2014 was tempestuous year for international travelers and security. ISIS cemented itself as a major security threat in the Middle East, and was responsible for several high-profile kidnappings specifically targeting Western travelers. Syria remained in conflict. Russia and Ukraine clashed over eastern Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula. In Nigeria and its neighboring regions, Boko Haram fighters raided multiple locations and caused hundreds of death. Ebola was a worldwide security scare. Protests and attacks rocked Egypt as it transitioned into a new government. Brazil, before, during and after the World Cup, saw massive protests as well as on-going issues with crime.
This year didn’t begin very peacefully, either. Many of the issues that plagued 2014 continue to unfold this year. Just within the first two months of 2015, extremist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen shook those cities and much of the Western world. Belgium and Australia were also targets, but managed to defuse the situation in time.
So, what’s happening now, and how are things looking for the rest of 2015?
The situation for 2015
Most countries and regions that were “hot spots” over the past twelve months are still considered risky for international travelers.
- THE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA: Due to numerous conflicts, many but not all countries are still considered to be hazardous travel destinations. There’s no end in sight to the Syrian war. Iraq is in a chaotic state, with IS and its allies in control of significant territory throughout the country. Libya is in the midst of a civil war. In Yemen, the Houthi group is being opposed by AQAP and various Sunni tribes. Lebanon suffers due to the Syrian war and a rising number of terrorist groups using the country for its networks. In short: these countries in particular should be avoided.
- SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA: It’s expected that the Ebola virus will still be a major problem for West Africa throughout the year. Liberia, Sierra Leona, and Guinea are the three countries where the situation is the most dire. Although fears that the disease would spread far and wide seem to have died down, caution should still be exercised when traveling to Africa. Nigeria remains extremely dangerous as Boko Haram expands. In fact, some experts expect Boko Haram to spread to Cameroon, Niger, and Chad. The Sahel region, in general, is at high risk of terrorist attacks and ethno-religious clashes. While Somalian piracy numbers have dropped drastically, the current Somalian government is still under attack by al-Shabaab and other groups.
- SOUTH ASIA: While most countries in the region should be reasonably okay for a traveler to venture into, there are still credible threats from various groups (AQ, Taliban, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, etc…) so safety remains a major concern. Afghanistan should be considered extremely dangerous, no matter the province or region. The same goes for Pakistan. India is still a great tourist destination, but multiple rapes and attacks on foreigners throughout 2014 have shown that travelers need to be particularly careful when wandering away from the main tourist areas. There are also Islamist and Maoist extremist groups active in the country.
- EAST ASIA, PACIFIC, AND LATIN AMERICA: There are political tensions and dozens of terrorist groups operating in those regions. However, the biggest danger to international travelers is still street crime, random muggings and non-political kidnappings. Personal safety should be on your mind at all times. Places such as Mexico greatly suffer from drug trafficking and wars between cartels. Honduras’ homicide rate of, while declining in 2014, is still the world’s highest.
- UKRAINE, RUSSIA: As we write, the Ukrainian crisis appears to be winding down—but it’s not over yet and may worsen again. The Crimean Peninsula should of course be avoided, as well as the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Major cities in Russia should be safe for travelers.
- EUROPE AND NORTH AMERICA: The biggest security threat for 2015 is a continuation of attacks by so-called “lone wolf” terrorists, or small clusters of extremists acting on their own or affiliated with Middle Eastern terrorist groups. Security measures in many countries have been significantly stepped up after the attacks in France and Denmark, but authorities fear that similar events may unfold elsewhere in Europe or the US as individuals return from Syria or Iraq with agendas and training received from major terrorist organizations.
Travelers should of course keep in mind that even though a significant number of regions are considered dangerous overall, they do not necessarily need to be entirely avoided.
For example, countries like Tunisia, Algeria, and other countries west of Egypt have strong tourism industries and are relatively safe for tourists to visit. Even here, though, one is well advised to adhere to the usual safety precautions, as kidnappings in some remote areas remain a significant risk. Israel is reasonably safe for tourists in spite of the conflict with Palestine. Brazil may have a worrisome crime rate, but significant efforts have been made to ensure safety ever since the World Cup.
In general, one should simply stay away from regions where there are on-going conflicts. When in doubt, your best bet is to reach out to the local embassy ahead of time and to consult your government’s website for travel alerts. When possible, traveling as a group or with locals is never a bad idea.
Forewarned is forearmed: Resources to check before traveling
A little forward thinking goes a long way while planning a trip. While most people don’t have the advantage of their own intelligence analysts to help them learn more about possible risks at their destinations, there are some excellent resources available to all at the click of a mouse:
- The U.S. Department of State issues travel warnings and travel alerts on a nearly daily basis. The alerts give crucial overviews of a given country’s current situation, so even non-U.S. travelers should use the website. http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/alertswarnings.html
- The U.K. Government has a similar webpage, which allows you to search directly for the country you’re traveling to. The information provided is just as—if not more—comprehensive and frequently includes maps and region-by-region breakdowns. https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice
- In all likelihood, your government should have something similar to the U.S.’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which allows you to enroll your trip with the nearest embassy or consulate, and to stay informed and connected both before and during your trip. Do take advantage of it.
- International SOS released a health risk map for 2015, to help travelers prepare themselves and understand the medical and health risks of nearly every single country around the globe. https://www.internationalsos.com/en/files/HealthRiskMap2015.pdf
We love to travel both on the job and off, and can’t picture staying at home because of some bad headlines. That’s why we always check up on the travel safety situation before we go, and recommend that our clients, friends and family do the same.