Joint Monitoring at Borders: practice of the Georgian and Armenian NHRIs in cooperation with UNHCR
Guest article by Tamta Papuashvili (Office of the Public Defender of Georgia) and Sergey Ghazinyan (Office of the Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia)
Human rights monitoring at borders is a key function of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs). In this guest article, the Office of the Public Defender of Georgia and the Human Rights Defender of Armenia share their experience and identify the benefits of inter-NHRI cooperation, including through joint visits at borders.
According to their national constitutions and legislation, both NHRIs are vested with a mandate to monitor the human rights situation of migrants, stateless persons, asylum seekers and persons under international protection and they address recommendations to their national authorities based on the findings of their monitoring activities. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has been cooperating with the Georgian and Armenian NHRIs on capacity-building projects on statelessness, migration and asylum issues. The joint monitoring is the result of this cooperation.
In this guest article, the NHRIs share their experience and the benefits of conducting joint visits at borders to monitor the human rights of migrants and to provide recommendations for further protection at borders.
Joint monitoring of Georgia-Armenia state border
The joint monitoring was conducted thanks to a joint initiative led by the UNHCR, in cooperation with border and migration authorities of both countries, as well as the Armenian Red Cross Society (ARCS). The visits took place at the Armenian-Georgia state border (at the border crossing points of Ninotsminda-Bavra, Guguti-Gogavan and Sadakhlo-Bagratashen) and monitored the activities of border guards responsible for green border areas (Border Police Main Divisions of Akhaltsikhe and Red Bridge in Georgia, and Pushkino Border Guards Squad in Armenia).
The joint visits focused on monitoring of access to asylum procedures at border, possible cases on violence, irregular border crossings and denial of entry/returns. The monitoring revealed that border authorities of both countries possessed a general knowledge of migration and asylum-related issues and were aware of national and international legislations. However, it also acknowledged that additional capacity-building is needed to keep border guards updated on legislation and referral mechanisms to prevent violation of the non-refoulement principle and ensure that asylum seekers are not charged with criminal offences.
During the mission, the participants met with border management authorities and toured the facilities to better understand the practicalities related to identification, reception and referral procedures for persons in need of international protection on both sides of the border.
The joint border visits were followed by a workshop for senior border officials responsible for the official border crossing points, and for border guards responsible for the green border. The Patrol Police Department and the Border Police of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of the Republic of Georgia and the Border Guard Troops of the National Security Service (NSS) of the Republic of Armenia are the frontline agencies that first come into contact with foreigners or stateless persons crossing the state border of Georgia and Armenia. Entry officials play a crucial role in facilitating effective access to international protection, which can be achieved by proactive identification of those who may be in need of international protection, providing them with relevant information on the right to seek asylum and referring them to appropriate institutions.
The event provided a forum for experience exchange on ensuring access to territory and to asylum procedures, proper identification of and assistance for asylum-seekers and most vulnerable persons among them, referral procedures and best practices available. A Frontex official shared the EU standards of treatment at the border of persons in need of international protection and presented how adhering to fundamental rights enhances performance of border officials.
The initiative helped facilitate cooperation between the Armenian and Georgian border officials through communication and information exchange on the existing practices related to asylum procedures at the border and assisted in developing a common understanding of a protection-sensitive border governance with exchange of good practices and potential for future cooperation. The initiative received a positive feedback by participants, and border authorities of the two countries have expressed the need to ensure a continuous cooperation through further exchange visits, joint consultations, and other means.
The added value of joint monitoring and cooperation
The joint monitoring practice carried out by us at the Armenian and Georgian NHRIs, in cooperation with UNHCR, served to raise awareness on the right to asylum as a part of our work to protect and promote human rights.
Based on the findings of the visits, we presented concrete suggestions to our respective state authorities and are involved in follow-up activities.
During this joint monitoring exercise, we have been closely cooperating and have engaged in a fruitful exchange of information and monitoring methodology regarding asylum cases. Thanks to this cooperation, we had a unique opportunity to learn from one another and find common solutions to carry out our respective mandates effectively in the context of asylum and migration. By enhancing our capacity and improving our methodology, we were able to present more accurate findings following our visits and make more impactful recommendations to state authorities afterwards.
The involvement of international experts in border visits has also proved helpful to familiarize state officials with practices and procedures on the spot and to provide more targeted recommendations for improvements in line with international standards and practices for protection-sensitive border governance.