Perimeter protection business booms in tandem with Europe’s refugee crisis

Anyone who steps unwanted over the threshold of a property with a Peperosso atomiser installed can expect an immediate burning sensation as chilli paprika is sprayed in their face. The instruction booklet promises “tears and coughing” and “a lot of slime”.

“We usually talk about paprika as the most popular ingredient in our national cuisine,” says Erika Madlena, from the Hungarian company Umirs that makes the Peperosso. “But in this case it provides an effective and good value way of safeguarding your home from intruders”.

At under €500, the slick white gadget is at the cheaper end of the market at the Perimeter Protection trade fair, which is taking place in Nuremberg this week. Umirs, for instance, also sells a range of perimeter electric fence systems, which cost several thousand dollars per metre.

About 100 companies – all leaders in the field of “perimeter protection components”– are in Nuremberg, selling fences, gates, electronic barriers and much more besides.

The Perimeter Protection trade fair 2016. Photograph: Thomas Geiger/NuernbergMesse

The market has boomed in tandem with Europe’s refugee crisis and wider geopolitical and terror fears, as individuals look to protect their properties and governments attempt to shore up entire borders.

“We recently installed a thousand kilometres [621 miles] of our Quadrosense fencing for $5.5m on the border between Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Iran,” says Madlena, Umirs’ international relations director. “The government says they are extremely happy with it and would like to order more.”

The fences are fitted with detection cables attached horizontally or in a zig-zag, which set off an alarm at a central control station if the fence vibrates. The cables can also be placed under the surface to detect anyone trying to dig beneath the fence. To prevent those trying to go over it, it’s advisable to place the euphemistically named “NATO concertina” – otherwise known as galvanised razor wire – on top.

The Hungarian government viewed the Central Asian project with interest. According to Madlena, Victor Orbán’s administration has been testing the Quadrosense fence for the past few months on Hungary’s border with Serbia in its effort to keep out the refugees and migrants who had been arriving in their thousands. It clearly works, as the numbers of entries has fallen dramatically.

“Our fences are obviously effective,” Madlena says. “And while it might not be good for European cohesion, it’s what the majority of Hungarians want.”

Hungary is not out of step with the rest of the continent. Boundary experts say that Europe is now on the verge of having as many security fences and border walls between countries as it did during the days of the Berlin Wall.

Having found its groove, the company would welcome other challenges, such as erecting the wall between the US and Mexico that Donald Trump has pledged if he becomes US president. Trump’s notion has been widely dismissed as unworkable, but Madlena insists that “it’s certainly possible”.

A toy doll hangs from a section of border fence on the US-Mexico border in Naco, Arizona. Photograph: Joshua Lott/Reuters

First, the company must deal with the requests from large numbers of ordinary Germans who say their shepherd dogs no longer provide adequate protection and want to fortify their gardens with hi-tech fencing.

Fears over terrorism and the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants in Europe have been a huge boost to Budapest-based Umirs, which last year had an annual turnover of €8m, as well as to the entire fencing technology and building security sector.

“We’ve seen a huge growth in demand for fencing systems as the need for security increases for a variety of reasons, and we see a lot of potential for growth,” says Kai-Uwe Grögor, head of the German quality assurance association for metal fence technology, who talks of a rapidly growing multimillion-euro industry in Germany alone.

Jorge Saura is the director of Quickfence, a company from Toledo, Spain that he describes as one of the biggest mesh-makers in Europe. “I have seen through our sales how ordinary people have been affected by the fear,” he says. “We make everything from prison fencing to border fences between countries, and while we’re doing a good trade in that, we’re also selling a lot more fencing to home owners these days”.

Security razor wire on the Türkmenistan border. Photograph:

According to Saura, it is a logical development: “People really feel the lack of security right now, as they are right to. What with all these things with the refugees and the bombings in Paris and what happened in Cologne, people have a heightened need to want to protect themselves. Building a fence means you have a chance to decide if someone can come in or not. If there’s a fence, there’s a gate, so you have more control over who comes in and who stays out”.

While Saura has manufactured extensive fencing for UK prisons, his experience of providing meshing for borders between countries has been less positive. The company recently looked to put in a bid for the protective fence the Ukrainian government is building along the border with Russia. “But it worked out at a per-metre price of €10. We said forget it,” he says.

