The International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) organized a 5-day study visit (SV) (16 to 20 April 2018) to the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) for 4 officers from the Lebanese Armed Forces, the Internal Security Forces, the Directorate General of General Security and the Lebanese Customs Administration within the framework of the technical assistance project Enhanced Capability For Integrated Border Management in Lebanon (IBM Lebanon), funded by the European Union (EU).

The SV was hosted by the British High Commission, the United Kingdom (UK) Sovereign Base Area Administration (UKSBA), the Cyprus Police Aliens & Immigration, Cyprus Customs and the Cyprus National Guard, and focused on border control, trans-border crime, irregular migration, and border inter-agency coordination. The SV was opened with presentations made by fiscal crime liaison staff from Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) at the High Commission in RoC, who provided detail about the HMRC regional role in identifying organised crime and facilitating its disruption, especially in the area of cigarette trafficking and counterfeiting. A presentation was then made by the crime liaison officer from the UK National Crime Agency (NCA) with a focus on all cross border crime except counter terrorism issues.

At the Pergamos and Strovilia Check Points (CP) between UKSBA territory and that of northern Cyprus (TRNC) presentations were made on IT systems, databases, automatic number-plate recognition and cooperation with border/law enforcement agencies in UK, and The United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP). As the boundary between the two parts of the island is not officially recognized, the controls are low-key and difficult to operate, especially in green border areas. The UK Border Force operates the controls on behalf of the government of Cyprus and the EU, enforcing prohibitions and restrictions and collecting revenues/penalties.

Participants also visited the Larnaca International Airport, where a detailed presentation was made by the Aliens & Immigration Department of the Cyprus Police on the organization of the Police and Customs controls and procedures, along with details of results in terms of the detection of forged documents and refusals of entry. The immigration, exit and security controls were demonstrated, along with the document laboratory and activities airside. A meeting was also held with the manager of Lebanese national carrier Middle East Airlines (MEA), to discuss their operations and positive cooperation with the Cyprus Police at the airport. The visit to the airport was a continuation of cooperation and dialogue established in October 2017 as part of ICMPD support.

A site visit was made to Limassol Seaport, the only container port in RoC. The cargo scanner was discussed and its operations demonstrated. A demonstration was also made by the dog handling unit of the Cyprus Customs, with searches for drugs in a range of seized cars being successfully made. A meeting was also held with 12 Cyprus Customs staff where the Lebanese Customs and other border controls were presented and discussions held regarding similarities of activities and challenges.

The Lebanese delegation also visited the Joint Rescue & Coordination Centre (JRCC) which is an independent agency of the Ministry of Defence of RoC tasked with the coordination of different agencies involved in search and rescue activities such as the Police Aviation unit, Port & Marine Police, the National Guard Naval Command, the National Guard Air Force Command, and the Cyprus Civil Defence. A presentation was made of the capabilities of the JRCC and also of the way that it was formed, with emphasis on strong inter-agency cooperation. Participants also visited the Xenon Operational Centre which constitutes the operational arm of the JRCC and is dedicated for high-level and operational-level crisis coordination including actions related to the movement of boat loads of migrants. Cooperation with Lebanon, mainly through the Lebanese Armed Forces’ Navy was discussed and some of the obstacles outlined. An MoU has been drafted and proposed to Lebanon, to assist coordination.

The SV ended with a meeting held at the UNFICYP Headquarter in Nicosia to see boundary surveillance in the area of separation between RoC and TRNC around the abandoned airport at Nicosia. The difficulties of ‘policing’ such ‘un-agreed’ territorial borders, was again explained in detail.     

The mixed components of the SV were all considered highly useful by the participants as they gave good illustrations of actual situations in regional cooperation and of difficulties in managing non-demarcated borders. A lot of time was spent actively discussing how Lebanon, UK and Cyprus could work together in gathering evidence and information in organised crime and migrant smuggling cases in the region. The field visits also enabled participants see how it is possible to maintain a control, even when borders are not agreed, as is the case in many parts of the eastern border of Lebanon.