Saturday, March 14, 2015

Border Crossings.

Hopefully, this will not be me!  (Image from joyreactor)
I
 imagine that back in the Silk Road days, that there were no border crossings in Central Asia.  Camel caravans just trekked along as they needed to to reach their final destinations.

I also don't think that border crossings were an issue when the *stans* were part of the Soviet Union.


Since becoming independent from the Soviet Union, the five countries have had to manage their newly established borders amongst them selves, as well as previously existing borders with China, Afghanistan and Iran.

The countries have been faced with the ongoing task to both build an entire border management infrastructure and, more importantly, to train the people that service these borders to the appropriate level.  Among the many challenges they have faced are thousands of kilometers of new international borders. 

The map below, from Caravanistan.com,  pinpoints all the border crossings in the region.  You can just imagine the scale of the border management effort for each country!

Click here for the full map.
Color Legend:
Green: No problem
Yellow: Possible problems
Red: Closed
Azure: Bilateral border crossing: only for residents of the 2 countries of the border crossing.
Purple: Not enough information
Blue: Other border crossings on the Silk road. Not researched and updated.

Additional challenges include:
  • Weak border control capacity and a Soviet-era approach to border management and drug control.
  • Lack of coordination between the different national law enforcement services.
  • Lack of coordination between governments of the regi
Not surprisingly, the countries struggled and as a result, there was a significant rise in cross-border crime and trafficking in drugs, weapons, and sadly, human beings.

Properly managed borders are essential to promoting legitimate trade and transit in the region, ensuring security and stability and furthering the prosperity of the five Central Asian countries.

To help address the region's border management needs, the EU launched the Border Management Assistance Programme in Central Asia  (BOMCA) in 2003 and since that time has contributed over €33.5 million in funding to the program.  The program is carried out by the UNDP.  It is one of the largest EU-UNDP programs in the region.

Since its inception, BOMCA has supported the construction and equipping of:

52 border crossing points;
6 training centers for border guards and 4 dormitories for training centers;
4 dog-training centers and 3 veterinary units;
14 drug profiling units.
Also, over 2500 border-force and border-customs officers were trained and participated in study tours.

As described on the UNDP project website:
"BOMCA's main strategy is to promote the stability and security of Central Asian states through integrated border management and regional cooperation. The programme aims to contribute toward the facilitation of legitimate trade and transit; and to reduce the illicit movement of goods and people.

The underlying strategy of BOMCA is to bring about institutional reform by gradual change through the training and exposure of Central Asian border and customs leadership to European best practices in border management. The main component of BOMCA is capacity development for integrated border management. The partnership also assists with equipment and infrastructure and with modernization and upgrading of training facilities.

BOMCA is also supporting countries in Central Asia in their pursuit of regional economic development and trade facilitation with neighboring countries and between Central Asia and the EU member states."

In addition to the EU, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has also approved a $2 million technical assistance grant for a feasibility study for the upgrading and modernization of border management facilities and infrastructure needs at the borders of six priority road corridors as well as funding to identify how to integrate information systems to be used by relevant government agencies to review and process documents prior to the arrival of goods at the border.

Before I had even finished my reading on Central Asian border crossings I had already come to the conclusion that traveling between the countries will not necessarily be easy.  Arrival formalities at the border can take some time to negotiate. We will have to clear customs and passport control for the country we are leaving and then go through the procedure again for the country we are arriving in. From many accounts, we may have to spend up to one or two hours at the border but things will likely go smoother as we will be accompanied by a local guide.....I hope!

I counted the number of crossings we have to do and tried to determine what kinds of issues we will face.  So, we have 6 crossings as follows:

Day 4.  Uzbekistan to Tajikistan
Day 6.  Tajikstan to Uzbekistan (not a roundtrip with Day 4)
Day 13.  Uzbekistan to Turkmenistan
Day 16.  Turkmenistan to Uzbekistan
Day 19.  Uzbekistan to Kyrgyzstan
Day 23.  Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan

First off, every time we enter and leave Uzbekistan (three entries including when we arrive from the US), we have to declare the types and amounts of each currency in our possession.  Taking out more foreign money than we bring into Uzbekistan can lead to heavy fines. We each will have to fill in 2 declaration forms - one that we hand over to the immigration officer and the other one, we keep.  When departing Uzbekistan, we will have to fill in another form declaring the amount of currency in our possession and that would include whatever USD we have and whatever other local currency we pick up along the way.  This form needs to be handed over together with the form we filled in on arrival.  This is going to be such a hassle but what to do?  Patience....we must just be patient! 

Our first two border crossings will be between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Vehicles with Tajik number plates may not cross the border into Uzbekistan and while Uzbek vehicles may enter Tajikistan, they must pay a tax at the border.  According to our itinerary, we will be taken as far as the border and after clearing immigration and customs, we will then we will have to pick up a new guide and driver on the other side.  This is no different than going through the formalities at any other border except we have a new guide and driver.  My main concern is that I have read that sometimes the Uzbek government will close their borders without prior notice so we will need to make sure the driver and guide for whatever country we are departing won't themselves leave the border facility until we have cleared entry in to the other country.  Otherwise, we'll be stranded!

Photo from Chronicles of Turkmenistan
Crossing back and forth between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan will present another set of challenges.

For entry in to Turkmenistan, we each have to purchase a migration card for $12 USD.  We'll have crisp, new USD bills with us so hopefully, there won't be any issues with money....like the bills look so new that they look fake!

When we get to the border crossing, we  will be dropped off and will have to complete customs and visa formalities on our own - our guide is not allowed to assist us.  After that we, will have to walk across a 1.5 kilometer wide neutral zone that separates the two countries.  Luckily, both of us have wheeled luggage so we can well manage.  Otherwise, apparently, we can  pay a baggage handler with a wheelbarrow or cart to transport our luggage for us.  We'll just have to see how things go.  We'll then meet up with a new driver and guide.

The last two border crossings - Uzbekistan to Kyrgyzstan and Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan seem to be hassle free except for the exit formalities for Uzbekistan.  The only thing we need to expect is long lines.  Again, patience!  Going from Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan, we get to keep the same driver and guide!

After having read what I've read, I've come to the conclusion that we just have to be well prepared which means asking our guides tons of questions as to what we have to do to make it across each crossing and then be patient when we are at the border. It's all part of the adventure!