27th October 2016
The tragic human cost of the refugee crisis finally crashed into our mass conscience last week with the gruesome images of the body of a three-year-old Syrian boy washed ashore in Turkey. Consequently, the rhetoric of whether to lock down our borders or open them wide has become ever more strident, says Chris Plimley.
The ultimate human tragedy of the wave of migrants besieging the borders of western Europe as pictures of the lifeless body – glared accusingly out of every newspaper front page, TV screen and online news channel.
The picture of the dark-haired toddler, wearing a bright-red T-shirt and shorts, lying face down in the surf near popular Turkish tourist resort Bodrum, captured the appalling risks refugees are prepared to take to reach the west.
Within hours it was the top trending picture on Twitter, along with the second one of a steely-faced policeman carrying the tiny body away, under the hashtag #KiyiyaVuranInsanlik (humanity washed ashore).
It has kickstarted a shift in the mood music around the refugee crisis and a U-turn, some would say, in British government policy after a petition on the UK Parliament website to accept more asylum seekers and increase support for refugee migrants in the UK gained more than 430,000 signatures at my time of writing.
That – and the fact that SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon reacted quicker to the public mood by saying Scotland would take 1,000 refugees – prompted PM David Cameron to say on Monday this week that the UK will accept up to 20,000 people from camps surrounding Syria by 2020, with priority given to vulnerable children.
But the crisis has divided the 28-nation European Union and British public opinion – through a counter-petition to refuse asylum seekers and remove support for so-called refugee migrants in the UK had gleaned just 2,391 signatures in a similar time frame.
Even the language screams of opposites – refugees v asylum seekers, and so-called migrants conjure up wholly different images of the basic human needs of these people.
It’s the same with the argument about borders – with some advocating opening them up, much as happened when the blockade of Budapest station finally lifted a week ago. In contrast, others want impregnable fences erected around our frontiers, especially as we are an island state with only a handful of entry points from the European mainland.
We know all about that approach. We installed our 358 steel mesh topped with a razor coil around the entry to the Eurotunnel on the French side and supplied our Flexible Steel Topping to prevent migrants from scaling fences.
Two months ago, the hype surrounded Calais – as we knew with multi-fold media enquiries from Agence France-Presse to the Wolverhampton Express & Star and Perimeter Systems to The Sunday Times.
At that time, a newspaper investigation revealed that a group of 30 migrants walked through the UK’s advanced border by simply guessing the code on a security gate near Calais.
They walked a mile through the Coquelles Channel Tunnel, and when confronted with a security gate, they guessed the code right from the worn keys on the keypad.
So concerned is the British government that it has invested more than £2 million in detection technology, £1 million in dog teams and an additional £12 million to bolster security on the country’s most vulnerable border.
But now, the media frenzy and, therefore, the political focus has shifted to Turkey and Greece and the land route up through the Balkans to Germany, Austria and Sweden.
Only three weeks ago, Turkey announced plans for one of the world’s biggest perimeter border fences along the 560-mile border with Syria after a suicide bomb left 32 dead in the border town of Suruc.
The Turkish government was determined to combat terrorism and so decided on the radical physical barrier.
Although the execution will take a good deal of work, it will be relatively simple in its design. A 150-mile concrete wall topped with razor wire will be the centrepiece, together with a strengthened fence and a dedicated patrol road that deals with the other 400 miles of border.
So, security fencing is the preferred solution for one of the toughest borders in the world, then?
Drones, mobile surveillance vehicles and a central command and control centre will also contribute to the security effort. With fighters heading to Syria travelling freely through Turkey for several years, the government knows it fights with its hands to stem the tide of refugees joining the ranks of IS.
The US has pledged its support and will help with constructing the modular wall, which will be 150 km long. In addition, wire fencing will be reinforced along the rest of the border, supported with a 200-mile ditch and an increased military presence.
Around half of Turkey’s border patrol is focused on Syria. Considering Turkey also shares borders with Iraq, Iran, Armenia, Georgia, Greece and Bulgaria, this is a remarkable share of the resources.
With increasingly advanced surveillance, it speaks volumes that a government would commit this much time, money and resource to build a traditional wall. There is no substitute for a physical barrier to keeping unwelcome people out, is the clear message.
But watch this space; the mood could have shifted again by the time you read this blog!