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The walls narrative

Jan 10,2019 - Last updated at Jan 10,2019

US President Donald Trump has made the building of a wall to protect his country's southern border with Mexico a national and international issue.

During his address to his country from the Oval Office on Tuesday, President Trump defended his showdown with the Democrats in the House of Representatives over this issue, by describing his decision to build the wall as of a grave security and humanitarian concern, and that Congress must allow its construction as a matter of utmost urgency by reauthorising the allocation of $5 billion plus to it.

Trump drew a parallel between the necessity of building a wall around one's home and the need for building a wall around one's country. Building a wall around countries dates back to the Great Wall of China that began as early as the 7th century BC. European countries are inundated with walls built in ancient history. The Middle East has a long history of walls to protect major cities or even castles from invaders. That was in ancient and middle-age history, when warfare and national security threats were relatively rudimentary, requiring simple protection in the shape of walls.

In contemporary times, Israel reintroduced the concept of walls by constructing walls in the West Bank, especially in and around East Jerusalem, ostensibly to protect itself from Palestinians. Yet, the classical role of defensive walls was never intended to stop movement of people across national borders seeking refuge from oppression or in search for a better standard of life.

The wall that Trump is thinking of has no standard military defensive role but rather to stop migrants from Latin America from crossing the Mexican-US border. Whether walls in any shape or form can be effective, even for such a purpose, is an open question.

Controlling and regularising the movement of people, any people, from one country into another is certainly legitimate and necessary. However, there are international conventions and rules regularising the migration of people, including refugees and asylum seekers, from one nation into another. Not observing these standards would spell chaos in the world.

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