Borders of the World Notebooks

Notebooks, 2011

The world knows many fortified borders, many of which are heavily guarded. Some divide nations at war like North and South Korea. Some divide the rich and the poor like the borders between Spain and Morocco. When we look closer at these walls of the world, the fences create distinctive patterns, designed and constructed to withstand forces of migration. Each fence has its own unique metal signature. I used these patterns to create a series of journals called ‘Borders of the World Notebooks’.

Fence at New Mexico Santa Teresa port of Entry. Photo courtesy of US Customs and Borders Protection.

Many of today’s borders were drawn by nineteenth and twentieth century colonial powers. The location of these borders the result of arbitrary decisions far away in Europe. In 1916 the Englishman Mark Sykes and the Frenchman François Georges-Picot held a secret meeting to divide the Ottoman empire, into what is now the Middle East. Famously Sykes said ”I should like to draw a line from the e in Acre to the last k in Kirkuk.’ This straight line still marks the border between Syria, Jordan, and Iraq today.

Borders of the World Notebooks. Design: Ruben Pater, 2011.

New Frontiers

While digital and financial traffic is free to cross borders, the physical borders between countries are becoming more and more fortified. 75% of all border fortifications between countries have been built in the last thirteen years and 20-35 new border fences have been built since 2000. Since September 11, many countries have used the threat of terrorism as an excuse to construct border walls that are actually meant to stop immigration. In 2001 India started to built a 4,100 km fence on its border with Bangladesh. In 2006 the border between Mexico and the United States was heavily fortified, and between 2000 and 2003 a wall was erected on the West Bank between Israel and Palestine. Six of these borders are used for the Borders of the World Notebooks.

South Korean soldiers patrol the barbed-wire fence at the demilitarized zone. Photo: AP Photo/Korea Pool.

Korean Wildlife

The border between North and South Korea is one of the most heavily guarded in the world. Skirmishes on the border between both sides still occur regularly. The border is a four kilometer wide demilitarized zone (DMZ) which has divided the two countries since 1953. Uninhabited for over 50 years, the DMZ has become a nature reserve where black bears, leopards, and some say Siberian tigers roam freely. The fence depicted on the notebook is the South Korean side. Little is known about the fence on the North Korean side, but it claims there are six layers of border fortifications, of which two are electric fences.

Storming of the Spanish enclave Melilla by thousands of immigrants in 2005. Photo: Melilla Hoy.

At the Gates of Europe

Spanish enclaves Melilla and Ceuta are the only land borders between Africa and the European Union. In 1999 the Spanish government rebuilt the barrier at Melilla into a six meter high double tier fence to stop immigrants trying to enter Europe. Guarded by cameras, motion detectors, noise detectors, and helicopters, the fence at Melilla is the most fortified border in Europe. Thousands of immigrants still try to cross the fence every year, and in 2005 a large group of immigrants climbed the fences in several waves. A razor wire layer was removed in 2007 after it led to mass protests.

On the other side of the Mediterranean, the Greek government built a fence to stop immigrants from entering the E.U. via Turkey. The Evros fence was completed in 2012 and is four meters high with watch towers, foot patrols and thermal cameras. The E.U. did not support the erection of the fence, because it would not be effective enough, and the Greeks ended up paying for it themselves. Since the erection of the fence, immigration through the Greek-Turkish border has declined drastically.

Notebook for the Melilla fence. Design: Ruben Pater, 2011.

Wall of Death

Borders fences make many casualties. At least one migrant dies every day at the U.S.-Mexico border. On the Mediterranean over 3,000 migrants died between 1997 and 2000, most of them while attempting to cross the Straits of Gibraltar. One of the deadliest border fences in the world is between India and Bangladesh, which locals call the ‘Wall of Death’. Between 2001 and 2011 nearly 1,000 Bangladeshis were killed by the India Border Security Forces (BSF). The BSF has a ‘shoot on sight’ policy for this who cross the border illegally. In Bangladesh smuggling is the second largest industry, so crossing the border is for many a necessary risk. More than 3,326 of the planned 4,100 kilometer of fence is finished, making it currently the longest border fence in the world.

An India Border Security Force soldier and a dead Bangladeshi at the border fence,2009. Photo: unknown.

Digital Borders

The borders of the future are digital. Many border crossings already use face detection and recognition software, and since 2006 biometric passports have become a standard. The E.U. is working on a digital border system called OPARUS that combines satellites, drone surveillance, biometric information, and sensors to stop migrants before even entering Europe. This digital border will be enforced outside of the actual borders in countries like Morocco, Turkey, Mauritania, and Tunisia.

Border patrol will happen more and more in command centres far away from the actual borders, and border police will be replaced by autonomous weapons systems. The U.S. currently deploys the same Predator drones on the border with Mexico as are used in warzones. Autonomous machine guns are currently in use on the borders of Israel and South Korea. These ‘robo-snipers’ have long range electro-optical sensors that can locate and destroy targets autonomously.

Notebook of the Greece-Turkey fence. Design: Ruben Pater, 2011.

While borders are increasingly digital, the construction of new border fences is still on the rise. Global inequality and climate change will increase the migration between the global South and the global North. We should be critical of the rhetoric behind building higher fences if the socio-economic problems that cause migration are not being addressed.

Automated machinegun at the West Bank border wall, Israel. Photo: Sentry Tech

For more information and to buy one of the six notebooks you can visit the project website.

Mimeographed by the Stencilzolder, Amsterdam.


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Osman, Tarek. ‘Why border lines drawn with a ruler in WW1 still rock the Middle East’, BBC News, December 14, 2013.
Pécoud, Antoine and Paul de Guchteneire. ‘International Migration, Border Controls and Human Rights: Assessing the Relevance of a Right to Mobility’, Journal of Borderlands Studies. Spring 2006.
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