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Border management is not only about security but also about freer trade and transit. © OSCE

Border management, the EU, and UNDP

Border management has become a significant line of external assistance for the European Union, and for cooperation between member states, the European Commission, and the UN, particularly in the former Soviet Union (FSU). The funding comes from European Commission budget lines devoted to implementation of regional political strategies,such as the European Neighbourhood Programme and the Central Asia Strategy. Border management has also come to represent a major focus of UNDP multi-country programming in this region. Including related drug action programmes, since 2002 UNDP has initiated work in Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Broadly speaking, UNDP’s work to date has been understood as successful.1 Among other things, UNDP has implemented nearly 150 million Euros’ worth of EU border management programming during the past decade.

There is no question that the EU wishes to export its ‘soft power’ via these border management programmes. But what exactly does this entail? And what dangers and opportunities are presented for the UN’s development work by this cooperation?

For some EU member states, these programmes began as an important component of a broader agenda to develop European policy and capacity on security. Border management was (and still is) seen as an acceptable vehicle for common action against mutual threats: drug trafficking, movement of Islamic extremists, etc. However, some EU Member States and Commission officials remain opposed to UNDP implementation of these programmes, due in part to concerns about trying to advance that agenda under a UN rather than directly European umbrella. The different management arrangements for the EUBAM, SCIBM and BOMCA Programmes (click here for more information on these) therefore represent various Commission attempts to satisfy the EU Member States and keep UNDP’s role to that of ‘administrative support platform’ for the application of ‘visibly’ European expertise.

Many in the Commission recognize that only the UN has the operational capacity on the ground to deliver border management assistance on a multi-country basis. However, others see utilizing development assistance to enhance security as a somewhat quixotic enterprise: Commission rules of aid assistance do not allow the transfer of key equipment or expertise; drugs and militants flow like water, taking the easiest route, so that reinforcing certain border areas merely displaces (rather than eliminates) activities of concern; it is next to impossible to establish objectively verifiable indicators in regard to countering security threats; and the whole venture may be undermined by corruption within the border services, which can only be tackled through direct budget support to pay salaries, as part of a broader developmental approach to public administration reform.

Likewise, engaging UNDP to the projection of EU soft power in the FSU risks jeopardizing the neutrality and impartiality of the UN system in the eyes of other stakeholders. Russian concerns in regard to border security in its ‘near abroad’ are inter alia expressed operationally through its leadership of the Council of Border Guard Commanders of the countries belonging to the Commonwealth of Independent States. With a Secretariat based in the Lubyanka in Moscow (to which all CIS countries have attached liaison officers), the Council meets bi-annually. It has a mandate to coordinate joint efforts of Border Guards in relation to external CIS borders, as well as the reinforcement of internal border cooperation. Specific areas of work include harmonization of national legislation on border issues, mutual exchange of information, personnel training, and military/technical policy.

Suggestions for the future

In spring 2010, the Council of CIS Border Guard Commanders signed a memorandum of understanding with FRONTEX (the EU’s Border Agency), but the technical and institutional details of cooperation with the UNDP-implemented EU aid programmes have yet to be resolved. Significant discrepancies between the regulatory and technical models for border management being offered to CIS countries therefore remain. Most CIS countries seek to strike a balance between the ‘near abroad’ and the ‘new neighbourhood’: in autumn 2010, in the context of the SCIBM project, Armenia agreed to a European integrated border management strategy only weeks after extending the presence of Russian border forces within the country for a further 39 years.

But if the dangers here are obvious, so also are the opportunities—if the EU and UNDP can agree on a different, more collaborative agenda for the export of European border management to the CIS countries. The European model of border management has twin objectives: increased security, plus improved trade and transit facilitation. These objectives are seen as mutually reinforcing: stability and security attracts trade foreign investment; freer movement of goods and people enhances stability and security.

