India - Bhutan:  Cross-border cooperation to prevent human trafficking and smuggling of migrants

India and Bhutan share open borders. Nationals from both countries can cross freely without visa requirements.  Open border facilitate travel and trade, but make border control more challenging especially since new forms of cross-border crimes are emerging constantly requiring that law enforcement and especially border officials are prepared to identify possible suspects and their victims as in the case of  human trafficking and smuggling of migrants.

To sensitize concerned agencies and officials from both countries on possible challenges, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in collaboration with the Sashastra Seema Bal, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India organized an Indo-Bhutan border strengthening workshop on countering human trafficking and smuggling of migrants. The two-day workshop held in May in Siliguri, West Bengal brought together officials from the Government of India including from the Ministry of Home Affairs,  Sashastra Seema Bal, police, customs and immigration and from the Royal Government of Bhutan, including from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Royal Police from Bhutan, immigration, customs etc. Also, NGOs working on human trafficking in the border area in India were present as well as experts from Australia.

During the workshop, a variety of relevant topics were presented and discussed: UNODC provided an overview of the global legal instruments to counter trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants. Experts from Australia shared their border management system especially with regard to human trafficking and smuggling of migrants, their legislative framework, national plan and the existing passenger assessment model to identify cases of fraudulent travel/identity documents and illegal entries into the country.

The legislative and institutional framework on human trafficking and migrant smuggling in Bhutan and India were also presented. The workshop included a session on effective interviewing and interrogation techniques specifically tailored to law enforcement officials. The importance of preparing for an interview and interrogation, understanding the body language, listening skills and responding to the accused were discussed using real-life examples.

Towards the end of the workshop, participants came up with concrete proposals which would facilitate not only Indo-Bhutan cross-border cooperation but also build country-specific capacities in areas of need. These included inter-alia: (i) establishment of contact points between countries and mechanisms for real-time sharing of information in criminal matters, (ii) capacity building and skill development of law enforcement personnel manning border check-posts, (iii) sharing of information on service providers for victims (shelter homes, NGOs working in the area), (iv) development of a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on repatriation for the Indo-Bhutan border (v) need for more research and data and (vi) sharing of existing Information, Education and Communication (IEC) material.

The workshop was supported by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, Government of Australia.