Borders, sovereignty and regional integration in pandemic times
Some general considerations
In a global scenario shocked by the emergence of a pandemic that puts economic systems, social orders and cultural traditions in crisis mode, and which essentially forces us to rethink and to reevaluate ourselves in many aspects, from State policies to the most intimate issues of our daily life, the government of Argentina has implemented a series of measures whose structural axis can be synthesized in the phrase of President Alberto Fernández: "Facing the choice of economy or life, we choose life".
As the first woman in charge of the National Agency of Migration (DNM) since its creation 71 years ago, I had the challenge and the responsibility of generating and executing many of the actions that make up the public policies promoted to contain the expansion of the Covid-19 coronavirus in our national territory. This, within a decentralized body that depends on the Ministry of the Interior, whose Minister, Wado de Pedro, has the added task of having to articulate actions with the provincial and municipal governments of different political parties, a perspective that we contemplate in each decision we make.
Regarding the National Agency of Migration
Argentina has a border of approximately 15,000 kilometers, along which there are 237 authorized border crossings; of which 95 are land-crossings, 103 are situated on rivers and coastlines, and 39 are aerial. To carry out the task of controlling the passage in and out of our national territory, Migrations provides services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, registering more than 73 million annual transits on average. Likewise, it controls the permanence of foreigners and grants residences.
For these reasons, facing the onset of Covid-19, the DNM has become part of the first line of defense against the advance of what was initially an incipient virus of which little was known besides its lethality. Thus, we were forced to redefine our practices, maximizing the levels of protection for male and female workers, a task done in such a way that no agent so far has contracted the coronavirus. Likewise, the incorporation of new technologies has made it feasible for many of the procedures normally carried out by the organization to be carried out remotely.
Phenomenology of a State policy
March 13. President Alberto Fernández signed a Decree of Necessity and Urgency (DNU) declaring a health emergency, which involved, among other issues, the declaration of areas affected by the pandemic (United States, Japan, China and Europe). From this point on, restrictions were established regarding procedures for the entry into the country of people arriving from those areas. In addition, a crisis committee was created with the participation of DNM. Migrations incorporated thermal cameras at the Ezeiza International Airport and implemented stricter procedures with regards to data collection that could, for example, detect people close to a passenger who manifested symptoms.
March 16. A prohibition for the entry of foreigners who do not have residence in Argentina was established, at a moment when there was still no viral circulation in the country and all cases were considered imported. This measure was taken at the precise time when cruise season was at its peak, with arrivals from different parts of the world, some carrying passengers who presented symptoms. Therefore, a limitation was issued regarding cruises that forced us to create safe capsules next to the embassies, which provided for the transfer from the port to Ezeiza of their citizens and from there, to each country of origin.
March 26th. The full closure of borders was decreed, which determined for the first time in history that even Argentine citizens could not enter the country. This drastic measure was due to the fact that cases had been detected of people who boarded airplanes without reporting their existing symptoms, some even taking medication to mask them, with the resulting need to isolate all passengers and crew members. During the five days of prohibition, specific protocols were put into place to receive travelers from foreign countries. Again, we had to come up with new protocols.
April 1st. A partial opening of borders was carried out by a joint commission including various offices of State: Chief of Staff; Foreign Ministry; Ministry of Transport; Ministry of Security; Ministry of Health; Ministry of Interior; and Customs, to enable entry into the country through the five crossings that were open with specific protocols: Paso de los Libres / Uruguayana (Federative Republic of Brazil) / Gualeguaychu / Fray Bentos (Eastern Republic of Uruguay) / Salvador Mazza / Yacuiba (Plurinational State of Bolivia) / Cristo Redentor (Republic of Chile) / San Sebastián (Republic of Chile). In addition, the commission established the Ezeiza International Airport as a safe air corridor and airport for authorized international flights and the Palomar Airport for medical flights by the Argentine Air Force.
Microphysics of public policy
To say that the Argentine Republic went from 237 open crossings for the entry and exit of people to merely 7 points of border-crossing, would provide an initial approximation to the scope of the measures that were taken in order to contain the expansion of the coronavirus. In addition, in the five land crossings (not counting the two airports), only 500 Argentine citizens or resident foreigners are allowed to transit daily, and only after carrying out the immigration process, where they must sign an affidavit denying any close contact with people infected with Covid-19, ruling out any symptoms compatible with the virus and declaring the address where they pledge to carry out the mandatory quarantine. In addition, they must download the Covid-19 application from the Ministry of Health and undergo a medical examination.
In addition to the aforementioned, due to the federal nature of the Ministry of the Interior and in accordance with the indications of the Minister, we have developed an online computing platform that provides the governors with updated information on the people who enter our national territory and intend to carry out the quarantine in their provinces, in addition to informing them of the origin of the entrants as well as any related vehicles that are also prohibited from circulating.
Perspectives of a new world order
In conclusion, and assuming the risks involved in venturing opinions about a phenomenon that is currently an undergoing process, I adventure to say that the only sure thing is that the way in which the country decides its public policies with regards to migration and the ways in which citizens re establish their bonds with one another, will in no way be separate from current state of affairs.
Regarding the DNM, we are determined to guarantee the maximum security in each of the areas of our concern, for instance contributing to the airport being an even safer place than the supermarket in terms of the spread of the virus. This will require the convergence of many wills, including that of airlines, which must reduce their capacity on each flight to ensure the necessary distance and therefore minimize the possibility of contagion.
Maria Florencia Carignano is the National Director of Migrations. She has a degree in International Relations (University of El Salvador), a Masters in European Union Studies, University of Salamanca. She is a Specialist in International Relations and Negotiations, FLACSO, University of San Andrés and University of Barcelona.