H.E. Anick Van Calster: Blaming Refugees Will Not Help Combat Terror

Novinite Insider » DIPLOMATIC CHANNEL | Author: Angel Petrov |April 13, 2016, Wednesday // 22:10| Views: | Comments: 4
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Bulgaria: H.E. Anick Van Calster: Blaming Refugees Will Not Help Combat Terror Photo Courtesy of Embassy of Kingdom of Belgium to Bulgaria

Novinite has asked Belgium's Ambassador to Bulgaria, H.E. Anick van Calster, to comment on how Brussels is recovering following the deadly attacks at the city's Zaventem airport and at a metro station that killed 32 people from around the world and left hundreds injured.

News broadcasts reported after the attacks last Tuesday that Brussels would "never be the same". Three weeks on from the deadly events, do you agree and if yes, would you elaborate? Is Brussels returning to its normal rhythm already?

The terror attacks were a shock for all of us, and I personally feel for all the victims and their beloved ones. When a city is struck by disaster, it leaves its marks, of course, we have unfortunately already seen that in other cities. People have to find a place for their sadness, fear, anger, and many other feelings. In Brussels, very quickly, a kind of memorial was set up near “la Bourse”, where people gather to pay tribute, to show solidarity, and also strength. They have been drawing, lighting candles, singing together and much more. We saw a very diverse group of people there from different origins, religions, nationalities, political convictions… In this way the inhabitants of Brussels have shown their resilience and family members living in Brussels tell me they have taken up their normal routine again. The city is quieter, mainly people from outside have decided not to come. Public transportation has been reestablished, although there are some limitations in the services. There are daily updates on the website of the Brussels public transportation operator.

The Zaventem airport is building up operations again. The first flights left Zaventem on April 03, and work is being done to go back to normal traffic as soon as possible.

Belgium has repeatedly been criticized by European analysts for not keeping certain neighborhoods in sight. Are there any measures that can be taken to reverse or even prevent radicalization in the areas in question?

Belgium was one of the first countries that raised awareness about the phenomenon of Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTF). We have also been monitoring radicalization since many years. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean we have found the way to tackle this radicalization or to completely stop FTF to leave. Still, their numbers have gone down tremendously, to one third of what they were.

It is also important to point out that several paths have been followed in parallel.

Within the EU, Belgium has an outstanding record in bringing alleged terrorists to court. Since 2010 140 people have been brought to court on terrorism charges, more than 85 were convicted. Several terrorist cells have been destroyed, such as the one in Verviers in January 2015. Recently, several terror suspects have been arrested alive following the Paris and Brussels attacks, they could provide us with precious information.

On the other hand there is prevention and we have de-radicalization programs. In other European countries we have also seen similar programs. It seems, however, that they were not successful enough. Our understanding of the processes is incomplete. On the one hand, we see that some radicalized people come back to reason and become even active in de-radicalization initiatives. On the other hand, we see other people turn from a life full of parties, drugs and alcohol, a life not particularly pious to the standards of any religion, to a murderous, suicidal behavior under the cover of religious martyrdom in only weeks.

After disasters like these, we see many Cassandra’s stand up and pretend that they had knowledge of the right recipe all along. Still, Brussels joined a long list of cities that have been touched by atrocious attacks, in Europe, such as Madrid, London or Paris, and outside Europe, such as Beirut, Baghdad, Baltimore and many more.

I would dare to compare this scourge to a disease that has struck our societies. As with a disease, it takes time to develop cures, vaccines. It is a challenge that we have to face together, walking the paths of repression and prevention at the same time, and trying to strengthen our societies, by working on “vaccines” and “cures”.

You said in a recent interview freedom should not be sacrificed for security and that one should strike a balance. What do you think is the alternative if one is to make sure such atrocities will never happen again?

Absolute security doesn’t exist in open, democratic societies. Several heads of state, for example, have been murdered, notwithstanding their extensive protection by elite-troops or security agents. But even in the most absolutist regimes, such events have occurred, so we have to accept the fact that total security doesn’t exist anywhere.

