Border Management – March 2019

Welcome to the inaugural quarterly issue of Border Management!

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I’m delighted that we’ve been joined in this first-ever issue by a such an eminent line-up of contributing authors and interviewees from such a wide range of border-interested disciplines. These pages are bristling with knowledge and insights tailored for members of the international border management community

As Lars Karlsson (pages 16-18) eloquently points out, the borders we see today were designed decades ago for other purposes and under different circumstances. The nature and function of borders, and the expectations of their myriad stakeholders, are never static. In many ways, borders are weather veins, reflecting the ever-fluctuating climates of aspiration and paranoia, cosmopolitanism and xenophobia, cooperativeness and aggression of the polities they bound.

They are, as Germana Nicklin (pages 46-50) usefully describes, symbols sometimes of differentiation, and sometimes of divisiveness. Thought of in this way, borders are not just locations where security is exercised, but – more broadly – they act as barometers of security within a society.

Nowhere, perhaps, is this more dramatically played out on a daily basis than in the renowned flag ceremonies along the India-Pakistan border, where Raj Arora (pages 62-64) spent years on the front-line. Unsurprisingly, Raj talks of the importance of cooperation among all stakeholders within border areas, including the border population, civil society organizations, local leaders, and local administration.

It is from within the eye of the Brexit storm that Tony Smith (pages 8-10) notes that “taking back our borders” has been a political catch-cry throughout the Brexit saga. An irrational catch-cry it may well be, but it certainly does tell us something about the border as a barometer of security within UK society.

Something similar could be said in relation to events across the Atlantic as President Donald Trump unlocks billions of dollars of national emergency funding to bolster the U.S.’ southern border. Laura Hains (pages 36-39), however, suggests that there’s more to the White House’s Mexico wall fixation than mere political hyperbolae. Chinks, it appears, are starting to appear in the U.S.’ post-9/11 border armour.

Beyond the black and white of media coverage on such issues, the reality is usually less clear-cut. Anna Triandafyllidou and Marie McAuliffe (pages 24-27) remind us that the drivers underpinning migrant decision-making in relation to irregular migration pathways and smuggling are complex, and that smugglers/traffickers can themselves be corrupt officials holding positions within law enforcement and border authorities.

While walls and razor wire fences may well be the ultimate symbol of a nation-state’s right to delineate and protect its territorial integrity, they tend to be a pejorative for many, anathema to individuals’ right to mobility and to the ideal of a world without borders. 

As Philip Wood (pages 12-14) poetically puts it, the challenge for border authorities is that of balancing the ‘need to say no’ with the ‘need to flow’.

As many of us well understand, for all their symbolism, borders are not the natural enemy of mobility. 

In many contexts, and with the help of innovative technologies, they are becoming less visible than ever. Lars reminds us of this with his description of the ‘Smart Border’, as does Helena Bononi (pages 66-68) in her account of the WTTC’s vision of ‘seamless travel’.

Indeed, according to Abul Rizvi (pages 52 to 56), strong border control can be a necessary enabler for big, expansive migration programs. Control of borders, he says, gives a level of confidence to the public that migration can be managed in the national interest.

In what is perhaps the most beautiful irony of the border symbol, we are also seeing the border itself becoming mobile. Bill Sillery (pages 20-22) tells us that governments and the private sector are rushing to unlock the benefits that self-service mobile solutions bring. WorldReach Software’s IDV solution, for example, is allowing EU nationals to apply for settlement ahead of Brexit (including a facial biometric check) on their smartphones.

While biometrics-based technologies are proving themselves in confirming identities, writes Geoff Heath (pages 58-61), there is currently no substitute for human nous in the assessment of a visa applicant’s or traveller’s intentions, or ‘genuineness’. And as Roderick Parkes (pages 32-35) notes, the Schengen borders which held up best in the recent refugee crisis were the ones with large numbers of well-trained staff, able to differentiate regular travellers from irregular ones.

It’s a point well noted by Philip Baum (pages 40-44), who comments that the most effective detection technology of all is the human brain. While technological solutions tend to be designed to detect specific threats – and then need updating when the threats change – the human approach relies on subjective assessment that considers factor beyond the bomb or the contraband itself.

Disruptive tech, such as AI, will undoubtedly be an enabler for faster processing of ever-increasing numbers of international travellers, but its role in visa decision making, for example, is an area of fear and contention. To manage the potential for public fallout, I make the case (pages 70-73) that government innovators in this space need to change their disposition from one of opacity to one of transparency – and to up their game in terms of credible public consultation.

These issues pose many challenging but ultimately worthwhile questions to us as border management professionals, whether we are tech developers, solutions providers, capacity builders, policy makers or front-line officers. In a metaphorical sense, I do hope the magazine acts as the symbolic border that I like the most – that of the ‘borderland’ or ‘frontier’ where new ideas can meet and mix and where we all benefit as a result.

I look forward to the magazine providing a platform for the type of thinking that John Campbell (pages 74-76) describes as ‘blue sky’; a space where government, industry and academia can engage, debate, and showcase, and ultimately experiment with, as he terms it, ‘the art of the possible’.

Nicholas Dynon, Chief Editor