Thomas A. Tass
Executive Director of BORDERPOL
“Key mandate and activities of BORDERPOL”
Ü Eurasylum: BORDERPOL, the World Border Organization, was established in 2003 in Canada. It aims to promote border policies and programmes that enhance human mobility whilst ensuring traveller safety and national security. Can you guide us through the key features of Borderpol, including the status of the organisation, its key objectives and activities, and its possible synergies and complementarities with other international organisations and associations (e.g. WCO, Frontex, Europol, the International Association of Airport and Seaport Police and the European Association of Airport and Seaport Police)?
Ü Thomas A. Tass: I thank Eurasylum for the invitation to discuss the mission and the vision of BORDERPOL with its members. Let me begin by saying that BORDERPOL is the only interdisciplinary global border organization in existence today. Although it has been registered in Canada under federal law as a non-profit institution since March 2003, its roots are quite European, and its main operational bases remain in Europe. BORDERPOL was born out of the “Project Solomon” concept paper that I wrote in November 1997 during my tenure with the Vienna-based International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD).
Sensing the efficient and cost-effective use of the internet, I proposed the establishment of an online Migration Information System (MIS) that was an “efficient and effective exchange of information on illegal migration at the pan-European level for the purpose of reducing the criminal activities attached to that activity”. The concept was strengthened by the 1996 Conference of Ministers vision on the Prevention of Illegal Migration, which recommended that an “automated reporting system” be established between the border guards and associated border services of Central and Eastern Europe. Most significantly, such initiatives had to have compatibility with the existing EU systems. In actual fact, there were no automated systems at the time that addressed illegal migration on a real-time basis in a pan EU context. My colleagues and I therefore set about designing an online automated system prototype using “off the shelf” technologies. It was set for operational testing in the spring of 2001, and was to begin operating 24/7 that fall, linking four national border services: those of Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic. Regrettably, the project became the victim of political timing as the European Commission determined that summer that no new border control initiatives could be supported until the completion of the proposed new member state accession. Funding was halted and the test program was terminated.
Shortly after the project was closed down, the events of 9/11 made it crystal clear that the world had an additional set of priority challenges and that new ways to improve border service cooperation were absolutely necessary. At the time, only three international organizations existed which had various interests within the global border control/management community. The legacy organizations of Interpol, IOM and World Customs Organization were not generally mandated to take a leadership role in this area.
Recognizing the vacuum that existed in this regard, and without advanced support from government or international organizations, I, along with a group of border experts (both serving and retired) established a modest network of professionals to come up with alternative ways of solving the growing problems associated with border protection and migration management. We were joined by diplomats and educators who agreed to form what we now know as BORDERPOL. BORDERPOL is a registered trademark and, contrary to popular belief, has never been an acronym for border police. The title “World Border Organization” is a descriptive slogan that was adopted in 2008.
In March 2003, BORDERPOL was issued letters of patent from the Federal Government of Canada for the purpose of “working with the international community to develop dynamic and effective partnerships with emphasis on projects, publications and programs which focus on the prevention of transnational crime such as trafficking in humans, document fraud or the victimization of travellers.” The organization also dedicated itself to protecting and promoting the well-being of border officials, and working with them the world over in accordance with the principles of international justice, as embraced by the family of the United Nations.
Over the years, we have concluded long- and short-term cooperation agreements with governments, intergovernmental organizations, industry bodies and academic institutions. In 2004, BORDERPOL and the Hungarian Border Guards signed a cooperation agreement which established the EU Secretariat in Budapest, and which continues to anchor our on-going relationships with European border and migration organizations. In 2005, we signed a cooperation agreement with the International Association of Airport and Seaport Police to work together in support of front-line officers. Because of the fluidity of border protection issues, an interdisciplinary organization such as ours has engaged in short term arrangements with such notable IGO bodies as the ICAO, IOM, and OSCE, as well as industry and educational institutions.
Ü Eurasylum: In view of its non-official status, how does Borderpol manage to attract key political and official leaders to its cause, and does it see its remit simply from an immigration perspective or more broadly in a border protection role that includes, for example, terrorism and the illicit movement of goods?
