Tighten overseas travel safetyKorean pilgrims to the Holy Land in Mount Sinai, Egypt, were victims of a terrorist attack Sunday, which killed three of them and injured 14 others. Two Egyptians were also killed in the attack. A radical Islamic group based in the Sinai Peninsula claimed responsibility for the bombing. The attack on innocent travelers can never be justified because it constitutes a grave crime against humanity.
The terror attack has revealed how lax our government’s security awareness is. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs employs a four-step warning system for overseas trips according to the degree of danger, ranging from caution to restraint to restricted to banned. The government had advised “restraint” for the Sinai area until 2012 when three of our nationals were kidnapped by an Islamic group there.
After the kidnapping, however, the government ratcheted up the warning to the third level - restricted - for travelers to the area. The government recommended that travelers to the region immediately return to Korea, except for urgent missions, and cancel or postpone their travels. But the problem is that our travelers can’t avoid such terrorist attacks unless the government flexibly adjusts the level of warning in accordance with the security situation in the local area.
Security on the Sinai Peninsula has been deteriorating for three years ever since the Egyptian revolution in 2011. A chain of terrorist attacks has constantly occurred since the peninsula became a strong foothold for the Islamic Jihad, following the ouster last year of former President Mohamed Morsi, an Islamic fundamentalist. The Korean government should have raised its warning level and banned people from visiting there. As many as 2,000 Korean pilgrims travel to the area at the peak of the tourist season, between January and February.
Koreans themselves also must raise their awareness when traveling to foreign countries, given the number of people traveling overseas has reached 15 million a year. An official at Jincheon Central Presbyterian Church in Jincheon, North Chungcheong, which organized the pilgrimage to Mount Sinai, said he was not aware that the peninsula had been designated a restricted zone for travelers.
As long as the Middle East and Africa are particularly vulnerable to terrorist attacks for religious reasons, the government cannot leave security issues to for-profit travel agencies. It must provide people with a wide range of information on terrorist attacks around the globe through televised messages and other media. We hope the tragedy in Mount Sinai offers an opportunity to reconstruct a reliable system for safer trips overseas.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 18, Page 34