It’s that time of year when we start thinking about where we’d like to spend our summer vacation. Well, we’d like to turn the tables and tell you about the “hot” spots around the globe where you shouldn’t vacation! And by hot, we mean red-hot danger.
The US Department of State alerts US citizens to the potential risks of travel to various countries and regions of the world due to a variety of reasons, including frequent terrorist attacks, civil war, an unstable government, ongoing intense violence, or crime. The government constantly updates the list of risky places to travel as circumstances change, either for the good or bad. When travel warnings are revised, some countries may be taken off the list or added to it, and some countries remain on the US travel alert list for years.
All Americans traveling abroad are strongly encouraged to enroll in a free government service called the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive timely and relevant safety and security information. By registering with STEP before traveling abroad, the Department of State will be in a position to better assist you should an emergency arise when you’re in another country. You can do so at the following site: https://step.state.gov/step.
Here is a sampling of the travel alerts and warnings the United States government is currently issuing:
Varying levels of risk throughout the country exist, including areas of violent crime and increasing threats from terrorism targeting American and Kenyan interests. In September 2013, members of the terror group al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate, were responsible for killing scores of innocent people at a shopping mall in Nairobi.
Due to Burundi’s participation in Somalia peacekeeping operations, the terrorist organization al-Shabaab has threatened to conduct terror attacks in the country. American interests in Burundi may also be targeted. Crime is frequently committed by armed groups, including street children, who prey on foreign visitors, with gunfire and grenade attacks taking place in densely populated urban areas.
In June 2013, a large prison break took place in Niamey and 32 convicts escaped. Most fugitives are still at large and some escaped prisoners have ties to terrorist groups. The US Embassy reminds its citizens traveling in Niger to be very careful near security checkpoints during this heightened state of alert.
Russia is taking military actions to annex the Crimean peninsula. The United States and Ukraine do not recognize this claimed annexation, and the US Embassy in Kiev is unable to provide assistance; therefore, the Department of State advises US travelers to postpone all nonessential travel to Ukraine, and warns Americans not to travel to the Crimean peninsula and eastern regions of Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Lugansk due to the presence of Russian military in Crimea and near the Ukrainian border. The situation remains unpredictable and can change rapidly.
The US Department of State strongly warns against travel to northern areas of Mali as well as areas along the Mauritania border due to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups staging suicide bombings, planting land mines, murdering foreign journalists, and similar killings in the region. Ongoing attacks and kidnappings of Westerners also remain a grave concern, as there is little to no security presence in the region. Terrorist groups have indicated that they intend to attack France and its allies due to France’s military intervention in Northern Mali.
Continuing political and social unrest is likely to continue and may intensify in the near future in Egypt. Security forces and protesters have been involved in violent clashes, as have protesters supporting rival factions, some of which have resulted in injuries and death. Some of the more violent protests have taken place in metropolitan areas, including Cairo and its suburbs, Alexandria, and Port Said. In addition, explosive devices targeting police, government employees, and government institutions have resulted in infrastructure damage and casualties. What’s more, women have increasingly been the target of sexual assault.
Currently, the US government has no information concerning specific threats to Americans traveling in Russia. However, the government alerts it citizens to increased anti-American demonstrations in connection with the United States’ response to Russian actions in Crimea. The Russian Federation has a heightened presence in the regions bordering Ukraine and these are areas to be avoided due to risk of escalating military clashes.
The US government urges those traveling to Mauritania to exercise extreme caution because of activities by terrorist groups in the region, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and their intensions to attack Western targets, including Americans.
Americans continue to be victims of violent crimes, including murder and kidnapping, predominantly in the Port-au-Prince area. With its high level of poverty, US citizens are also targets of robbery while in Haiti. There have been multiple reports of American being robbed shortly after departing the Port-au-Prince airport and immediately after visiting banks or ATMs. In addition, Haiti has an extremely poor emergency response network. Americans injured in accidents and others with serious health concerns have been unable to locate necessary medical care in Haiti and have had to arrange and pay for medical evacuation to the United States; therefore, the government strongly encourages visitors to Haiti to obtain evacuation insurance. Although hundreds of thousands of Americans safely visit Haiti each year, the government advises extreme caution while in the country.
Travel within Iraq remains extremely dangerous. Insurgent groups, including al-Qaida, remain active throughout the country. Americans in Iraq are at high risk for kidnappings and terrorist violence. Dangers to life and limb include roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs), magnetic IEDs placed on vehicles, suicide bombings, vehicle-borne IEDs, mines placed on or concealed near roads, mortars and rockets, and sniper attacks, which frequently occur in public areas such as markets and cafes.
Just stay away! The US War on Terror, which includes an American military presence, is ongoing in the country, which makes Afghanistan a war zone. The threat to the safety of American citizens in Afghanistan is critically high. Bandits roam every province in Afghanistan, perpetrating violent acts against US citizens, US soldiers, and foreign nationals. The rebuilt Taliban regime and other terrorist groups continue murdering members of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and their allies, including US diplomats. Hostile acts against Americans continue to take their toll in every area of the country and can occur at any time, night or day. In addition, it is unsafe to be in Afghanistan due to ongoing military combat operations, violent clashes among rival political and native tribes, the possibility of insurgent attacks, randomly placed land mines, suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices, sniper fire, vehicle-borne explosive devices, and other dangers of war.