Ü Thomas A. Tass: I do not understand what you mean by non-official status. Officially, BORDERPOL is granted its status or legal character by the Federal Government of Canada under Part II of the Canada Corporations Act, and was proclaimed in the Canada Gazette July 5, 2003 under the Statutory Instruments Act.(Vol.137, 27). Like any public corporation, our bylaws are recorded by the CCA and the executive is legally obliged to submit a prescribed audit report to the appropriate regulatory bodies at the end of every fiscal year.
I believe our success at attracting key political leaders and senior representatives of homeland protection bodies around the world is based on our open transparent public face. Perhaps, even more importantly, our accomplishments can be attributed to what it is that we do not do. For example, BORDERPOL was not created to be an investigative body in competition with legacy institutions. The organization has never proposed or sought such a mandate.
Our members provide our principle products and services to a broad consortium of homeland protection services and associated agencies. We strive to provide accurate and timely materials to enable them to make their operations more effective (safer) and efficient (smarter). While the vast majority of travellers and commercial interests that cross international borders are not associated with any problematic activities, we are very cognizant of the fact that in today’s security environment, such movements must be monitored, entries and exits regulated, and, where appropriate, physically screened for compliance against a broad array of legislation.
Another reason for our success is our community activism. It is strictly governed by published policy directives, none of which compete with the mandate of any recognized international body. We quietly promote common standards and good governance within the international border security and border management community, and the establishment of relevant information sharing systems in formats tailored to meet broad international border protection requirements. We support humane technologies that detect and deter fraud and the trafficking of people or goods while facilitating genuine movements of people and goods. As part of our educational and consultation mandate, we promote so-called best practices in the areas of training, legislation, and international cooperation.
Ü Eurasylum: What is the geographic remit of your organisation and to what extent is Borderpol also offering a service to developing countries to secure their borders? Can you give us some examples of outcomes achieved by Borderpol’s activities to date?
Ü Thomas A. Tass: Although our organization is legally headquartered in Ottawa, Canada, we are a global institution. While the General Secretariat in Ottawa is responsible for legal, policy and membership matters, Eurasylum readers may be surprised to learn that our main “bricks and mortar” office, otherwise known as the EU Secretariat, is located in Budapest, Hungary, and the general Administrative Centre is located in Cheshunt, Herts, in the United Kingdom. Operationally, we are therefore rather Eurocentric. At the same time, however, we are expanding our Asia Secretariat programs located in Chennai, India, and our Americas Program Secretariat which is registered in Washington State, in the USA.
Since 2006, our members have been involved in a variety of border improvement and policy enhancement programs that have been created to assist developing states (and others) in Central Asia, the Caribbean, Central America, and West Africa. These have been funded by private institutions, national governments and bodies such as the European Commission. BORDERPOL is also a registered participant in the Canada-United States Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC) border policy amelioration project that is an on-going bilateral program of the governments of Canada and the United States.
I wish I could give you more specific examples of the outcomes of our achievements to date, but here, I am guided by experience and judgement. In my career, I have been closely involved in almost every facet of border security, from on-the-ground field operations in Canada and around the world, to the most senior intergovernmental policy development circles. While BORDERPOL engages in transparency regarding its purpose and mission, the border protection community is a notoriously apprehensive and secretive lot. This is a result of it having always been a no-win proposition for those who are responsible for “getting the job done”, from the line officer at a border crossing point to the government leaders responsible for policy and legislation. My colleagues and I appreciate and respect the confidence that the border protection community has for BORDERPOL, and therefore, without their approval, publication of the specific outcomes of our work with these bodies would be inappropriate.
Nevertheless, our efforts to bring together the international border management community over the past ten years has been encouraging. There have been many workshops and seminars, and we have participated at numerous industry and government meetings. In October 2012, BORDERPOL held its first independent interdisciplinary conference in Westminster, London, which saw policy makers, practitioners, academics and industry representatives of various levels come together to discuss and debate “Tactics and Tools for Effective Border Management”. The success of the event has led us to host a second annual expanded version in concert with the UK Border Force, on 3-4 December 2012 at Westminster, London.
We have not forgotten our grass roots past, and continue to be a modest niche organization with a clear mission and vision, which is to make international borders safer and smarter for everyone.