UK taxpayers are to fund the erection of a “keep the refugees out” wall in Calais, Home Office Minister Robert Godwill has confirmed. Building will begin any day. The wall, which will be 4 metres high, will seal the last kilometre of the main approach road to the port of Calais. It will aim to stop refugees living in the “Jungle” camp from getting into vehicles travelling to the UK.
Robert Goodwill referred to the Calais Wall as a “stepping up” of security – but it is hard to see how this will work. Refugees have already begun falling back from the port area and targeting vehicles long before their reach the port. Four metres is a high wall, but it is not insurmountable – literally. If it is built, it will not be long before it is being breached – suggesting that it will then need to be policed. The measure designed to improve security will need its own security to stand a chance of working.
The Calais Wall joins a line of real and planned walls which have helped repress desperate people. Best known to Europeans was the Berlin Wall (in reality, a wall along the whole East/West German border, with heavy military guarding and protected by mined land on either side). Thousands were killed trying to breach the Wall and make their way to the west. It was built after World War Two and became a tangible symbol of how the whole of Europe had been divided. When it was breached, in the early 1990s, the collapse of the Wall was a key symbol of the end of the Cold War and the hope that a reunited Europe would be free and prosperous.
Perhaps even more pernicious is the Wall built by the state of Israel to keep the Palestinian population imprisoned in Gaza. Again, it is heavily policed – and has become a symbol reminding the world of the many ways in which the state of Isreal oppresses the Palestinians, notably but not exclusively by this physical barrier.
Other walls in history include the Great Wall of China and Hadrian’s wall (which used to form the boundary between England and Scotland). Both of them have lost their original purposes and survive today essentially as tourist attractions. It is hard to see how the Calais Wall will ever transcend its stated purpose and become a tourist attraction – unless it becomes a memorial to those killed as they seek freedom.
To this sad and sorry list may be added the Great Wall of Mexico planned by Donald Trump in the frightening event that he actually becomes President of the USA.
Walls, then, don’t have a good press. It is thought that their latest little brother, the Great Wall of Calais, will cost £2 million. That sum could go a long way to taking refugees out of Calais and helping them to settle in new safe homes, where they can find employment and become taxpayers. It is a disgrace that the money will instead be spent on yet more measures to imprison the refugees and take away their hope.
The Government is not presiding over a Walls Up as a giant Balls Up.