To keep an open and democratic society, it is important to strike a balance. This balance between security and freedom is a delicate one in a democracy. I am sure we will continue to see many political debates about the needed level of security measures. There is a technical, objective, aspect to it but also a political one. This is about how to guarantee personal freedom and privacy but also about how to spend the national budget, and balance expenditures such as security, law enforcement, education, social programs, health care and others posts on the budget.

Are the attacks bringing about a change to Belgium's stance on migration?

It is important not to mix terror and refugees, as we see some people do.

We have been attacked not by refugees, but by people who were born and raised in our countries. It is a fact that puzzles us, but one thing is sure: blaming the refugees will not help us any further in combating this form of terror.

Is the closure of all internal borders what Europe needs for the moment, as some countries advocate? 

Free movement of the citizens is one of the basic principles in the European Union. Open internal borders were also very important for the development of the economy, of this other pillar, the common market. Belgium has a very open economy, and international relations are very important both for trade and between citizens, especially with our neighbors. It is only in exceptional circumstances and for short periods that we can go back to internal border controls.

Speaking about the internal borders cannot happen without discussion about the external border – and these discussions are going on. They are about strengthening the external border, more exchange of information on passengers in planes, trains… This is a field in which we will see changes, but I can already tell you that for Belgians closing of borders with our neighbors would be difficult to accept.

After the attacks, a new solution to eradicate the terror threat should certainly be found in Brussels. But are Belgian or European institutions that should take the lead in this process? Is more political integration or something else needed to address such challenges?

You are certainly aware that Belgium is in favor of further European integration in many fields– also in the field of security. We continue our action within the EU for more intensive cooperation, also in the field of intelligence sharing. We welcomed the EU Minister’s Justice and Home Affairs conclusions in this regard.

We have been pleading for better European intelligence exchange and have been one of the largest contributors to Europol’s and Schengen’s database. Our agencies are in touch with 90 agencies from over 60 countries. We are faced with common threats and so it is only by facing them together that we can become more effective. Even if we already have excellent cooperation with many partner countries, and if arrests were made in several countries thanks to these exchanges, we will continue to plead for even more and even better exchange of information. Maybe a new agency will see the light at one level or another, but more important than the question of setting up a new structure or not is to make sure that we have the most performant possible exchange of information and the best possible cooperation with our partners.

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Tags: Anick Van Calster, Belgium, Brussels attacks, Zaventem, refugees
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» To the forumComments (4)
Ivailo Ivanov - 13 Apr 2016 // 22:53:59

The concept of combating of terror is false.. The terror has well defined political purpose..it is legitimate politically motivated and strategically justified hostile action.... in general especially in West Europe the Muslim population supports the terror. you are left with nothing bu combating terror .(empty words). it will inevitably transform into guerrilla warfare..

Ivailo Ivanov - 13 Apr 2016 // 22:47:14

the top bankers recently published report that the EU countries can increase their debt with 60% and it will increase the productivity.. we are paying for these productivity with the children that our doters will not deliver.. this is the basic reality.. it is cruel and stupid to believe that our unborn children can be replaced.. this newcomers will not be the right substitute.

Ivailo Ivanov - 13 Apr 2016 // 22:42:34

With her invitation Merkel caused suffering to millions of people.. Why she is still in power?? Why on top of Europe is an expert in tax evasion.??. why EU bureaucracy is not facing the problem but trying to hide from it and making it biger?? These refugees will radicalize.. Europe with its extreme hypocrisy will radicalize them.. it is 100% sure. than why they are still invited and not dealt with efficiency??

Ivailo Ivanov - 13 Apr 2016 // 22:36:52

We are not blaming the refugees. They are victims. And they are heading towards lonely and unhappy live in Europe. Which will radicalize them. We are blaming the irresponsible and destructive political system in Europe which, blindly and foolishly have caused these crises..and serves the liberal system of usury, which is destroying the population of all the European countries. It is destroying the people prohibiting their reproduction..and some rich maniacs decided that they can substitute with migrants our unborn children and grandchildren.

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