A bordered world

Israel is to build a barrier along its Egyptian border. We look at other separation barriers worldwi

Israel has announced plans to build a wall along its border with Egypt to keep illegal immigrants out and protect against terrorism.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said yesterday that a barrier blocking the main infiltration routes along the 266-kilometre (166-mile) frontier will be constructed and advanced surveillance equipment installed. The total cost will be roughly £170m (one billion shekels).

Thousands of migrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia have crossed the border over the past few years. Netanyahu said that, while refugees could still seek asylum in Israel:

This is a strategic decision to secure Israel's Jewish and democratic character.

So, the wall is largely a pragmatic measure, but physical barriers are fraught with the symbolism of oppression -- Gaza, the Berlin Wall. Just how common are these physical boundaries, why are they there, and which countries make most use of them?

Here are just a few examples of the separation barriers that exist along country borders. They offer a snapshot of the political tension around them and the complex technology they entail. Interestingly, walls have also been proposed on the borders of Pakistan/Afghanistan and Russia/Chechnya. Is this the answer to cross-border conflict and problems such as smuggling and immigration? Please do leave comments below.

Israel

This new barrier will cover nearly all of the country's borders. Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, sums up the Israeli position:

We need a fence, as I said ten years ago, with all of our neighbours. With the Palestinians, we need two states for two people, a fence that will surround a solid Jewish majority. We will be here and they will be there.

Indeed, a barrier runs along the entire land border of the Gaza Strip. The section separating it from Israel was constructed in 1994, and consists of wire fencing with sensors. It is separated from Egypt by a wall of concrete and steel, built after 2004.

A similar barrier around the West Bank is under construction, but has attracted huge controversy. The International Court of Justice declared in 2004 that the erection of the barrier is "contrary to international law". Debate rages, as the wall (in some places, eight metres high) is not being built along 1949 Armistice lines, but within the West Bank, annexing areas with substantial Israeli settlements, as well as water sources.

Settlers, and others, have also protested, arguing that none of the land should be relinquished. Construction paused in 2007, ostensibly due to lack of funds.

Elsewhere, Israel's borders are a physical legacy of past wars with neighbouring states. Its borders with Lebanon and Syria are covered by sophisticated security barriers with electronic surveillance and warning systems, a result of the 1949 Armistice and 1967 war, respectively.

Jordan -- the most peaceful of the borders -- is largely unbolstered, except for the section adjacent to the West Bank.

India

India -- the seventh-largest country in the world -- has also been constructing walls along its extensive borders since the mid-1990s.

Construction of a Kashmir barrier was completed in 2004, covering 550 kilometres (340 miles) of the disputed 740-kilometre (460-mile) ceasefire line; the aim is to prevent arms smuggling and keep Pakistani separatist militants out. The electrified barrier is between eight and 12 feet high, and also carries a network of thermal imaging devices and alarms, where power supply allows. It is well within Indian-controlled territory, though Pakistan claims that it violates bilateral accords.

Roughly half the tumultuous 2,900-kilometre (1,800-mile) border with Pakistan is similarly covered by barriers, and India plans to extend this the whole length. A barrier on the border with Bangladesh is under construction to prevent illegal immigrants from entering. And it is hoped that another structure on the Burmese border will stem smuggling and terrorism.

America

About 554.1 kilometres (344.3 miles) of the 3,141-kilometre (1,951-mile) Mexico/US border is covered by a separation barrier, aimed at keeping illegal immigrants out and stemming the drugs trade. The barrier runs mainly along the border with New Mexico, Arizona and California, with construction ongoing in Texas, and consists of a series of short walls with "virtual fences" in between, including a system of sensors and cameras.

In the past 13 years, there have been approximately 5,000 migrant deaths along this border, according to the Human Rights National Commission of Mexico, a finding that was endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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David Cameron's prisons speech could be the start of something good

If the Prime Minister puts his words into action, then this speech could mark the beginning of a big shift on prisons policy. 

David Cameron’s speech condemning prisons as violent and failing could herald a seismic change in policy. He is absolutely right to point to the waste of money, effort and lives that characterises today’s prison system. He is also right about the direction of travel that needs to be taken and some of his ideas are at the very least worthy of discussion. The most important reform was missing, as none of his aspirations can happen unless the sheer number of men, women and children in prison is cut, and cut radically. Sentencing reform is the lynchpin.

The detailed proposals will be scrutinised as they are rolled out over the coming months, but the urgent over-riding challenge is to cut the prison population. Last week the number of men in prison increased by 185, and in the last four weeks the prison population has gone up by 684 men and women. Prison overcrowding is not standing still, it is rapidly deteriorating.

Chris Grayling closed 18 prisons and wings, reallocating the population into the shrunk estate. He cut prison staff by more than a third in each prison. The result was overcrowded, understaffed, violent prisons full of drugs and very disaffected staff trying to control frustrated prisoners on restricted regimes.

I was expecting some thinking on who we send to prison and what we do with them when they are incarcerated to create the conditions for radical reform. I was disappointed as the proposals were oddly reminiscent of things that Labour tried and contributed to this mess in the first place.

Labour was very proud of building lots of new prisons, hoping that they would build their way out of an overcrowding crisis. What happened of course was that new prisons were filled even before they were completed so the old prisons couldn’t be closed. Today we hear that £1.3 billion will be spent on building ‘reform prisons’ that will pilot new ways of working. My worry is that they will become warehouses unless the sheer number of prisons is restricted and resources are allocated to allow for just the sort of flexibility being proposed.

Giving governors more autonomy sounds good, and I support it in principle, but they always used to have their own budgets with discretion to choose how to spend it, including commissioning education and other services. It is no good having increased autonomy if they are constantly firefighting an overcrowding crisis and not given the resources, including well trained prison staff, to implement new ideas.

We already have league tables for prisons. Every few months assessments of how prisons are performing are published, along with regular inspections and independent boards monitor conditions. Reoffending rates are published but this information is less robust as prisoners tend to move round the system so how can one establishment be accountable.

I was pleased to hear that work inside prisons is going to be a key reform. But, the Prime Minister referred to a small project in one prison. Projects with desultory training in the few hours that men get to spend out of their cells will not instil a work ethic or achieve work readiness. Prisoners get a pack of cereals and a teabag at night so they don’t have breakfast, are not showered or clean, are wearing sweaty and shabby clothes.

Every day men and women are released from prison to go to work in the community as part of their programme of reintegration. This is extremely successful with incredibly few failures. So what is the point of adding extra expense to the public by tagging these people, unless the purpose is just to feed the coffers of the private security companies.

There are imaginative ways of using technology but what was being suggested today looks as though it is just adding restrictions by tracking people. That would be neither creative nor effective.

David Cameron is looking to his legacy. I fear that I could be listening to a Prime Minister in five or ten years bewailing the dreadful prison conditions in institutions that are no different to today’s overcrowded dirty prisons, except that they were built more recently. He will have achieved a massive investment of capital into expanding the penal estate but, whilst there will be more prisons, even the new jails could be overcrowded, stinking and places of inactivity and violence.

I want the Prime Minister to look back on today’s speech with pride because it achieved humanity in a system that is currently failing. I would like to see a prison system in decades to come that is purposeful, with men and women busy all day, getting exercise for the mind, body and soul. I would like to see prisons that only hold people who really need to be there because they have committed serious and violent crimes but whose lives will be turned around, who achieve redemption in their own eyes and that of victims and the public.

My job is to hold him to account for this vision. If what he announced today achieves radical reform and changes lives for the better, I will cheer. I will be watching.

Frances Crook is the Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform.