BEIRUT: The drowning of dozens of Lebanese off the Indonesian coast last month exemplifies the tragic consequences that ineffective migration policies between countries of origin and destination can bring, a senior member of an intergovernmental migration organization said Wednesday. “In former times, it was about building up secure borders and this was thought to resolve all problems,” said Director-General Peter Widermann of the International Center for Migration Policy Development, a specialized implementing agency subcontracted by the EU to work on migration-related projects in Lebanon since 2002.
“But this is not true; we have to improve cooperation between countries too,” he said in an interview with The Daily Star Wednesday.
Emerging economic disparities, security deterioration and political upheaval in the region will contribute to more movement of people across borders, Widermann said. His organization can continue to help nations, including Lebanon, which is facing an overwhelming refugee crisis, to address the challenges accompanying wide-scale migration with its technical expertise.
The center’s work has been collaborative with the government of Lebanon and its institutions, he insisted.
“Migration is about people after all – it’s the center of our work, and we work with a partnership approach, so we are not teaching them how to do things, we define them together,” Widermann said.
Since 2005, the organization has set up a bureau in Beirut, with more projects encompassing capacity building for Lebanese authorities in migration-related fields, institutional infrastructural support and setting up stands and procedures for Lebanon for various forms of migration.
Ranking high in its activities is an integrated border management program, which was launched last year. Still in the early stages, it seeks to provide support to improve border controls and meet international standards.
It is an EU-funded project that adapts a European integrated border management concept to the Lebanese context. The concept implies the engagement of relevant agencies and authorities to ease and migration and trade flows, as well as safeguard against cross-border crimes.
The project aims to “have open borders on the one hand to foster the mobility of goods and people,” Widermann explained, “and on the other hand secure borders.”
Touching on the work the organization has done on the anti-trafficking front, Widermann said so far much attention was focused on the sexual abuse element of the crime, and future plans would work to develop measures to protect victims of labor exploitation.
Upcoming in the organization’s agenda is also another project targeting the Lebanese diaspora.
The aim of Widermann’s visit was chiefly to meet with top officials at relevant parties to update the memorandum of understanding authorizing ICMPD’s work. The director-general met with top officials from General Security, the Internal Security Forces, and the Foreign Affairs Ministry Wednesday, and is set to meet General Customs and the Army Thursday.
“We had a fruitful talk and agreed to increase cooperation,” Widermann said, adding that he had invited the director-general of General Security to formally sign a new memorandum for the next three years in Vienna.
Offering a retrospective of ICMPD’s work in Lebanon, the organization’s southern director Lukas Gehrke was able to provide concrete examples.
“In the area of [Human Trafficking] in the SOPs [Standard Operating Procedures] we’ve seen the raising of procedural safeguarding, sometimes in very delicate areas of migration management, areas that are prone to human rights [issues],” he said.
“If you look at what was there before and what is there now you have more SOPs in a number of areas,” he said, describing these elements as crucial in helping public officials “effectively do their job and help migrants get the services that they should get.”
Gehrke also raised the possibility of the Syrian refugee crisis developing into a migration issue in the future: “People have protection now, but they are vulnerable to all forms of exploitation, and this will become more of an issue the longer the situation prevails, we will see the exploitation issue coming to the fore.”