MIEUX+ & COMESA partner to create a training course on border management in health crises

The MIEUX+ team and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) piloted a training course on border management during health emergencies in Lusaka, Zambia in March 2023. Mixing theory and practice,  participants are now informed and trained to react to the next health crisis in an efficient manner.

COVID-19 impact in Eastern and Southern Africa

The COVID-19 pandemic hindered the mobility of goods, services and people across the world.
It impacted the larger Eastern and Southern Africa region and resulted in business closures, disruption of agricultural production, loss of employment and revenue. Similarly to other parts of the globe, regional and national authorities struggled to find common guidelines that could be applied homogenously.
The task was particularly complex in Eastern and Southern Africa, where different Regional Economic Communities (RECs) operate simultaneously, resulting in overlapping memberships with several countries in the region belonging to various RECs.

COMESA represents the largest of the eight African RECs and comprises 21 African countries. Given its aim of promoting regional integration through trade and the development of natural and human resources for the benefit of people in the region, it was important to find solutions to limit the spread of the virus and to protect public health.

In this effort, the COMESA Secretariat adopted two main instruments to regulate mobility at its Member States borders:

  • The Guidelines for the movement of goods and services across the COMESA region;
  • The COMESA-EAC-SACD Tripartite Guidelines on Trade and Transport Facilitation for the movement of persons, goods and services across the tripartite region during the COVID-19 pandemic, established in collaboration with the Eastern African Community (EAC) and Southern African Development Community (SADC).

In addition to travel restrictions and border closures, the measures included increased screenings, adapted to immigration and border management procedures.

Our partnership with COMESA

Against this background and building on previous successful cooperation, the MIEUX+ team and COMESA joined forces to shed light on existing measures and prepare border management practitioners to face the next potential health crisis in an efficient manner.

This resulted in the creation of a training course for border management professionals about safe mobility of people and goods at the borders in the framework of a health crisis. The training encompasses eight modules that focus on different topics, ranging from how to ensure border governance, to containing outbreaks, to protecting migrants and cross-border traders during health crises, as well as communications and community engagement.

The course was piloted in March 2023 in Lusaka with delegates from Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, representing the border posts of Chirundu and Mchinji. The participants explored together how immigration, trade, port health, revenue authorities, and police services should cooperate in such situations.

Our partnership represents a way to facilitate dialogue among COMESA Member States at technical level and promotes awareness raising in border communities, and the inclusion of migrants, small-scale cross border traders and truck drivers in contingency planning and response – following a ‘whole of society’ approach.

As stated by Christiane Hazyio, Project Manager for Regional Cooperation and Trade Facilitation at the EU Delegation in Zambia and COMESA:
The European Union is a long-standing partner to COMESA and its Member States. This relationship has been translated through trade and mobility, which are the backbones to relationships between countries and continents. We are glad that the MIEUX+ Initiative is focusing on enhancing migration and mobility, which result in facilitating trade and mobility within the COMESA region.”

People on the move in the region and their rights

More and more international migrants are moving within the COMESA region, with Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda being key destination countries. While economic factors remain a key motivation, conflicts and political instability are becoming the main drivers for people on the move. Sudden and slow onset events are also causing displacement within the region.

It is worth mentioning that many COMESA residents cross the borders for trade related purposes, with small-scale border traders representing 60% of the regional trade in the region. This factor contributes significantly to job creation and income generation in many COMESA member states, especially when it comes to women and young people.

Small-scale border traders move back and forth on a daily or weekly basis to sell and buy goods. However, this often happens in an informal way as well with people bypassing the official entry points.

A module in the joint COMESA-MIEUX+ training is dedicated to migrants’ rights to reinforce the importance of safeguarding fundamental rights at border posts and how this contributes to effective border governance.

Building on international and regional instruments, the module emphasises the importance of the protection of fundamental rights for all migrants and members of their families, regardless of their status and in any jurisdiction.

The module is particularly relevant, as access to health-care, non-refoulement, non-discrimination and data protection become even more important during health emergencies.

Moreover, vulnerable groups such as children, women, elderly people, the border community, small scale cross-border traders, and transporters may become more at risk of seeing their rights violated for different reasons.

Willie Eselebor, Nigerian researcher, formerly part of the Nigerian Immigration Service and MIEUX+ expert for this project, highlighted that: “The primacy of human rights calls for human rights to be at the centre of all border management activities. Crossing a border without the proper documents constitute an administrative violation. Nobody should be addressed or considered as ‘illegal’, but rather undocumented or irregular and be granted access to fundamental human rights”.

During health emergencies, the State has a particularly important role to play in upholding rights and reducing vulnerability to rights violations in all spheres and at all levels.

What comes next?

Informed and trained border managers play a key role in ensuring preparedness for future emergencies. The first rollout of the training course was welcomed with interest and enthusiasm by participants, who are now ready to pass on the acquired knowledge to colleagues in their organisation.

MIEUX+ and the COMESA Secretariat will finalise the training tools and make them accessible to Member States so they will have the chance to replicate the course and train their practitioners at the local level or headquarters.

Related resources:

Implications of COVID-19 on border management in the COMESA region - MIEUX Initiative (mieux-initiative.eu)

Developing communication tools to address migration phenomena - MIEUX Initiative (mieux-initiative.eu)