The multiple terror attacks in Brussels last week shocked the world yet again. They were even more unnerving because they hit the nerve centre of the European Union (EU)- Brussels, where offices of prominent EU institutions such as the European Commission and the Council of the European Union. It is true that there have been constant attacks by terrorists in other places as well recently, like Ivory Coast and Iraq. The question however, is not which attacks are discussed more but the underlying loopholes in the security system that are exposed.
In Brussels, there were twin blasts at the airport and a blast at a metro station on the route to most EU institutions. This has brought into focus two major issues- the standard of security checks at the airport and how much longer can a ‘borderless’ EU continue to function, in the face of the very real and imminent threat posed by terror groups.
Firstly, as to security at airports, it has been pointed out by experts that while in India, only passengers are allowed to enter the check-in area of the airport, the scenario is much more lax in many European airports where visitors can enter the area with the check-in counters and in fact, move till the security check gates, without having been checked themselves. In India, visitors can buy a ticket to enter a separate area to see off their near and dear ones. However, here too, the area is isolated from the main area by soundproof glass. Also, the baggage of passengers is only screened after check-in. Essentially, there is no security measure from when one enters the airport gate, all the way up till the check-in counter. Only in some airports, such as the one in Srinagar, are passengers’ bags screened before they enter the airport terminal. In fact, due to the sensitivity of the area, there are multiple security checks even in the vicinity of the Srinagar airport, starting a kilometer before the airport. Passengers’ cars are also thoroughly checked before being allowed to proceed. While implementing such strict measures may seem paranoid and impractical, the fact of the matter is that the present times and level of threat warrant such measures. As they say, ‘prevention is better than cure’.
Secondly, the Schengen Zone of the EU, which prides itself in allowing hassle-free movement throughout the member countries of the Zone, also sees a big question mark put on it. It is well-known that not all countries that are part of the EU have signed on for this Schengen Agreement. For instance, UK has taken exception to this. This means that while one may travel without a visa from Germany to Belgium, one would need a visa to enter the UK. It would be wise to suspend the Schengen Agreement for now, considering how attackers are finding it easy to commute, coordinate and execute attacks and then flee to other hideouts. For example, one of the main suspects in the Paris terror attacks fled to Belgium after the attacks and it was only some hours after he had left France, that strict border checking began, thus, enabling his easy escape.
Freedom of movement is definitely something we should strive for and pride ourselves in as human beings, but when threats like this loom, one must also be pragmatic. Closing borders or backing off is not a solution. In order to defeat these inhuman forces, there needs to be smart and calculated thinking, checking at borders and airports and other nodes of transport. There is no need to give in to hate or take panic-stricken drastic measures- there is a need to be one step ahead and face this together.
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