By Kyle Taylor, MIPP Graduate (2017)
Sai ba dee! I have been in Lao People’s Democratic Republic for little over a month now. For those who don’t know, Lao PDR is a landlocked country with a mountainous and thickly forested landscape bordered by Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, and Myanmar. Regional integration has been a key issue for the country, as it moves towards closer economic relations with its neighbouring states, particularly with the advent of ASEAN Economic Integration in 2015. Lao PDR’s geographical position and the move towards greater economic integration with countries in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) has motivated the development of large transportation infrastructure projects, as well as initiatives to ease border restrictions to increase and improve regional trade. However, with an increasingly interconnected region, border management capacity has become a top priority for countries in the region in order to interdict and deter transnational organized crime.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) work with governments in the region has included the development of opportunities for international collaboration in response to transnational threats. By its very nature, transnational crime crosses national borders, and slowing and stopping illicit movements of peoples and goods remains a top security priority for governments in the region. Enhancing border management through the Border Liaison Office (BLO) networks has been a key strategy of UNODC in Southeast Asia for over a decade.
A BLO is a coordinating office for national law enforcement agencies which facilitates and promotes greater cross-border cooperation to counter transnational organized crime. Located near recognized border crossings, BLOs act as a centralized clearing house for information received from the vicinity of border areas and as a point where joint action can be taken and coordinated.
UNODC supports more than 70 BLO locations throughout the GMS covering all forms of transnational organized crime, with 15 locations in Lao PDR. However, strengthening BLO networks has been inconsistent due to changing regional transnational crime trends, emerging border hot spots, and donor funding priorities, resulting in noticeable gaps in capacity. Therefore, addressing gaps in responses to transnational organized crime at Lao PDR’s borders is essential for officers to properly identify and interdict trafficking in people, drugs and precursor chemicals, wildlife and timber in a consistent and comprehensive manner.
I had the opportunity to attend a three-day national BLO consultation workshop that was intended to formulate plans by UNODC for all future technical assistance on border management for the Ministry of Public Safety and border management agencies that would be effective in, and consider, the current areas of work that require attention: capacity, infrastructure, equipment, information management and communications. Representatives from the UNODC and the central Government of Lao PDR presented the latest information on the challenges faced by the region to address transnational organized crime and particular threats to law enforcement in the country. Officers from the BLO offices also gave their perspectives on the advantages and challenges BLOs faced, and were provided training to address any gaps in their knowledge of how to identify the presence of drugs and precursor chemicals at border crossings using testing kits.
My time working for the UNODC has been both rewarding and challenging. I am currently working on a number of projects, but I am primarily focusing on the Alternative Development programme here in Lao PDR. The overarching goal of the Alternative Development programme is to intervene in the opium economy here in Lao PDR by introducing alternative and sustainable sources of income that can compete with the income from opium production.
Outside of my work, I have been travelling as much as possible. I have had a few Beerlaos with locals, expats, and wandering travellers. I am picking up a bit of the Lao language here and there, as English is not as well known as people might think it is here. The Vientiane Boat Racing Festival is fast approaching, and I am looking forward to the coming months and what waits ahead.