Expert Voice

Integrated Border Management is not a ‘one size fits all’ concept

14 March 2016

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan

With the increasing mobility of persons and goods in times of fear of terrorism and organised crime, states need to ensure the right balance between open, while at the same time secured and controlled borders. ‘Integrated Border Management’ (IBM) can combine these two objectives.

By Borut Eržen, Rebecca Adeline and Veronika Goncharova

The EU has been promoting IBM - first introduced in the EU to ensure coherent functioning of the communities’ borders - beyond its own territory for more than five years. ICMPD is implementing several of such projects in different regions of the world.

Coordination and cooperation to keep borders open but secure

Basically, IBM requires that all involved authorities coordinate and work together effectively to facilitate the movement of goods and people while maintaining a comfortable degree of security for their citizens. The three pillars that are the core of Integrated Border Management are intra-service cooperation, i.e. cooperation within a service or different departments of a ministry, inter-agency cooperation between different ministries or border management agencies, e.g. border police and customs authorities and international cooperation with other countries’ authorities and international organisations. While being a ‘European’ concept, the IBM approach, including general guidelines, can be adapted to each country’s specificities and needs. As two of ICMPD's newest projects in Tunisia and in Central Asia show, IBM is far from being a "one size fits all" concept. Tunisia has historically strong bonds with Europe.

It is a hub for migration movements towards the European Union, both for Tunisians and Sub-Saharan Africans in search of a better life on the other side of the Mediterranean. While the Arab Spring of 2011 brought new hope to the country, the war in neighbouring Libya has inflicted regional instability. Tunisia, with a 495km-long shared border, is directly suffering from this: trade has gone down, there are immediate security risks due to terrorism and there is constant high pressure on border and law-enforcement agencies. The recent terror attacks in Tunisia have shown that the trenches dug along the Tunisian-Libyan border are not enough to protect the country. Strengthened coordination in and between the border agencies, streamlined procedures and modernised equipment are necessary to keep open yet secure borders. This is precisely what ICMPD does in Tunisia through a 2,5 year project. We work to strengthen the capacities of the Tunisian authorities in charge of border control and surveillance through trainings, which in turn contributes to good governance. 

ICMPD is also working on IBM in another region of the world, Central Asia. Five countries, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, have joined together for the implementation of the regional initiative Border Management Programme in Central Asia (BOMCA), which has been ongoing since 2003. Contrary to the national project in Tunisia, the regional nature of the initiative corresponds with the third pillar of IBM – international cooperation. Project activities currently focus on improving cooperation and communication channels among the border agencies of all five countries. 

The operational context for the project is exceptional due to the legacy of the former Soviet Union, with a tradition of tightly closed borders that served for defense purposes, but had no major role to fulfil with regard to the movement of persons and goods. Nowadays there are close economic relations with Russia and one of the main destinations for Central Asian labour migrants is Kazakhstan, not Europe. Additionally, the countries of the region face challenges related to security, extremism and drug trafficking. Coordination and cooperation in border management between all countries is key. The introduction of IBM in Central Asia has progressed since the inception of the programme BOMCA in 2003. During its early phases, the programme focused on creating a modern border management infrastructure with the latest equipment. Over time BOMCA has become wider and the capacity development activities no longer target border guards exclusively. Authorities working in the area of customs, migration, drug control, agriculture as well as health, can benefit as well.  Multi-country activities have increased as well. For instance, in 2013, the border guards and customs training institutions of all five countries have entered partnerships with the aim to harmonise their training curricula. This way all border guards learn about the same procedures - a solid foundation for smooth cooperation in the region. Cooperation with EU border management training institutions also ensures knowledge transfer of best practices. Time to re-think IBM? Practice has proven that IBM is a useful global concept that can be tailored to each country’s or region’s specific needs.

Though it should be noted that the global trends in the field of security as well as migration have changed significantly over the past year and there are calls for a potential re-thinking of the existing IBM concept. As a matter of fact, the two basic principles of IBM - coordination and cooperation - need to be elaborated on further by including more stakeholders that play a role in border management, for instance. Since its introduction over a decade ago, IBM has not been a subject of structural and institutional revisions, even though the need is evident, as the present situation at the EU external borders and beyond shows.


Borut Eržen is a Senior Programme Manager at ICMPD and leads the Competence Centre for Border Management and Visa. Rebecca Adeline and Veronika Goncharova are Project Managers in the Competence Centre for Border Management and Visa.  

Photo: Nonviolent Peaceforce on Flickr