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Senior officials gather in Bangkok to discuss securing ASEAN region borders

Bangkok (Thailand), 26 April 2016
- Senior officials from across Southeast Asia, including from ASEAN member states and the ASEAN Secretariat, ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, ASEAN dialogue partners and the UN, have gathered in Bangkok to consider how to secure the future of the region by improving and prioritising border management. Speakers and experts at the Conference on Enhancing Border Management in ASEAN: Towards a More Interconnected and Safer ASEAN Community, hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Regional Office for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, are discussing the regional integration agenda and supporting processes, transnational crime challenges and vulnerabilities, and the need to strengthen policies, institutions, systems and operational mechanisms that protect border crossings and entry and exit points.

The start of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in late 2015 set the stage for Southeast Asia to become one of the largest regional trade blocs in the world. The follow-on AEC Blueprint 2025 announced at the start of 2016 consolidates the vision into five strategic and interconnected objectives: (i) a highly integrated and cohesive economy; (ii) a competitive, innovative, and dynamic ASEAN; (iii) enhanced connectivity and sectoral cooperation; (iv) a resilient, inclusive, people-oriented, and people-centred ASEAN; and (v) a global ASEAN. At the same time, the start of the AEC has challenged the ability of countries and institutions in the region - with variable capacities and approaches - to manage significant increases in cross-border movement while considering how to counter organized criminal and terrorist groups that are able to capitalise on regional integration and open borders. With the value of the transnational organized crime economy in East and Southeast Asia conservatively estimated at US$100 billion per year - surpassing the GDP of several ASEAN countries ¬- governments in the region have been increasingly concerned about the influence and impact of illicit flows on state sovereignty and human security.

The Bangkok conference builds on the outcomes of a related conference hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand and UNODC in August 2015 which resulted in agreement that ASEAN countries make border management a priority. ASEAN states have since been working with UNODC and supportive dialogue partners to reinforce existing protective mechanisms, but also consider where they are missing and needed. "No country can face these challenges alone", said Mr. Vitavas Srivihok, of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand. "Integrating our efforts and partnering with an institution like the UNODC is the only way to address vulnerabilities to transnational crime that arise from increased interconnectedness."

A number of mechanisms including UNODC's border liaison office network and port control and intelligence units support inter-agency and cross-border operational cooperation, while the VRS-MRSC and DAINAP improve the sharing of strategic crime information and intelligence between countries. Coupled with the development of data and research to guide responsive policies and strategies, and specialized advisory and expert services, they offer practical solutions to mitigate non-traditional security and transnational crime threats as part of a broader integrated strategy to assist ASEAN countries.

Jeremy Douglas United Nations UN UNODC ASEAN border security trafficking

"We are supporting networks and operational mechanisms within the ASEAN region that effectively strengthen cross-border cooperation and address criminal threats" said Mr. Jeremy Douglas, UNODC Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. "To achieve the integration and cohesiveness that the AEC Blueprint is seeking, we need to strengthen and expand their reach, making sure they are inplace and inuse where they are needed."

The Conference wraps up Tuesday afternoon and feeds into the ASEAN-UN Plan of Action and deliberations of the ASEAN Senior Officials on Transnational Crime (SOMTC), ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime (AMMTC), ASEAN Senior Officials on Drug Matters (ASOD), and ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Drug Matters (AMMDM), and the process building towards the ASEAN Summit and ASEAN-UN Summit scheduled for September.

Click here to read more on the AEC 2025.

Click here to read more about UNODC's work to assist Southeast Asia and the Pacific to address transnational organized crime, terrorism, corruption and drug policy challenges.