During the Andijan events of 2005 in Uzbekistan, the local community at Karasuu, a town in the Fergana Valley divided between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, opened a border crossing spontaneously, to support continued visits of relatives and to maintain what had previously been one of the largest cross-border markets in Central Asia. The BOMCA Programme acted immediately to secure agreement from the governments to keep the crossing open, with offers to provide the necessary means to ensure security. Within weeks up to 40,000 border crossings a day were being made, including multiple trips by small traders.

Apart from the economic support this provided to households in one of Central Asia’s poorer regions (e.g., providing residents of Kyrgyzstan with fresh fruit and vegetables in the winter; providing residents of Uzbekistan with access to manufactured goods from China) BOMCA helped defuse a direct challenge to state power at a critical moment and created a safety valve in the explosive environment of the Fergana. In this way, border management programmes can allow the EU and UN(DP) to express a voice on behalf of the most vulnerable households and help governments to strike critical balances between security and development.

Border areas are often comprised of large ethnic minorities (linked to neighbouring countries), communities that are marginalized in many respects. Beyond the Fergana Valley, frozen conflicts in the FSU countries—Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia—are all located in border areas. While the full resolution of these conflicts is not in prospect, progress can be made by allowing local populations to cross borders with ID cards rather than passports. In addition to being familiar to many FSU countries from Soviet times, such systems can also be drawn from the experience of European integration. Modern European integrated border management methodologies can provide the technical means and cross-border procedures required.

Separating transit of local populations from international transit and cargo trade at border crossing points in the FSU countries could bring significant reductions in journey times and delays experienced at borders. Reconfiguring border crossing point infrastructure, providing modern equipment to automate processes, and introducing integrated border management practices such as joint control by border agencies, could further reduce travel times and delays.

Prosperity in Europe was built on the incremental removal of such barriers to trade and transit. The border management programmes could therefore do more to mobilize civil society and private enterprise—road hauliers, freight forwarders—to promote the free trade agreements signed between EU and FSU countries, as well as those trade agreements concluded among FSU countries (e.g., the EurasEC customs union). Freer trade and transit, democracy building and security can be advanced together.

Without abandoning its multi-country programming approach, the EU and UNDP may wish to consider targeting assistance more discriminately within these border management programmes. This might also help define clearer exit strategies for programming. In most FSU countries, the key border agency remains the Border Guards—a military force within each national security service. In the poorer FSU countries, transition to European border management standards will ultimately require EU direct budget support for border guard salaries. A prerequisite for this should be conversion from a largely conscript-based military force to professional civilian border police serving as an arm of the Ministry of Interior, accountable to parliaments, not presidencies.

People hate borders—uncertainties over laws and procedures, conforntation with state power, men with uniforms and guns. The Schengen arrangements therefore represent both the EU’s true soft power and a culturally iconic aspiration for many citizens in FSU countries. The EU-UNDP border management programmes can export to the CIS many of the principles and practices behind the Schengen arrangements, with enormous development potential: facilitating movements of local populations to reduce social tensions and resolve frozen conflicts; supporting trade as a smart and quick way to alleviate poverty; building democratic governance through support for civil society and private enterprise; and promoting security sector reform.

The EU-UNDP border management programmes flow from a powerful concept. They are well-funded and usually well-implemented. They should be better articulated to reflect a clearer and more developmental agenda, acceptable to all stakeholders in the FSU countries.
Philip Peirce is an independent consultant to UNDP for border management and migration projects.


1 See, for example, George Gavrilis, “Beyond the Border Management Programme for Central Asia”, EU Central Asia Monitoring, no. 11,November 2009.

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Border guards stamping documents in Osh, Kyrgyzstan. © BOMCA

EU-UNDP Border Management Programming in Europe and Central Asia

Border management is a key focus of development work, and partnerships between UN agencies, the European Union, and programme countries, in the developing and transition countries of Europe and Central Asia. In the past decade, EU-funded border management projects implemented by UNDP have delivered more than €140 million.