The company’s first foray into border fencing came in 2005 when it won the contract to build the 6.8-mile (11km) border fence between Spain and Morocco in North Africa. “That would have been more successful but the Spanish interior ministry insisted on a looser mesh because it was a third of the price, which meant it was too easy to climb. The thing is, you get the security you pay for”.

The Nuremberg fair promises the best the market has to offer to “prevent unwanted guests from entering”, as Perimeter Protection’s patron, Bavaria’s interior minister Joachim Herrmann, puts it in an introduction to visitors: myriad alarm tones, CCTV devices disguised as lamps and flowerpots, swing gates and sliding gates, turnstiles and bollards, and accessories including razor mesh and ornamental panelling.

Some of the manufacturers and the police talk tongue-in-cheek of how the fair is also something of a magnet for would-be criminals looking to quiz companies on the latest in high-security technology and the minutiae of how it works.

Andrea Scholz, a Vienna-based risk prevention consultant and one of just a handful of women at the fair, says: “I can’t believe how easy they make it for the criminals. I’ve seen them here with my own eyes, relishing the opportunity of being able to find out the newest obstacles they’ll be looking to overcome.”

Nuremberg is in Bavaria, the entry point for the majority of the 1.1 million people who have arrived in Germany over the past year. The state government has aired the idea of erecting a border fence and repeatedly threatened to reintroduce border controls to stem the flow. Consequently, sensitivities over safety are running particularly high and there is much discussion about the vulnerability that many Germans increasingly feel.

“I’ve had lots of inquiries from people living near refugee homes who feel the particular urgency of wanting to secure their properties,” says Jürgen Kuch, the importer of a €500 “plug and play early-warning perimeter system” developed in South Africa. Called Roboguard, he boasts of its simplicity and reliability and the fact it “doesn’t need to be fed”.

People try to cross into Spain’s north African enclave of Melilla from Morocco in October 2014. Photograph: Reuters

Martin Möhring, a crime prevention officer from Bavaria’s State Office of Criminal Investigation, claims the region has seen a huge increase in domestic break-ins in recent years “because of our open border [and] our proximity to eastern Europe, together with the increasing number of people keeping money under the mattress because interest rates are so low, and the growing gulf between rich and poor. Now, due to the refugees, people’s subjective sense of security has taken a further, considerable knock.”

Dictator is an 80-year-old company that producers “door dampers” – the mechanism which allows a door or gate to close slowly and quietly. Matthias Kassak, its marketing director, dismisses claims that the perimeter protection industry is merely cashing in on fear.

“Sure, the industry might underline people’s fears, but people also very much bring their fears with them … as we’ve seen, these fears are justified,” he says. “Plus, if they weren’t sufficiently protected, the insurance companies would never pay up.”

Scholz, the risk consultant, grew up among scrap metal dealers and has more recently been working for jewellery traders keen to solve a series of international diamond heists. She says her experiences mean she can’t help but see through a lot of what the exhibitors have to offer.

Hungarian prisoners form part of a work detail to finish the razor wire border fence with Serbia. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/ Getty Images

“Much of it reminds me of the emperor’s new clothes,” she says, before an address to attendees on the need to take a more instinctive and a less technological approach to security.

“Many of the exhibitors are on the level of ‘you show me your fence and I’ll show you one that is even better and safer’, though they’re often unable to explain why theirs is better, instead bombarding non-plussed customers with jargon – like ‘perimeter protection’ – in the hope they’ll buy it because it sounds good and it makes them feel they have less need to be scared.

“But I believe there’s little point of high walls if you don’t know your neighbour or if you don’t have a watchman who’s good at reading people. That’s not to mention the danger and unpleasantness in this safety-obsessed age of turning our living spaces into fortresses.”

Jan Hesselbarth, an expert in unmanned aviation, says even a hermetically sealed property is no guarantee of safety when these days, the “real threat comes from above”.

“Nowadays, there are drones that so very convincingly resemble birds and even flies, they can bypass any detection system to get over your walls, however hi-tech they are,” he says.

His advice? “The only thing you might do against that is to cover your property in a large piece of tight-meshed netting or see the drone off with a powerful jet from a garden hose.”

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