7 Giant Fences Dividing Good Neighbors


The existing 650-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexican border has been a hot political topic in the States for the last few years, and with the Republican primary campaign in full swing, it’s making headlines again.

Already, Michele Bachmann has promised to build a “double-walled fence” along the entire 2,000-mile border, while Herman Cain has said he would consider erecting a 20-foot-high electric fence (though he later claimed he was joking). Rick Perry said he’d install more fencing and a "virtual wall," with hundreds of miles of complex surveillance equipment, cameras, and motion sensors, backed up by an army of "boots on the ground."

Controversy over the U.S. immigration debate aside, building a giant wall between yourself and your neighbors is hardly an innovative policy measure. The Chinese came up with the same idea almost 2,500 years ago, right about the time the famous Roman Emperor Hadrian was building his eponymous wall, which still weaves through the United Kingdom today. The East Germans gave the wall idea a more modern twist in Berlin in 1961.

In recent years, governments all over the world have been taking note, erecting walls of their own from Korea to Kazakhstan, from North Ireland to Israel and back again. Here are 7 notable walls in use around the world today.

© JO YONG-HAK/X90071/Reuters/Corbis

1. The 160-mile Korean demilitarized zone is bordered by two barbed-wire cyclone fences—one on the North Korean side, one on the South Korean side—and mark the most heavily militarized border in the world. A single, aptly named bridge, “The Bridge of No Return,” bisects the no man’s land in between the two fences. A meager silver lining? The no man’s land separating the Koreas is so desolate, it has become an accidental nature preserve, home to several endangered animals including, possibly, a species of Siberian Tiger—one of the rarest on earth.

Image credit: Ross

2. Enormous corrugated iron, steel and brick walls cut through the middle of several cities, including Belfast, Derry and Portadown, in Northern Ireland.

These 25-foot-tall so-called “Peace Lines” separate Irish/Catholic neighborhoods from British/Protestant ones, and were built after the 1969 riots. Just last month, the Belfast City Council announced it would consider removing some of the walls.

© Bruno Domingos/Reuters/Corbis

3. For the last few years, Brazil has been erecting 7 miles of concrete walls surrounding 19 impoverished shantytowns in Rio de Janeiro, removing and relocating 550 houses in the process. Brazilian officials say the snaking, 10-foot high walls will prevent communities from spilling over into the surrounding forests, which are nature reserves. Critics say the walls do little more than officially segregate the rich from the poor.

4. Spain has built massive walls, complete with barbed wire, watch towers, motion sensors and spotlights, surrounding its two tiny enclaves on the Moroccan side of the Mediterranean: Ceuta and Melilla. In 2005, more than a dozen Africans were killed in two different attempts to cross the walls in both Ceuta and Melilla.

5. The Israeli government is in the process of building a controversial new 26-foot tall, 470-mile long concrete wall between Israel and the Palestinian West Bank. The part that’s already completed features massive vehicle trenches and approximately 100 feet of dead space on both sides. While Israeli authorities say the wall is necessary to defend against terrorist attacks, critics compare it to the walls around the Jewish ghettos in Europe before and during World War II.

6. Western Sahara, a step ladder-shaped piece of land between Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria, is claimed by the Sahrawi people and ruled by Morocco. The Polisario Front, which represents the Sahrawi, have been battling the Moroccans for the last thirty years for control over the land. The Moroccans, in response, have built what amounts to a massive, 1,700-mile sand berm, equipped with stone edifices, barbed wire, ditches and land mines, between them and the Sahrawi.

7. Saudi Arabia has built a mixture of concrete edifices and so-called "virtual walls,” made up of surveillance equipment, security cameras, satellite monitoring systems and motion sensors, along its southern border with Yemen and its northeastern border with Iraq. The two high-tech walls were designed to keep illegal immigrants, refugees and militants out, but have been widely criticized. In 2004, Yemeni officials played the ultimate insult card, as far as the Saudis are concerned, comparing Saudi Arabia’s wall to—gasp!—Israel’s wall in the West Bank. The Saudis, flustered, denied the comparison, but also stopped construction of the wall.