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Enhancing airport security in Nepal

Enhancing airport security in Nepal

International airports have a direct correlation with national security as they are the gateway to a country. Airports are globally considered sensitive infrastructure and every airport has their unique security challenges requiring adequate security provisions and installation to maintain the highest level of trust globally. The international airport demands a robust security apparatus that not only includes security force personnel but also civil service officers responsible for a smooth operation of the airport. It is paramount to have demarcated jurisdictions and clearly-spelled mandates among the stakeholders to avoid duplicity of functions and lapses in security.

Nepal, being a landlocked country and practically having only one functional international airport, faces its own challenges in combating illegal activities. In recent years, Nepali airports are combating the movement of gold and foreign currency, smuggling of illegal items and illicit drugs, and becoming a conduit for human trafficking. These challenges are compounded by issues such as lack of coordination between the stakeholders of the airport operation, outdated security mechanisms and inadequately mandated deployment of Nepal Police in airport security.

An international airport is considered an international border point and Nepal has been deploying APF, as the primary border protection force of Nepal to other border points of the nation. However, the government took almost 10 years to deploy APF to the airport, that also in a very small number—31 APF personnel under the command of an APF Inspector to support the function of the customs office and address smuggling challenges.

Nepal Police is the primary law enforcement agency of Nepal, not only having bilateral and multilateral relations with various countries and their law enforcement agencies, but also in terms of access to the international crime database maintained by the Interpol. Nepal Police is the only agency which has comprehensive crime prevention, detection and investigation capabilities. Yet, it has no major involvement in the airport security operation and no role at all in the arrival area of the airport in Nepal, which is impacting the overall security structure.

The Department of Immigration is responsible for border control and regulating the immigrants’ movement. Currently, civil immigration officers are deputed in the airport for immigration and immigration control. Experiences show that the department of immigration lacks the capability to enforce border control protocols and does not have appropriate access to the crime and criminal database to effectively screen the travelers in order to prevent the access of criminals and smugglers to the country.  Whereas, the customs officers are stationed to regulate and control the flow of goods through the airport and collect duty and taxes.

Lack of information sharing between various civil and security stakeholders involved in the operation and maintenance of the airport and the absence of proper coordination among these civil and security mechanisms is hindering effective responses to apparent security threats.

To address these challenges, a comprehensive re-engagement of airport security is necessary, including changes at the policy and operational levels. The immigration department should take the leadership and supervisory roles in policy formulation and implementation. It should regulate, observe and provide appropriate policy instructions to the airport operation for immigrant movement control. Nepal Police, with its expertise in crime control and law enforcement; having connections with Interpol and access to the national and international crime and criminal data, should be given the operational leadership of airport security. Other government agencies and bureaucratic offices should play a role in providing necessary policy and documentation support according to their area of speciality for specific security procedures through the department of immigration.

Learning from the practice of Transportation Security Agency (TSA) of the USA and Industrial Security Force (ISF) of India, it is time for Nepal to create an independent and dedicated Immigration Police Bureau within Nepal Police with a different dress code for separate identification, clear mandate to control immigrant and immigration while also enforcing the laws for border control, stopping smuggling and crime prevention and investigation. In the past, Nepal Police used to deploy for immigration and immigrant control and they used to be more effective as they have access to national and international criminal records and databases, which is not the case with civilian officers deputed from the immigration department. Such Immigration Police Bureau should be equipped with smart technology and advanced technical resources for enhanced screening and monitoring in order to implement timely, effective and successful security systems. Surveillance capabilities and infrastructure of Nepali security forces, including the civil and military intelligence, should be mobilized to collect, combine and analyze any and all incidents. Those findings should be shared with the Bureau in real time and coordinate effectively for actions to create a more secure airport.

The regulator should adopt a strike policy on access to the airport and its sensitive security areas. Misuse of authority is a major challenge to access control, thus creating insecurity and that can be enforced by clear regulation that makes individuals accountable for their action, which should be strictly monitored to prevent security mishaps and ensure integrity in airport operations. It is advisable to implement a policy of separation of arrival and departure areas to prevent passengers from meeting within the airport premises. Strictly regulating cargo and passenger routes by preventing unauthorized access and enhancing security measures will also help significantly to sanitize the sensitive security area. A redefined security approach is essential for Nepal’s international airports to effectively combat existing and emerging security challenges. The proposed changes at both policy and operational levels aim to strengthen security mechanisms, restore trust at the international level and ensure the overall safety and integrity of Nepal's airports. The collaborative efforts of various security forces, along with clear guidelines and strong policy implementations, will contribute to a more secure and reliable airport security environment.