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Project News: Lebanon and the EU seal the year-end with the successful results of a unique project

15 December 2020

The project is the first-ever aviation security action funded by the EU in Lebanon. The funding started on 1 September 2018 and is part of an EU commitment to support the Lebanese security sector and its longstanding engagement to stability and security in Lebanon covering the areas of rule of law, enhancement of security and counter terrorism. A step forward to combat terrorism is to bolster airport security at Rafic Hariri International Airport and the EU is providing 3.5 million EUR for this purpose.

"The new system will allow the airport's staff to inspect travellers’ luggage in a faster and securer way, and check passports more quickly, in order to enable a smooth flow of passengers", were the words of Ex-Interior Minister Raya el Hassan in May 2019, during an official press conference, about an EU project which ended  in November 2020. “It is the Lebanese citizens and visitors to this beautiful country who will benefit most from the new measures”, added Martijn Pluim, Director of Migration Dialogues and Cooperation at the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) which was entrusted with the implementation of the unique EU funded project “Reinforcing Aviation Security at Rafic Hariri International Airport”  – also known as AVSEC Lebanon.

Noticeably more security

Aviation security is a shared priority by the Lebanese government and the EU, not the least to prevent terrorist attacks and curb criminal activities such as smuggling and human trafficking. Those aims become more important for Beirut’s airport, especially that the airport has become a major hub with a steady increased volume of passengers and goods since 2008

Thus, so for the last two years the EU and  ICMPD  have been working closely with all security agencies at the airport such as the Airport Security Apparatus, to ensure that Lebanese and all other passengers using the airport remain safe when taking off or arriving in Beirut.

The actions financed by the project were designed to deliberately complement parallel investments in security technology taken by the state. The project’s contributions included the installation of internationally standardised technology – hand luggage scanners, walk-through detectors and explosives trace detectors (ETDs) - in the Airport Security Training Centre (CERSA). This, in combination with completely new, web-based training software also procured by the project, has not only significantly enhanced training capabilities but has also ensured that learning can continue regardless of the physical presence of students. Because of this and despite the unforeseen challenges caused by  COVID-19, all personnel have been able to access uninterrupted and improved training that is so essential to their work.

Brigadier General Georges Doumit, Commander of Airport Security Apparatus, is delighted with how the project has gone: “The project is excellent as it has contributed in closing gaps that were not noticed in the tender for the modernisation of the airport. Developing and modernising of training methods at CERSA, which contributed to increasing the level of performance of the aviation security staff and enhancing their capabilities to detect and deal with any suspicious object, was one of the main improvements”.

Besides enhancing infrastructure and inter-agency cooperation, the project has promoted also exchange with experts abroad on subjects such as emergency planning and criminal police intelligence. This enabled staff working at the airport to benefit from best practices. “The strong involvement of EU Member States strengthens the ties between Lebanon and the EU in the area of aviation security, paves the way to a better and direct cooperation and leads to an increased network in both directions”, comments Colonel Georges NADER, Director of CERSA, on the cooperation of experts.

Leading-edge technology and a good nose for detection

Airport security has not only improved in terms of technology and organisation. As part of the project, twelve, four-legged colleagues have joined the security team. The dogs are an efficient addition to the new security and checkpoint technology. They specialise in sniffing out all kinds of explosives. The dogs are particularly effective at finding carefully hidden items like for example an explosive charge in the sole of a shoe or built into an electronic device.   “The sniffer dogs are enhancing the security capabilities at the airport also in terms of inspection of luggage and cargo which are difficult to inspect by X-Ray machines due to their big size. In short, they have added benefit by providing support for the inspection staff in order to avoid any human error”, states Brigadier General Georges Doumit.

As incredible as it sounds, two of the dogs at the airport have already been trained to identify passengers infected with COVID-19, even before symptoms occur. How does it work? Well, one indicator for a positive case lies in human odours – specifically, sweat. This additional training has proven significantly successful.

Despite the obstacles and challenges faced in Beirut, some of which still need to be overcome, Rafic Hariri International Airport is now much better equipped to handle emergency situations and threat scenarios, thanks to the support from the EU. In addition, the EU and ICPMD plan to continue supporting airport security – in particular in the areas of emergency planning and crises management -  in  Lebanon through the EU IBM Lebanon Phase III project which has been entrusted again to ICMPD.


Watch the video summarising the project achievements here.