Immigration officers assigned in eight of the 15 counties will begin carrying personal defensive equipment while on duty, the Commissioner of the Bureau has announced.
The Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (BIN) Commissioner, Cllr. Lemuel Reeves, said the best of 150 officers from the Border Patrol Unit (BPU) would be selected following rigid vetting to participate in a thorough combat training, as well as in the usage, management, storage and control of lethal weapons.
Commissioner Reeves stated that successful officers will carry firearms and other defense gear, which will include pepper spray, batons and handcuffs, at the land borders.
Commissioner Reeves updated the Daily Observer in an exclusive interview on Thursday, April 7, at their new headquarters in Sinkor Airfield.
He said the armed border officers will be trained by soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) to enhance mobile and foot patrols at the land borders in Nimba, Grand Gedeh, Grand Cape Mount, Gbarpolu, Bong, Lofa, River Gee and Maryland counties.
“This will be the first time that BIN officers will carry firearms since the Liberia civil crisis ended in 2003 followed by the subsequent security reform process,” Cllr. Reeves said, adding, “The vetting and training will be meticulous.”
He indicated that the country has 176 entry points including the borders with Sierra Leone, Guinea and the Ivory Coast.
According to Commissioner Reeves, only 45 of the 176 entry points are manned of which 23 of the 45 have infrastructures (depots), while the remaining 23 do not have shelters for the officers.
He said the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has provided eight tents and additional eight are expected for the 23 entry points where officers are assigned, but do not have structures.
Meanwhile, in furtherance of its preparations to man the borders amid the final drawdown of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), Cllr. Reeves said between now and January, 2018, the BIN will recruit 1,500 personnel to add to the existing 2,600 officers on active duty.
He pointed out that about 250 officers are already in training in Sinje, adding that an increment in salaries of BIN officers is under consideration, as well as the supply of uniforms and other logistics.
However, it is yet to be known whether the 2016 Liberia Immigration Service Act, which is still in the Legislature, will grant autonomy to immigration to empower it to meet current challenges, such as making provision for the officers to carry arms.