Statement by His Excellency the Governor Augustus J.U. Jaspert
On Strengthening Our Security
25 September, 2020
I would like to provide an update on plans for further UK support that will strengthen the integrity of our borders and improve the security of the people of the British Virgin Islands.
There has been a great deal of discussion on this topic in recent months – not only private discussions in the National Security Council, but also public debate in communities across BVI. We all recognise the challenge at hand, which is to protect and secure our wide sea borders from illegal entries, the smuggling of narcotics and money, and the ongoing threat of COVID-19. We have long faced vulnerabilities of our waters being abused by a very small minority and the risks of COVID-19 have heightened these vulnerabilities.
A great deal of hard work has already gone into tackling this challenge. In March, we took decisive action to close the borders in response to COVID-19 and set up the Joint Task Force - made up of officers from the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force, the Immigration Department, and Her Majesty’s Customs. Officers have worked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with limited resources and under intense pressure. Their work has been commendable and has resulted in a number of illegal entries detected and countless more deterred. On behalf of the people of BVI, I would like to say thank you to our law enforcement officers for their work. I am also grateful for the National Security Council’s support to the Joint Task Force.
It is now almost six months since those border restrictions were introduced and it is important that we take stock. During this time, the National Security Council, my team and I have stayed in close contact with the Joint Task Force to understand the evolving challenge and their needs. This has heightened over recent weeks, as BVI has recorded its highest number of COVID-19 cases yet. We cannot know for certain how the recent spike of cases started, but we are well aware of the risks and consequences of just one or two illegal entries to the Territory. Our health teams continue to do excellent work to tackle the virus and I am thankful to the entire community for playing their part by complying with the restrictions and curfews in place. As we start to relax internal restrictions, we need to ensure we are not hampering the progress we make by letting COVID-19 slip in illegally through the back door.
As your Governor, it is my constitutional responsibility to protect the people of BVI and ensure the security of these islands. That is why I made an offer of UK security support earlier in the year, alongside the medical, technical and other support being provided by the UK. I was disappointed that the offer of security support was not accepted at the time, as I felt it was a missed opportunity to enhance our local capability and protect our community from external risks. I have continually pressed this as a priority with colleagues. Now, in light of recent events and subsequent consequences, I feel I must do all in my power to protect the people of the British Virgin Islands and to support our dedicated law enforcement teams.
To tackle the immediate threats to our border security, I am pleased to announce that HMS Medway will shortly return to our waters to offer additional support with surveillance and act as a deterrent. HMS Medway is a British Royal Navy patrol ship, designed for counter-piracy, anti-smuggling, fishery protection and border patrol. She will stay in our vicinity until the end of October and work alongside the RVI Police Force and other members of the Joint Task Force to support patrols and temporary radar arrangements in place. This support will be fully funded by the UK Government, and contributes to ongoing efforts by our regional and international partners to tackle smuggling in this region. The crew will not come on to land and will not meet Joint Task Force officers face-to-face in order to avoid any risks of transmitting the virus.
In addition to this, I am currently preparing a further offer of UK support designed to further build local skills and capability here in BVI. My Office and I have listened to voices not only in the Joint Task Force, but also to those in the community too. I know that people want BVI to be able to take care of its own affairs as much as possible. I understand and fully support this. Therefore, I am working to develop a package of support that will enhance our local capabilities and put in place more permanent surveillance systems to improve security and curb illegal smuggling. I will withhold from disclosing the full details, out of respect for National Security Council members, until plans are discussed and agreed.
What I will say for now, is that we need to send a clear message to those involved in illegal activities and smuggling across our borders that it will not be tolerated. For every illegal landing on our shore, the risk of COVID-19 re-infecting our community returns. As long as our borders are porous, lives are in danger. I am not prepared to take that risk. Only those who benefit from illegal entries and illegal activities stand to gain from porous borders.
I also believe that the return of HMS Medway and offers of further security support from the UK sends a clear message of the UK’s unwavering commitment to the people of BVI and to building capability of these islands for the future.
I hope that, by working in partnership, we can get things right this time around and secure our borders for the long term. As I have stated in many discussions, security is crucial to our COVID-19 response. If we can stop new cases from entering BVI illegally, we can control this virus and keep case numbers down. That means internal restrictions can continue to be eased and further lockdowns avoided, as I am fully aware of the huge impact this has on individuals and businesses. It is vital we learn from our mistakes and give the Joint Task Force the support and investment it needs. I look forward to further discussions with the National Security Council and will endeavour to keep the people of BVI informed on this important matter.