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Professor Andersson explains to Radio 4’s PM that barriers built to deal specifically with migration are rarely successful and instead create more dangerous entry routes

In light of the announcement by the Home Office that work will soon begin on the construction of a wall in Calais to deter migrants, close to the so-called ‘Jungle’ camp, Ruben Andersson told Carolyn Quinn on BBC Radio 4’s 7 September edition of PM that walls built specifically to halt migration rarely achieve their aim. Asked simply whether walls work, Professor Andersson responded: ‘That depends what they’re supposed to do. Often politicians tend to see walls as something that can halt migration, that can shut out people who try to reach a safer or richer country, but that they rarely achieve.’ He emphasised that, rather than preventing migrants entering a country, they instead create more dangerous entry methods. ‘People find other ways across,’ Professor Andersson noted, ‘which in turn strengthens smuggling networks, we see more demand for the services, and so we see a vicious cycle of more investments to deal with those emergencies, more wall-building just as we’re hearing now from Calais and also of course from the US­–Mexico borderlands.’

He continued, ‘What we’re seeing, certainly in the European case, where there’s been a spate of wall-building – fence-building, rather – in the past year or two, is that routes simply shift to the nearest neighbour. We see people finding new ways across, we’re also seeing a shift away from the safer land routes towards much more dangerous sea routes across the Mediterranean, once we had fences built on the Greek and Bulgarian borders with Turkey. So this is a problem that can keep being shifted around, it will keep getting bigger, and the more we put fences and barriers in people’s pathways we’re going to see more dangers generated.’

Professor Andersson discussed the historical pattern of wall-building, which stretches back to the 1990s, during which we saw the increased construction of fences around the US–Mexico borderlands, as well as the first anti-migration fences built in southern Europe at Spanish enclaves in North Africa, helped by EU funding. Given this historical precedent he noted that it’s surprising that the current plan put forward by Donald Trump to build a wall between the US and Mexico is regarded as new: ‘it fits into a longer-term trend of treating this highly complex issue of migration through a very simple supposed silver bullet that in fact makes the problem worse.’

Efficacy, however, is not the principal purpose of wall-building, Professor Andersson went on to suggest; rather, it’s symbolic. Discussing the migration-focused barriers that we see now in the rest of the West, the US–Mexico border and in Europe, he sees their ‘principal purpose often is not really to halt migration, after all most migration does not happen across these land and sea borders under these dramatic circumstances – it’s by air. Rather the main audience here, the main purpose is symbolical, it’s political, it’s reassuring anxious voters something’s being done about this complex issue of migration, something’s being done here to rally around a national identity.’

Listen to the full interview [from 13:55]

Read more about Ruben Andersson’s work on migration, borders and security