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Anti-smuggling training addresses capacity gaps in Myanmar

Myawaddy, Kayin State (Myanmar), 26 May 2016
- Border Liaison Officers (BLO) stationed at Kawthaung, Tachileik and Myawaddy have undergone three weeks of practical training to detect, interdict and communicate cross-border crimes. Tailored to address gaps in capacity, an international team of experts utilised theoretical classes, practical exercises and live field simulations along the border with Thailand to assist officers in combating migrant smuggling, human and other forms of trafficking.

In its February 2016 report on synchronizing economic and security agendas, UNODC reported that over 50,000 people were smuggled from Myanmar and Bangladesh into Thailand and further afield, and that the network of smugglers was growing. Many of the smuggled migrants end up as victims of human trafficking, or worse, with hundreds of migrants having died en route in the past year in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. These crimes generate nearly $3 billion in illicit profits in Southeast Asia alone.

The training was a part of UNODC's work to assist in combating these crimes along borders in the Greater Mekong Subregion. It followed UNODC's work on the drafting and adoption of BLO standard operating procedures to improve cross-border communication and cooperation, and to facilitate meetings between BLO locations throughout the region.

"Identification and interdiction of cross-border crimes like migrant smuggling are ever increasingly important, but equally as important is the ability of Border Liaison Offices (BLO) to communicate with their cross-border counterparts at a moment's notice", said trainer Mr. Robert Burkes, previously an investigator for the US Federal Bureau of Investigations.

In addition to the immense technical utility for border officers, a particular highlight of the training was the active participation of female officers. Gender equality is still a work in progress in Southeast Asia, where female officers are still often assigned to administrative work. During practical exercises and field simulations, female officers shared their knowledge and facilitated the successful surveillance and arrest operations. UNODC anti-smuggling courses are seeking to increase the focus on the next generation of officers, especially female officers, in line with UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 5), to "achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls."

"The training has helped me to see how passport inspection directly applies to immigration officers", said District Chief Daw Aye Aye Than, a female immigration officer who played an active role throughout the training course. "Before this training, we had no idea that resources such as the website to check passport security features existed. I look forward to sharing this knowledge with my colleagues."

In order to simplify accessibility to such online resources, UNODC is providing BLO Field Tablets to locations throughout Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam, which will increase the frequency and quality of communications across borders. At the Kawthaung BLO training, Pol.Col. Kyaw Zaya, Head of Enforcement Department of the Division Against Transnational Crime of the Myanmar Police Force, demonstrated how officers could access online resources to detect fraudulent documents using their BLO Field Tablets and their UNODC tactical illumination tools.

Click here to read more on UNODC's Regional Border Management Programme.