Turkey’s ‘wall of shame’ on Syria border goes unnoticed

The 3-meter high wall is one of the longest man-made walls in the world

While the US wall on the border to Mexico has received plenty of attention sparking criticism and protests, Turkey’s construction of a 3 meter high and more than 500 km wall on the 900 km border to Syria has proceeded without much notice. Building of 290 kilometres of the wall has been completed as of January 2017.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim expressed criticism of the US-Mexico wall, something many saw as hypocrisy. “You build walls but walls are never a solution. They will eventually be torn down as the Berlin wall that stood there for years,” the Turkish prime minister said when meeting his British counterpart, Theresa May, in January.

The concrete wall topped with barbed wire has also been criticised by the autonomous administration in northern Syria (Rojava), which has said it is an effort to divide Kurds living on either side of the border and also a violation of the people’s sovereignty, because it is being built on Syrian soil.

The Syrian Foreign and Expatriates Ministry has also condemned the wall and called on the UN secretary-general and the UN Security Council president to make Turkey end aggressions while seeing the wall as a “violation of the principle of good–neighborly relations,” state news agency SANA reported.

The construction of the wall on the border between Syria and Turkey began in 2014 and is scheduled to be completed within the first half of this 2017, according to a forecast by Turkish defence minister Fikri Isik from November last year.

Turkey’s Mass Housing Administration TOKI, famous for building apartment blocks in cities, is building two thirds of the wall. The agency, directly under the Prime Ministry since 2003, has been building police stations and high security checkpoints in Turkey’s southeast. TOKI will also be leading the controversial project of rebuilding destroyed towns and districts in the Kurdish dominated region, destroyed in last years clashes between security forces and Kurdish youths allied with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who had declared autonomy.

“The wall will be completely finished by March or April. The costs are not high, and we are building extra border security roads behind it, as well as towers, which are crucial for our security,” TOKI president Ergun Turan told Reuters in December.

Military sources report the wall has already significantly curbed smuggling and “irregular” crossings. While over two thousand cases of smuggling were recorded in 2015, the figure dropped to 76 in 2016. However, regular trade and business by locals that used to provide income for many families living in the area has come to a halt, and refugees are reportedly suffering violence from Turkish border guards.

Human Rights Watch reported Turkish border guards were shooting and beating Syrian asylum seekers trying to reach Turkey, resulting in deaths and serious injuries. After Ankara’s controversial migration deal with the EU, intended to curb migration flows to Europe, violence against Syrian refugees has increased.

Critics have called the construction, a “wall of shame.”