Specific projects include the following:

BOMCA:The Border Management for Central Asia programme  promotes the gradual adoption of integrated border management methods in the region by enhancing border security and facilitating legal trade and transit. The introduction of European integrated border management methodologies, based inter alia on the experience of the Schengen process (combining firm but modern ‘external’ border management with liberalized ‘internal’ border movements) is an important emphasis. Activities include policy advice on legal and institutional reforms, procurement of border infrastructure, and strengthening national border management capacities. BOMCA, which has delivered some €26 million in programming since its inception, is now moving into its eighth phase (with an €8 million budget). Implementation of BOMCA 8 will rely on a partnership between the European Commission, EU member states, UNDP, the Vienna-based International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICPMD), and other development partners. UNDP has also helped implement phases of the EU’s Central Asia Drug Action Programme, budgeted at €14 million.

Border Management in Badakhshan: Whereas BOMCA has focused primarily on internal borders within Central Asia, the European Commission is now adopting an approach similar to BOMCA’s vis a vis  the Tajikistan – Afghanistan border. The focus is on border regions in eastern Tajikistan’s mountainous Badakhshan province. UNDP has helped implement nearly €4 million under this programme.

EUBAM: The EU Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine supports the two countries in better managing the 1,222 kilometre Ukrainian – Moldovan border, in particular focusing on the Transnistrian region segment. The mission trains and supports border guards and customs services in their efforts to facilitate the legal, efficient, cross-border movement of goods and persons, and contributes to the international community’s efforts to peacefully resolve the Transnistrian conflict. On-the-job training and advice to Moldovan and Ukrainian officials provided by more than 100 customs and border guard experts from 22 EU member states have proved to be effective capacity- building tools. UNDP has since 2005 been implementing EUBAM, which employs over 200 staff. Current commitments under this €55 million programme run until 2011.

BOMMOLUK: EUBAM has also coordinated the Improvement of Border Controls at the Moldova-Ukraine Border, a €9 million programme which is likewise UNDP implemented and co-funded. The project has focused on equipment procurement, risk analysis, and training for officers at joint border crossing points. The EU has funded technical assistance through direct procurement of goods and services by the EU delegations, and through direct budget support (in Ukraine). These initiatives are designated ‘EUBAM flanking measures’.

SCIBM: The South Caucasus Integrated Border Management programme , has since 2009 been supporting the implementation of integrated border management strategies by the governments of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Whereas overall contractual responsibility vis-à-vis the European Commission rests with UNDP, implementation of project components is delegated to border management agencies in the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, as well as ICMPD.

BOMBEL (Enhancing Border Management in Belarus), BOMUK (Enhancing Border Management in Ukraine), and EBCMP (Enhancing Border Control Management in Moldova) have followed essentially the same pattern as BOMCA, offering a package of capacity building measures for each country’s state border guard service, including training, creating European-standard accommodation centres for irregular migrants, upgrading dog training centres, and introducing sophisticated technology, such as the biometric identification of travellers. Some €20 million in has been delivered under these programmes.

SCAD: The South Caucasus Anti-Drug Programme  combines integrated border management to prevent narcotics trafficking (supply-side interdiction) with support for national efforts to prevent drug abuse and care for drug addicts (demand-side management). UNDP has helped implement nearly €6 million under this programme.

BUMAD: Prevention of Drug Abuse and Fighting Drug Trafficking in Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova takes a similar approach to drug abuse and trafficking in the Western CIS countries. UNDP has helped implement €7 million under the first three phases of this programme.

Customs Modernization in Azerbaijan: UNDP has since 1999 been helping the State Customs Committee to automate its work via the introduction of modern ICT instruments, as well as simplify border and customs regulation  EC funding of €800,000 has supported this multi-million dollar initiative.
Vitalie Vremis (UNDP Moldova) and Zuzana Aschenbrennerova (UNDP Regional Centre, Slovakia)

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