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Europe's Open Borders Could Be Another Casualty Of The Paris Attacks


Travelers to Europe know this reality. Once you're in the heart of Europe, you are in. You can cross many borders without showing papers in what's called the Schengen zone. That's how it's been. The Paris attacks may be changing that. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Paris.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: At the Gare du Nord train station over the weekend, traveler bottlenecks grew as police selected passengers for passport and baggage checks. It's a huge change from the normal travel experience between France and its neighbors. But in the current fearful atmosphere, passengers seem to accept it.

ANDREA DUPONT: Hi, my name is Andrea.

KENYON: Eighteen-year-old Parisian Andrea DuPont says she was shocked to learn how easily some of the Paris attackers moved in and out of France, and she finds the police reassuring.

DUPONT: It's totally OK. Well, I just prefer waiting more and have, like, more security control than having attacks, for sure - because it's really scary. It's really scary.

KENYON: Europe's open border plan was negotiated three decades ago in the town of Schengen in Luxembourg. It was expanded to include visa-free travel and no border controls within the 26 member countries. Suddenly, it was much easier for, say, a French citizen to get a job in Spain or Switzerland or Luxembourg and have no more than a normal commute. But Fabien Cazenave with the Union of European Federalists says since the Paris attacks, renewed security checks have turned those easy commutes into crawls.

FABIEN CAZENAVE: Two hours or three hours to go in Luxembourg. And to come back, it's the same. I've got some friends who are working in Luxembourg now. And for them, it's very complicated. This is crazy.

KENYON: For a longtime advocate of a more integrated EU, such as Cazenave, these are dismal days with the European ideal under attack. Fingers of blame are pointing at Greece, Italy and other states on the edge of Europe who are loaded with Middle East families fleeing violence. Paris border and migration expert Virginie Guiraudon is worried by calls to shrink the Schengen open border zone down to just a handful of countries. It's an argument she's heard before.

VIRGINIE GUIRAUDON: You know, there are too many people involved now in Schengen. We want to go back to some kind of little club of people who trust one another.

KENYON: Trust has already vanished from transit hubs, like the Gare du Nord train station. Kouadio Dakoua, a genial, neatly dressed professional from Ivory Coast, says he understands the need to stop terrorists. But he can't help but notice that it's the darker-skinned people who tend to get stopped more frequently.

KOUADIO DAKOUA: When you are black like I am, sometimes you're like a suspect.

KENYON: Yes. So if you and me were walking down this platform right now, and you see all the police there, we know which one they would stop.

DAKOUA: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, right. So I have faced this when I was coming from Cote d'Ivoire, yeah.

KENYON: But even so, you understand the problem of the security.

DAKOUA: Yeah, I understand. What I don't understand is why people are killing other people.

KENYON: It's a question on a lot of minds these days. Dakoua smiles, shakes hands and moves off toward another security check.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.