(LANKAPUVATH | COLOMBO) –The International Organization for Migration (IOM), in partnership with relevant ministries of the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the Government of Maldives (GoM) launched a regional project ‘Strengthening Capacity of Border Control for Responding to Infectious Diseases in Southwest Asia’ on 18 October 2022.
With a fund of USD 8.6 million, provided by the Government of Japan (GoJ), the project intends to strengthen overall border management capacities in Sri Lanka and the Republic of the Maldives to prevent the spread of infectious diseases that would otherwise impede the revitalization of human mobility, the Embassy of Japan in Sri Lanka announced.
The dramatic reduction in human mobility has been one of the most significant effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. This had major economic and social impacts in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, which are heavily reliant upon income from international tourism, labor migration and business travel.
The border closures and associated restrictions disrupted regular trade exchanges and impacted migration flows, as well as exposed border management agencies and cross-border communities to higher risks of infection.
Speaking on the timeliness of the project, Ambassador of Japan to Sri Lanka Hideaki Mizukoshi said that “as Sri Lanka has been actively attracting international tourists and expects to see an increase in the number of tourists in the future, strengthening border control capacity to prevent outbreaks of infectious diseases and ensure the safety of staff and travelers is a very meaningful initiative that will contribute significantly to economic recovery from the current economic crisis and further economic growth in Sri Lanka, where tourism is one of the main industries.”
The component of the project focusing on Sri Lanka will improve safety and security, and support process efficiency at primary points of entry (PoEs) to ensure more effective preparedness and proactive response to potential public health emergencies due to infectious disease outbreaks.
Dr. Asela Gunawardena, the Director General of Health Services, Ministry of Health asserted that “this will strengthen the infrastructure facilities and mobility of border health staff at the PoEs, enhancing the health security of the country whilst providing services on par with international standards, which will further enhance the implementing provisions of the International Health Regulations 2005 (IHR 2005).”
The project will thus help interventions at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) at Katunayake and the Colombo Port in Sri Lanka in compliance with International Health Regulations with approximately 800 PoE personnel and officers in Sri Lanka trained, in addition to the provision of improved infrastructure.
“The on-going pandemic and the resultant impact to the Aviation sector makes this project timely and critical,” said Major General (Rtd.) G. A. Chandrasiri, Chairman of the Sri Lankan Airport & Aviation Services. He further stated that “the holistic approach to focus on coordination with all Border Management Agencies and the sustainability of interventions will strengthen our border security, compliance with International Health Regulatory requirements at the borders and enhance the passenger experience at BIA.”
Designed to enable secure and safe operations at PoEs to augur international travel, boost traveler confidence and prompt a return to pre-pandemic levels of cross-border mobility, the project will address gaps in passenger processing and health screening systems at PoEs through a combination of new technology, infrastructure, procedures, training, and renovation works.
This will streamline the management of traveler information, reduce waiting times, implement contactless processes and procedures by border control personnel. The project will also institute infection prevention measures and emergency response modalities and guarantee the safe disposal of potentially hazardous medical waste at PoEs, resulting in a safe environment for staff, travelers and crew while reducing harmful environmental and health impacts. Travelers and other personnel working at the PoEs will be the main beneficiaries of this initiative, aside from the airport and seaport workers and officials.
“Designed on the lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic, this project is anchored to IOM’s strategy on Migration and Sustainable Development and will support Sri Lanka and the Maldives to respond to future disease outbreaks and health threats,” said Sarat Dash, Chief of Mission to IOM Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
“IOM will work closely with its host government partners to harness the development benefits of migration while ensuring a hassle-free and dignified process for international travelers, including the migrant population,” he added.