Fences to protect the people of one country from another abound: Malaysia and Thailand have built fencing on either side of their border, Kuwait constructed fencing and trenches along the border with Iraq after the 1991 gulf war, and Spanish enclaves in Morocco are heavily secured.
Although fences can be politically popular in the nations that build them, they are often viewed as a harsh (and expensive) symbol in neighboring countries. They are also far from foolproof in deterring would-be migrants.
Yet, in 2008, beefing up or constructing new fencing to keep out unauthorized migrants, cross-border terrorists and insurgents, and smugglers remained a priority in various parts of the world.
The increase in border fencing signals a climate of fear and highlights the inability or unwillingness of neighboring states to cooperatively deal with what are really joint problems that trouble both sides of the border.
Vexed by rising illegal immigration rates, the United States has built 216 miles of fencing and another 154 miles of vehicle barriers along the Southwest border, moving closer to achieving the Bush administration’s goal of erecting 370 miles of fencing and 300 miles of vehicle barriers by year’s end.
Rising construction costs and legal battles over land acquisition have complicated the completion of Congress's mandate in the Secure Fence Act of 2006 to build 700 miles of double-layered fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has also confronted delays in building the "virtual" fence, part of the Secure Borders Initiative, which uses radars, cameras, and sensors to detect illegal crossings. Difficulties during the pilot testing of a 28-mile "virtual" fence segment in Arizona raised questions earlier this year about the government's ability to deploy such fencing across vast swaths of the southern and northern borders.
The United States is not alone in using fencing as a mechanism to deter the movement of people.
Israel planned to build a fence along its rugged desert border with Egypt back in 2005 when it decided to pull out of the Gaza strip. But the financial costs were deemed too high.
It took a security crisis earlier this year — the temporary breach of the Gaza-Egypt border, when thousands left Gaza unchecked — before Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel would build an 85-kilometer fence within two years.
India also invested in its border security this year, announcing in September that it plans to add 509 border outposts on the borders with Bangladesh and Pakistan, most of them on the Bangladesh border, which already has 802 such outposts.
Work on the India-Bangladesh border fence of multilayered barbed wire dates back to 1994 and was originally planned to be completed by 2007. A main reason for building it was keeping out migrants from Bangladesh.
However, attacks this fall in Assam, an Indian state tucked between Bangladesh and Bhutan where ethnic tensions are high, and tribal insurgents in the Indian state of Tripura have given new urgency to the project. Thus far, the Indian government has built 2,590 kilometers of fencing along the 4,097-kilometer Bangladeshi border — about 60 percent complete.