December 21, 2014
Turkey builds symbolic concrete wall at Syrian border
Turkey has started building a new wall along a fragment of its southeastern border with Syria as it struggles against smuggling, illegal migration and the threat from al Qaeda fighters among Syria's rebel ranks.
Slabs of concrete have sprung up in recent days, snaking for just over one kilometre over the rolling hills of Hatay province, a finger of land which was part of Syria until the late 1930s, dotted with villages that have thrived on an illicit cross-border trade in everything from fuel to cigarettes.
Turkey has kept an open-border policy throughout Syria's three-year civil war and has vowed to maintain it, providing a lifeline to rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad by allowing supplies in and refugees out.
But the policy has had its costs. Smuggling has thrived, and a growing number of Syrians forced by the war to eke out a living where they can, swell the ranks of those trying to cross back and forth outside the official border posts.
That has compounded the challenge of securing the 900-km border for Turkey's authorities, already accused of doing too little to stop foreign jihadists from entering Syria and posing an even bigger risk to the wider region.
The costs the crisis has imposed on the economy in border areas and fears about Islamist fighters have also alarmed local people.
In the face of such a challenge, the wall seems a symbolic gesture, starting in a village called Kusakli, which an official from the district governorate called an active spot for border trespassing, and following the contours for just a over a kilometre.
A local customs official said it would be extended to 8 kilometres, although he added: "The total border is 900 kilometres so we're not sure about the effectiveness of the wall.