There is an ongoing threat of kidnapping in many parts of the world. Motivations of kidnappers differ, but may include:
- kidnapping for ransom or financial gain;
- kidnapping for ideological reasons;
- kidnapping with political elements and demands; and
- kidnapping by pirates.
The threat of kidnapping
The Australian Government recommends that Australians closely consider their need to travel to locations where there is a high threat of kidnapping. If you do decide to travel to countries, or areas of countries, where there is a particular threat of kidnapping, you should seek professional security advice and have effective personal security measures in place. You should maintain a high level of vigilance at all times and watch for any suspicious or unusual activity.
We assess that the threat of kidnapping is highest in
Afghanistan, Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Malaysia (eastern Sabah), Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, the southern Philippines, Somalia, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen. See under 'Particular areas of concern' below.
There are parts of other countries where Australians are also at threat of kidnapping. These are detailed in the
country-specific travel advisories.
For all of these countries, you should carefully read the destination-specific advice.
Understanding the risk
Terrorist groups often target foreigners. In some instances, terrorists have killed their victims when their demands were not met. Some are kidnapped for ideological or political reasons, leaving little or no room for negotiation. Foreigners commonly targeted by kidnappers include: oil and mining industry employees, aid and humanitarian workers, journalists, and tourists.
Terrorists may use local merchants such as tour and transport operators to identify foreign visitors for potential kidnap operations. Hostages may be taken by their captors into a neighbouring country. For example, humanitarian workers and tourists in Kenya have been kidnapped by militants and held in Somalia.
Cultural festivals in remote locations are also attractive places for terrorists and criminals to identify and target tourists for kidnapping. These festivals bring people to predictable locations along unsecured routes, including in parts of Africa where the threat of kidnapping is highest.
Criminal groups often kidnap tourists who are forced to withdraw money from ATMs. This is known in some locations as 'express kidnapping'. It is common in countries in Central and South America, especially Mexico and Colombia, but does occur in other countries. In some cases victims have been killed or injured while attempting to resist the kidnappers. Using ATMs located inside banks, hotels and shopping centres during daylight hours may reduce the risk.
You should be aware that some criminals pose as unlicensed taxi drivers. Once the victim is in the cab they are held until they agree to withdraw money. Always use licenced taxi services.
An increasing number of foreigners have recently been kidnapped and held for ransom by criminals who operate sophisticated online financial scams which lure victims to locations in Africa, including Nigeria, Uganda and South Africa. You should treat with scepticism any online invitation you receive to travel to an unfamiliar location.
Another trend is 'virtual kidnapping'. This is when extortionists, posing as law enforcement officials, call the family or friends of the victim and demand payment in return for release of the allegedly arrested family member or friend. You should avoid divulging financial, business or personal information to strangers.
Pirates have also kidnapped hundreds of people, usually holding them for ransom. Pirates have attacked all forms of shipping, including commercial vessels, pleasure craft (such as yachts) and luxury cruise liners. This is particularly prevalent off the coast of Somalia and Yemen (including the Horn of Africa and Gulf of Aden), in the Gulf of Guinea and near Mindanao and in the Sulu Sea. See our
piracy page for more information.
Areas of particular concern
All parts of
Afghanistan are subject to a high threat of kidnapping. A number of foreigners have been kidnapped in Afghanistan and held captive for an extended period of time. Foreign kidnapping victims have been murdered by their captors.
North and West Africa
Instability in parts of North and West Africa such as northern Mali, Libya and north-eastern Nigeria have increased the risk of kidnapping throughout the region. Terrorists based in
Nigeria have carried out a number of kidnappings over the past few years, including in Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon and Algeria. Further kidnappings are likely, especially in Mali, northern Burkina Faso, Nigeria, northern Cameroon, Niger, Libya, Algeria and Tunisia.
Southern Philippines and eastern Sabah, Malaysia
There is a persistent threat of kidnapping in southern Philippines, including coastal and island resorts and dive sites, particularly in remote locations in the Sulu Sea. The situation in the southern
Philippines also creates an ongoing risk of kidnapping in the coastal region of eastern Sabah in
Malaysia, which is highest in the area between the towns of Sandakan and Tawau and particularly at outlying resorts.
