Regional conference on enhancing cooperation on border management in ASEAN: preparing for a safer and more integrated community

Bangkok (Thailand), 26 August 2015
- High-level regional integration and public security representatives from ASEAN Member States convened in Bangkok on the initiative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to discuss effective border security in an era of rapidly increasing connectivity in Asia.

Southeast Asia is undergoing a process of rapid change. With the ASEAN Community set to be established in 2015, bringing the region's 630 million people together in one of the world's largest trading blocks, ASEAN countries are investing heavily in new road, rail and port infrastructure. In addition, initiatives are being supported to ease border and visa restrictions and facilitate an increase in cross-border movements of labour, capital and goods.

However, while increased connectivity will accelerate trade and overall economic growth in the region, experts at the conference are concerned that this new reality also poses challenges for governments trying to secure their land borders and ports against non-traditional security threats like transnational trafficking and smuggling. "With crime groups already generating illicit money flows exceeding $100 billion per year, increased connectivity will require additional safeguards including common approaches of security agencies to land border and port management, specialized training and cross-border communication", remarked Mr. Jeremy Douglas, UNODC Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. He went on to comment "put in perspective, the value of transnational crime already exceeds the gross domestic product of several ASEAN countries. We cannot wait longer with putting in place shared mechanisms."

The conference included a series of interactive sessions where thematic experts will debate integration and emerging crime challenges that are likely to accompany the ASEAN connectivity agenda, including the trafficking and smuggling drugs and precursors, of people, counterfeit products, and wildlife and illegal timber.

Mr Jakkrit Srivali, Director-General of the Department of ASEAN Affairs from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, shared his country's concerns and pointed out that the increased integration and interconnectedness that come with the ASEAN Community can make the region more vulnerable to transnational crime. Strengthening skills, capacity and cross-border cooperation among border and port security agencies is therefore essential to counter rapidly evolving transnational crime challenges.

Participants also discussed best practices and formulating practical recommendations to strengthen effectiveness and cooperation to protect borders as connectivity is increasing. Mr. Matthew Nice, UNODC expert on border security made the point that "When border and port security agencies have a common understanding, skill-set and approach to transnational crime challenges, the region will be able to safeguard the benefits that accompany regional integration." Reference was made to the UNODC Border Liaison Offices network, as well as the important steps made during the regional conference organized in October 2014.

The joint UNODC-Thailand conference was part of ongoing efforts to help prepare the region as it becomes an ASEAN Community in 2015.