Towards open, but secure borders in the South Caucasus
It is not a secret for anybody that the world has changed drastically in the past two decades. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the “iron curtain,” unification of Europe, war against terror – all of these somehow affected the way we live and the way our states live and interact with one another. And the borders, indeed, are the places where this interaction is literally physical. While in recent years many of the old borders disappeared and new ones emerged, all of them require proper complex management – to allow people move freely and without delays, while keeping the “doors” locked for crime and terrorism. This is why the concept of Integrated Border Management (IBM) was developed to effectively cope with new challenges, globalization and world trade development.
Efficient and effective border management contributes to secure borders and freedom, when citizens can travel freely and trade can flourish - key prerequisites for economic growth and poverty reduction. At the same time, threats related to abuse of borders, such as smuggling of goods and trafficking in people, drugs and weapons can be better addressed if authorities responsible for border management improve their cooperation. Such cooperation is part of the IBM concept, which covers “the coordination and cooperation among all relevant authorities and agencies involved in border security and trade facilitation to establish effective, efficient and integrated border management systems, in order to reach the common goal of open but controlled and secure borders.”
The South Caucasus region was not left aside from new global developments. The strategic location of the South Caucasus countries at the crossroad of transit routes from Europe to Asia makes border management a key issue. Considering the benefits of the IBM model, the Governments of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia committed in October 2007, through the “South Caucasus Integrated Border Management” (SCIBM) programme, to advance the model internally, as well as bilaterally (between Armenia-Georgia and Azerbaijan-Georgia). This groundbreaking project was launched on 1 October 2009. Funding was provided by the EU, while the project itself is implemented by UNDP in partnership with the International Center for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD). “Complex management of borders allows comprehensive approach towards issues in all sectors, including migration, trafficking, illegal drug turnover, trade simplification and free and secure border crossing,” said Arthur Baghdasaryan, Secretary of the National Security Council of Armenia.
The overall objective of the program is to enhance inter-agency, bilateral and regional cooperation between the South Caucasus countries, EU member states and other international stakeholders, and to facilitate the movement of legitimate persons and goods across borders, at the same time maintaining their security and high level of protection against any illegal activity.
- The SCIBM program assisted the Government of Armenia to develop and adopt a Border Security and State Border Integrated Management Strategy of the Republic of Armenia in November 2010.
- The overall objective of the program is to enhance inter-agency, bilateral and regional cooperation between the South Caucasus countries, EU member states and other international stakeholders, and to facilitate the movement of legitimate persons and goods across borders, at the same time maintaining their security and high level of protection against any illegal activity.
The SCIBM program assisted the Government of Armenia to develop and adopt a Border Security and State Border Integrated Management Strategy of the Republic of Armenia in November 2010. The document outlines the principal directions along which Armenia will move to effectively manage its borders, keeping them safe and ensuring trade and transit facilitation. Support was also provided towards the preparation of 2011-2015 Action Plan for the implementation of the National IBM strategy. The Action Plan envisages more than 80 activities covering a wide range of areas that require improvement and development, including legislation, inter-agency cooperation, training and provision of equipment for border crossing points on the Armenian-Georgian border. All border management agencies are actively involved in the process. Their staff – border guards and customs officers, officials from State Service for Food Safety and Ministry of Healthcare, as well as police - have been trained by SCIBM in the past 1.5 years and their capacity enhanced enabling them to meaningfully implement the concept of IBM and thus ensure swift and smooth inter-agency cooperation and information exchange, which are critical elements towards reaching the strategic objective of open, but secure borders.
The role of SCIBM programme is also significant in supporting trade development through provision of international expertise and best practices to Armenia’s State Revenues Committee that runs the Armenian customs. Many and many of the IBM Strategy Action Plan activities are directly or indirectly aimed to support and promote trade and transit, including measures to streamline and simplify customs procedures, application of the “single window” principle and “one stop shop” approach, reduction of processing time, etc. “IBM strategy is very important for Armenia. The implementation of reforms in this direction will further promote the development of the Armenian economy,” said Gagik Khachatryan, the Chairman of the State Revenues Committee of Armenia.
Modernization and reconstruction of the state border crossing points (BCPs) of Bagratashen, Bavra and Gogavan on the Armenian-Georgian border is another major component of the SCIBM. Design documentation for the modernization of the three BCPs has been developed by an independent international company and submitted to the National Security Council of Armenia in August 2011. It is expected that the construction works in the three BCPs will start in the first quarter of 2012. “UNDP has successfully implemented SCIBM programme since its inception and within that framework developed tender dossiers for modernization of three BCPs,” said Arthur Baghdasaryan, Secretary of the NSC. “The accomplishment of this ambitious, but fully realistic project will result not only in strengthening Armenia’s border security, but will also ensure free movement of legitimate travelers through the border, noticeable increase in regional and international trade and transit, improved state revenue collection and, ultimately, establishment of atmosphere of security and development,” he concluded.