Travel to Thailand, particularly to its capital, Bangkok, is risky at this time due to ongoing social and political unrest. Political demonstrations and incidents of violence continue regularly since November 2013, many taking place near popular tourist attractions and shopping malls. Shootings and explosions have been reported near protest sites, which often have no police presence.
Terrorist groups affiliated with al-Qaida continue to pose security threats, as these insurgent groups look to target both Saudi and Western interests. Targets include areas where Westerners congregate, such as hotels, shopping centers, and housing compounds. US government personnel are currently prohibited to travel to Awamiyah and citizens are warned to avoid the area as well due to a recent attack on 2 German Embassy officials. In addition, terrorist and criminal elements may be operating along the porous border area dividing Yemen and Saudi Arabia and along the Arabian Peninsula.
Just the mention of the name Somalia conjures images of murderous pirates. Terrorist operatives in Somalia keep the country in an unstable and dangerous state. Places where large numbers of Westerners frequent, such as airports, shopping malls, and government buildings, are terrorist targets. Violent incidents, including kidnapping, bombings, robbery, and illegal roadblocks, continue to place foreign nationals in harm’s way. More than 1 million people in Somalia have been displaced due to inter-fractional warring, which can flare up without warning, anywhere in the country at any time. Therefore, the US government warns Americans to avoid all travel to the country because of such security concerns.
Despite the fact that major cities have a heavy police presence, terrorist attacks, kidnapping, false roadblocks, and bombings continue to take place regularly, the majority occurring in areas of the country east and south of Algiers.
Throughout Pakistan, indigenous and foreign terrorist groups pose a grave danger to US citizens. Insurgents continue to seek opportunities to attack locations where US citizens and Westerners are known to congregate or visit, as terrorist attacks frequently occur against civilian, government, and foreign targets. Terrorist and criminal groups regularly resort to kidnapping for ransom. The US State Department warns against all non-essential travel to the country.
Israel, West Bank, and Gaza Strip
The security situation in Israel is complex. Heightened tensions and security risks remain in effect in specific areas of Israel. Strong warnings are issued against traveling to the Gaza Strip; in fact, US government employees are forbidden to travel to that region for personal or official business reasons. In addition, with the exception of Jericho and Bethlehem, government workers are also forbidden to travel to the West Bank for any reason.
Ongoing safety and security concerns have led the US Department of State to warn all citizens to avoid all travel to Lebanon, chiefly because of the potential for serious injury or death due to the increasing frequency of terrorist bombing attacks throughout the country. Although American citizens are not specifically targeted in these deadly attacks, risk of getting killed by being in the wrong place at the wrong time remains a serious threat.
Due to continual terrorist activities and civil unrest, the US urges American citizens to defer travel to Yemen and also strongly encourages US citizens currently living in Yemen to depart. The security situation is fluid; even embassy staff members are restricted in their movement and are prohibited to travel outside of Sana’a.
South Pacific Cyclone Season
Travel to the South Pacific region is not advised at this time due to ongoing threat of tropical cyclones affecting the area. Anyone traveling to the South Pacific is advised to monitor local weather reports and take any necessary action to protect oneself from hazardous weather. Cyclone season runs through April 30, 2014.
The government reports that traveling to the Philippines, in particular, traveling to Sulu Archipelago and the island of Mindanao, is dangerous due to terrorist and insurgent activities as well as a high threat of international travelers being vulnerable to kidnapping.
Approximately 150,000 Americans cross the Mexican border each day. And millions of Americans safely visit Mexico each year for study, tourism, and business. Yet risks remain high due to US citizens being the target of violent crimes, such as kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery, in the country. Mexico’s transnational criminal organizations pose continual threats to the safety and security of US citizens in Mexico.
The security situation in this country remains fluid and unpredictable, resulting in a US travel warning regarding Nigeria. In particular, the US government urges travelers to avoid travel to Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe. In May 2013, the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria issued a state of emergency proclamation for those 3 states, which is still in effect.
Republic of South Sudan
As a result of the country’s deteriorating security situation, the US government strongly recommends against all travel to the Republic of South Sudan and urges US citizens currently in South Sudan to depart immediately. In January 2014, the US State Department ordered the departure of almost all remaining US government personnel stationed in South Sudan.
Travel warnings issued by the US Department of State in 2013 still in effect include the countries of Honduras, Libya, Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, Eritrea, Central Africa Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Colombia, Chad, Syria, and El Salvador.
So before you pack up the sunblock for an overseas vacation destination, if you really want to experience a little rest and recuperation, know your risks by enrolling in the STEP program and be sure to check out the US Department of State Web site at: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/alertswarnings.html.
- U.S. Department of State. Alerts and warnings. http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/alertswarnings.html.
- U.S. Department of State. Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. https://step.state.gov/step.