This week on Utalk, a question from Laura in Lyon, France: “To prevent the influx of migrants, countries like Hungary are erecting walls. Is this legal? And is it the best way to contain illegal immigration?”
Elisabeth Vallet, Adjunct Professor of Geography and political analyst at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), answers:
“Is it legal? It’s difficult to give a clear answer because there are two angles to the question. As far as international law goes, you cannot prevent people from emigrating. But on the other hand, it is legal because most states build these walls within their own territory, where they have full sovereignty — and that’s where international law stops.
“There were about 10 walls around the world when the Berlin Wall fell. We thought they’d all come down, but that didn’t happen. Sure, borders have been scrapped in the Schengen area and as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement. But today we have 65 walls standing or being built around the world. That’s a huge number, and yet we know these walls don’t work! All they do is create bottlenecks — they channel the flow of migrants towards other countries that become overwhelmed. We’ve seen this in Macedonia, around Hungary, and we also see the problems it causes in Greece.
“All these walls do is divert the flows — or worse, they make migrants depend on smugglers.
So in the end, this fuels an illegal economy that’s getting more and more violent and that relies on mafias at the expense of migrants. But these people will continue to come anyway. So we need to look beyond borders, beyond the Mediterranean, to see what we can do to help these people want to stay in their home country.”
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