with the implosion of regimes based on suspicion and fear. Today, to the east and the west of the old Iron Curtain, feelings of division and fear resurge, coupled by new forms of political and social egoism. When remembering the Wall of Berlin we wonder who was the real prisoner: was it the citizens of West Berlin, seen as a thorny outpost of democratic societies, or was it Eastern Germans, communists at the service of Moscow, who had erected the Wall? And today, the same question applies to the barrier in Calais: will the prisoners be the migrants crowding in the English Channel, along with continental Europeans, or will the prisoners be the British people, self-excluded from the European Union, now confined in their – temporarily beautiful – isolationism?