by Inesa Nicaolescu, Border Security Adviser, Organization for Security & Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)
For the purposes of this article, let’s define what a crisis is. A CRISIS is an unexpected breakdown in a society following a natural or man-made disaster, an environmental emergency, a cross-border health emergency or a conflict situation, among others.
Cross-border implications of Crises
Borders are vulnerable in times of crises because they are under huge pressure by increased cross-border movements. Different types of crises may all result in a sudden influx of relief goods and personnel, while at the same time people may decide or have to flee across the border. Officials at the border are the first to be confronted with these dynamics and border security can become affected.
The challenges for border agencies during crises are numerous:
1) Often, procedures and legislation for cross-border aspects are drafted for non-emergency situations, which results in uncertainty and ad-hoc procedures.
2) Complicated bureaucratic procedures and a lack of co-ordination among national agencies may slow down the delivery of assistance to those in need.
3) The capacity of border officials themselves may be affected by the crisis, whereas the situation demands unusual and speedy processing of people, goods and equipment.
As crises rarely respect international borders, cross-border co-operation is of utmost importance to adequately prepare, and effectively respond. Some events may be of such magnitude, that a country is unable to deal with the consequences independently. Especially when it comes to health emergencies.
The recent crises, in particular the COVID-19 pandemic, have re-emphasized the importance of crisis preparedness at the border. Border agencies were confronted with the rare situation of closed borders in 2020 due to the need to contain COVID-19. The challenge of closing borders to non-essential travellers and non-citizens BUT allowing essential goods to transit borders, is just a glimpse into the complexities that border services have dealt with over the last couple of years.
Additionally, the COVID19 crisis re-emphasized the importance of having close cooperation between border security agencies and the health sector to coordinate screening, testing, immunization, and certification of border crossers.
While every country has handled their borders differently during the COVID19 crisis, there are key takeaways that border agencies may consider and this is what the Self-Assessment Tool does.
What is the Self-Assessment Tool?
The Tool represents a document that contributes to overall response preparedness to crises by promoting existing tools and directing national authorities to international and regional assistance frameworks. The Tool compiles expertise from various organisations working on different aspects of crisis response.
This Tool allows national services, including border agencies, to identify potential gaps or ambiguities in their crisis preparedness that could benefit from contingency planning on a national, regional and international level, and check the compliance of their national legislation with existing international frameworks.
A variety of tools, guidelines and documents already exist to support national capacity building in the field of response preparedness. Thus, the problem is not the substance of existing frameworks, but rather a lack of communication and awareness about them at the operational, policy and donor levels. Often, it is only during or after emergencies that these tools are discovered by national agencies.
Border agencies are encouraged to undertake a self-assessment to evaluate their level of preparedness for crises with a special focus on cross-border implications on REGULAR basis. It could be annually, for example. Greater preparedness at all levels can facilitate expedited and orderly responses, stabilization and reconstruction. It will also save lives.
Another benefit of using this Tool would be to identify specific assistance that could be requested from regional and international organizations by border agencies.
The Tool represents in itself a checklist, with Yes/No that allow border and national agencies to conduct a self-assessment and identify the level of crisis preparedness. I can bring a couple of examples of questions that are presented in the Tool:
How the Tool can be used?
It follows different cross-border movements and for each, lists a number of issues and aspects that should be considered in order to prepare appropriately
It Is designed to be used in advance of emergency situations – that is important.
A self-assessment should lead to better response preparedness, and the conduct of this exercise contributes to that aim. When the following methodology, divided into five consecutive steps, is used, preparedness would already be strengthened in each phase.
STEP 1: Initiation/co-ordination – The national agency or ministry that should ideally initiate the conduct of this self-assessment would be the one responsible for disaster/crisis management. Prior to an emergency, the roles and responsibilities of all relevant ministries and border agencies supporting disaster/crisis management and response should be clearly defined and its mechanisms outlined in national laws and procedures.
STEP 2: Interagency co-ordination – The self-assessment tool requires that all relevant border-related agencies would jointly conduct the assessment. In some countries, it may be the first time that a meeting of this kind would be held in advance of a crisis. It is an to promote contact between Customs and Immigration officials, Border Guards/ Police and officials of Ministries of Health, Agriculture, Foreign Affairs, Trade, Interior, Environment, Civil Protection and others.
Co-operation between different agencies is the only way for the self-assessment to result in complete and coherent findings. In addition, this working method alone is an awareness exercise. Officials from various backgrounds would be able to learn how colleagues from different agencies/ministries operate, the challenges they face and how they could contribute to a response or recovery effort following a disaster/ crisis. The concept of routine interagency meetings to foster co-operation was promoted by Sweden and its practice of weekly co-ordination meetings prior and during COVID-19 pandemic.
STEP 3: Identify outstanding gaps in preparedness It is anticipated that the answers to the questions in the tool will initiate discussion between national agencies and ministries, encouraging an exchange of capabilities, experiences and requirements between them.
The variety of situations covered in the Tool allows national services, including border agencies to test different scenarios and conduct risk and vulnerability assessments to determine the probability of a certain type of crisis and its potential impact.
STEP 4: Communicate with relevant international and regional frameworks. After conducting the assessment, national agencies/border agencies are invited to contact international or regional organizations for more in-depth assessments and information. Also the Tool advances state agencies/border agencies to contact their neighbours directly for follow-up actions.
STEP 5: Interagency follow-up – Following the conduct of the self-assessment tool, it would be beneficial to meet again in the interagency setting used for the self-assessment to continue the momentum of joining efforts to exchange information and provide new staff with networking possibilities. Joint simulation events could be organized to allow even better response preparedness. Regional meetings, or the self-assessment of preparedness levels at the regional or local level, could also be considered, particularly if nations have mutual aid agreements and rely on neighbouring countries to support crisis responses.
Gender and Crisis
The 1st edition of the Self-Assessment Tool 2013 was gender blind. Regardless of the crisis, women and men have different needs, concerns and vulnerabilities. Also, a diverse staff of border officers can better address the needs of all border crosses during crises. Integrating a gender perspective into preparedness for cross-border responses to crises has significance for both the border agencies and the populations crossing the border.
Such a perspective ensures respect for human rights, non-discrimination, and appropriate responsiveness to needs and concerns of all members of society. A gender balance of experience and authority in any preparedness planning allows both women and men working in border agencies to contribute to the planning process from the perspective of their different lives and different experiences. PPE equipment (men and women).
An important component of planning is the training of all staff involved with displaced populations – gender-sensitive training that re-enforces the recognition that the women, girls, men and boys have different needs and vulnerabilities. Consideration of ‘gender’ is neither an add-on nor an option. It is central to successful planning and preparedness, to the well-being of people crossing borders and to national security. OSCE participating States have also committed themselves to ensuring gender equality in the context of security and crisis management in the OSCE Ministerial Council Decision No.14/05 “Women in Conflict Prevention, Crisis Management and Post-conflict Rehabilitation”.
International & Regional Partners
It is important to note that international and regional organizations have directly contributed to the development and than revision of the Tool in 2021. Ultimately, the Tool advise on the focus for efforts and assistance of international, regional and bilateral assistance.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that the publication is a valuable Tool that the OSCE pS and PfC can use to better deal with cross-border implications of crisis. The Tool is available on the OSCE website in English and Russian. We are translating this Tool in Montenegrin and this version should be available by the beginning of this summer.