Syria and Iraq
The conflict in
Syria has resulted in the kidnapping of a significant number of foreign nationals, including media and humanitarian workers. Since August 2014, a number of foreign nationals kidnapped in Syria have been executed by their captors. The escalation of violence in
Iraq since June 2014 has resulted in a significantly less predictable security environment and an increased threat to foreigners. Groups based in Syria and Iraq are more likely to execute their hostages for propaganda purposes than to seek to use them for negotiation or bargaining.
Yemen and Somalia
The threat of kidnapping in
Somalia is ongoing. Foreigners, especially Westerners, are highly prized by criminals and terrorists. Large ransom payments paid for the release of some hostages reinforce the effectiveness of kidnapping as a viable source of revenue. Tribal and criminal groups also conduct kidnappings of foreigners to use as leverage in local disputes and negotiations with the government. Any foreigner kidnapped in Yemen or Somalia is in danger of being on sold to terrorists.
Sailors on ships and yachts off the coast of Somalia and in the Indian Ocean are also a regular target for kidnappers.
An Australian was kidnapped in Sana'a, Yemen.
Two Italians and a Canadian were kidnapped in south-western Libya.
Two Italians and a Canadian were kidnapped in south-western Libya.
An Australian and a US national were kidnapped in Kabul, Afghanistan.
A number of Australian expatriate workers were kidnapped in southern Nigeria. They were released after a short time in captivity.
An Australian aid worker was kidnapped in Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan and released after five months in captivity.
A Portuguese couple were taken by an express kidnapping gang in Caracas, Venezuela. One was killed by the gang.
Two Australians were kidnapped near Djibo in northern Burkina Faso. One remains in captivity.
A Swiss missionary was kidnapped from her home in Timbuktu, Mali
Three US citizens were kidnapped in Baghdad, Iraq.
Two Serbian diplomats travelling to Tunisia in convoy were kidnapped at Sabratha, Libya. They later died in captivity.
An Italian national was kidnapped from his restaurant at Dipolog, northern Mindanao (Philippines).
Two Canadian nationals, a Norwegian and a local were kidnapped from a tourist area near Davao, eastern Mindanao (Philippines). Two were murdered by their captors and one released after a year in captivity.
A Maltese national was kidnapped in Tajoura, Libya and was released in October 2015.
A German national working with an international aid organisation in Afghanistan was kidnapped in Kabul and was released in October 2015.
Five Czech construction workers were kidnapped in the Bekka Valley, Lebanon.
A Croatian national was kidnapped while traveling along the Cairo-Wahhat Road, west of 6th October City, a satellite neighbourhood of Cairo (Egypt).
A Dutch national working with an international aid organisation in Afghanistan was kidnapped in Kabul and was released in September.
Your responsibilities as a traveller
Having made a decision to enter a high risk zone, it is the responsibility of the traveller or their employer to do their own security risk assessments and to put in place their own security arrangements to reflect those assessments. The Australian Government is not able to provide security protection to travellers in such circumstances.
Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
- seek professional security advice and ensure effective personal security measures are implemented if travelling to an area of high kidnapping risk
- register your travel and contact details with us so we can contact you in an emergency. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate.
- organise comprehensive travel insurance and check what circumstances and activities are not covered by your policy. Standard travel insurance policies do not provide coverage for kidnapping, and cannot be used to pay ransoms.
- subscribe to the travel advice for the destination you intended to travel to in order to receive free email updates each time the travel advice is reissued.
The Australian Government's role
The Australian Government's ability to provide consular assistance to Australian citizens may be severely limited in locations where we recommend against all travel and in places where the security situation is particularly dangerous or access is limited.
Should an Australian be kidnapped, the Australian Government will work closely with the government of the country in which the kidnapping has taken place, as well as other governments, to ensure that all appropriate action to resolve the situation is pursued actively. We will provide information to families on what they can expect and provide them with clear and up-to-date information on developments in the case to help them make informed decisions.
The Australian Government does not make payments or concessions to kidnappers. The Australian Government considers that paying a ransom increases the risk of further kidnappings, including of other Australians. Ransom payments to kidnappers, many of whom are associated with proscribed terrorist groups, are also known to have funded subsequent terrorist attacks.
Where to get help
You can obtain consular assistance from the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. In a consular emergency if you are unable to contact an Australian diplomatic mission, you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.
Information on mitigating the risk of kidnapping is in the
advice for Australian business travellers. ASIO's
Business Liaison Unit provides credible, intelligence-based information on matters affecting the security of Australian business, including those based in offshore locations.
Australian companies seeking further information about the Australian Government's kidnapping policy should contact