Global Security Bulletin March 2020
Author: Peter Cooper, Global Security Director.
Peter has held lead roles at two of the world’s top Travel Risk Management services firms, delivering security solutions and evacuation plans in countries such as the Ukraine and Nigeria. He also served in the British Army in a variety of roles as an Officer in the Royal Military Police. Peter is responsible for ensuring robust monitoring and crisis response procedures to support Collinson’s businesses travel services with proactive security advice.
This month's security bulletin focuses on:
- COVID-19 Coronavirus
- South Sudan
While you may have seen my colleague Dr. Simon Worrell’s comprehensive updates on coronavirus, which you can read here, I wanted to reinforce the role that we as security professionals and leaders in the business have to play in managing this situation and keeping it under control. Those of us in the security field may well find ourselves having to provide direction and answer questions, especially if you work internally for a corporation and not for an assistance company with its own medical team. Yes, COVID-19 is concerning and actions need to be taken, however we do not need to panic.
Making sure that we implement proportionate measures and escalate these based on evidence and trigger points rather than making knee-jerk reactions, will go a long way to maintaining a calm work force. Of course, regular communications with staff, including giving them the opportunity to raise issues and to get questions answered is key as nature abhors a vacuum - if you don’t fill the informational void, rumour and conjecture will.
Whilst I look at a few different situations across the global, all of these can also be viewed through the lens of COVID-19 (especially Chile). As more restrictions come into force, protest and other activity may well die down naturally as people look to protect themselves. It remains to be seen how things will look as we come out the other side of the pandemic.
The unrest that has been occurring in Chile since October last year (initially triggered by a price rise for the Santiago metro system) has shown signs of new life following the end of the summer holidays. The return to work on 2 March saw a “Super Monday” of protests following sporadic protests throughout January and February which featured accusations of heavy-handed tactics by the security forces – notably on 29 January when some Carabineros were caught on security cameras beating a young protester. Protests are planned to continue, and it remains to be seen if President Pinera can do anything to allay the concerns of the protesters in the short term. Organisations and travellers should ensure they remain up to date on planned protests and remain flexible with travel arrangements.
The announcement of the formation of an interim government on the 22 February concluded months of difficult negotiations between long-time rivals Salva Kiir and Riek Machar. Whilst met with optimism, the formation of the transitional unity government marks the start of a process, not the end. Let us not forget that we have been here before in 2013 and 2016 when Machar served as Kiir’s vice president. The ability of the two strong men to work together and further develop the peace building process is key and it is in this that they failed in previous attempts. The positives include a ramped-up sense of international oversight which should help to keep both sides honest – however, given the prior disappointments, international donors are likely to remain sceptical and maintaining a good level of financial support will play an important role in facilitating positive developments. Kiir and Machar will have to show positive commitment to help keep the fiscal taps turned on. In the short term, travel to South Sudan will be likely be easier for international travellers (although in line with current security recommendations), but as we have seen before the situation can change remarkably quickly so trying to stay aware of any changes in rhetoric from either Kiir or Machar or their supporters posture may serve as a warning that a change is imminent.
Turkey’s recent actions are of some interest and I think that it is worth keeping an eye on what is going on as it continues its actions within Syria. There is a concerted effort by Turkey to consolidate gains in northern Syria as they strengthen their hold around Idlib. The Russian angle in this is also incredibly interesting. It looks as though Turkey’s use of drones may have helped to convince Russia that an out-and-out conflict was not a good option. Turkey’s actions, around the start of March, amounted to a fully-fledged act of war as Syrian forces took control of Saraqeb, rebel positions around Idlib began to fracture and thousands of refugees departed for the Turkish border. In order to bolster Idlib, Turkey deployed regular army units to support the rebels which resulted in battles between the Syrian regime forces and the Turkish military. Turkey inflicted heavy damage on the Syrian forces utilising several different assets to do so. This was a bold move as it risked drawing Russia directly into the conflict, however it appears that the Turks’ drone programme - utilised very successfully in this action - may have made the Russians think twice. Indeed, as of 16 March joint Russian/Turkish patrols along the M4 highway have been undertaken, suggesting that the Turkish brokered ceasefire agreed earlier this month is developing well.
Tied to Turkish operations in Syria is their recent decision to open its borders with Europe to allow refugees to cross. Turkey claims that the EU has failed to keep a promise to pay 65 billion euros to Turkey in order to curb migrant numbers. There may also be an element of pressure to gain more diplomatic support for its actions in Syria. The EU and Turkey held a meeting on Monday 9 March to discuss the current migration deal, and although no decisive outcomes were agreed upon, we can be sure that the process will continue. The ramifications of the new Turkish policy are already being felt in Greece, where vigilante groups have started to form in order to impede the progress of suspected refugees. There have been altercations between these groups and the Greek police, with rubber bullets and tear gas being used. Additionally, there have been reports of NGO workers and journalists being targeted for perceived sympathies towards the refugees.
In the short term this has no real impact on business travel, although as always avoiding demonstrations is a good rule of thumb to be borne in mind if visiting Greece. However, the entire situation is an interesting dynamic with potential to evolve in the coming weeks and months.
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