Why Britain, France are building a wall in Calais to keep out migrants

Britain and France announced a joint deal to spend $23 million on securing the border between the French port city of Calais and the land and sea routes to Britain, as migrants seeking a better life in Britain overwhelm the French city. 

Charles Platiau/Reuters
Workers set up barbed wires on top of a fence along the harbour of Calais to prevent migrants jumping aboard freight trucks, on Sept. 7, 2016.

From the Great Wall, to the Berlin Wall, to Donald Trump’s proposed Mexican border wall, massive barriers have represented racism, protection, and political division. Britain's recent decision to build a security barrier in Calais could be all three.

The wall-building initiative comes as part of a security deal between Britain and France, where migrants pool in the port city of Calais, seeking a way to enter Britain – often illegally.

"We are going to start building this big new wall as part of the 17 million package that we are doing with the French.... We've done the fence and now we're doing the wall," said British Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill.

Thousands of migrants, many of whom come from the Middle East and North Africa, are currently waiting in a camp known as the "jungle." They share the same dream: jobs and a better life in Britain.

Unfortunately for the desperate migrants, passage to Britain by train, boat, or truck is difficult to come by and very dangerous. Migrant aid group Auberge des Migrants says that 11 migrants have died along the way this year alone.

Previously, authorities have built high fences to keep workers from illegally hitching a ride on various forms of transport, but some do manage to get through. Those who remain harass truckers, who say they are subject to fines if stowaways are discovered in their cargo.

"We are fed up with the migrant situation in Calais. They are increasingly aggressive," French trucker Blaise Paccou told the Associated Press on Tuesday. "We leave in the morning. We don't know how we're going to return in the evening because of the rocks and metal bars being thrown at us."

Hundreds of truckers, merchants, and other protesters blocked roadways in Calais yesterday, as they protested the treatment they receive at the hands of migrants. The massive protest prompted French officials to promise an end to the "jungle" camp.

Humanitarian groups are concerned about what will happen to migrants if the camp is closed down, noting that although conditions in the camp are not good, migrants there at least have access to food and basic hygienic facilities.

The joint France-Britain wall building effort is part of a $23 million security deal between the two countries. The wall would be constructed of smooth concrete, but surrounded by plants and flowers for aesthetic reasons.

Some trucker groups are pessimistic about the results the wall will have, saying that the money could be better spent on security along the route.

Vikki Woodfine of DWF, a law firm that works with truckers, says that the plan "is simply a knee-jerk reaction that is unlikely to make a difference in the long run." Ms. Woodfine adds that migrants "are increasingly desperate to cross the border and will undoubtedly find a way past it, pushing the death toll even higher in the process."

Others, including Scottish National Party lawmaker Angus Robertson, have criticized the wall for being reminiscent of US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's plans to build a wall along the Mexican border to stem illegal immigration. The British government should be "totally ashamed" of the proposal, Mr. Robertson said. 

Material from Reuters and the Associated Press was used in this report.

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