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Kidnapping

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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 for political reasons
  • kidnapping by pirates.

The threat of kidnapping

Consider your 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, seek professional security advice and have effective personal security measures in place. Maintain a high level of vigilance and watch for any suspicious or unusual activity.

See country-specific travel advisories for information on the threat of kidnapping.

Understanding the risk

Kidnapping by terrorist groups

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. Foreigners kidnapped in Afghanistan have sometimes been taken to Pakistan.

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.

 

Express kidnapping 

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.

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 licensed 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.  Be wary of any online invitation you receive to travel to an unfamiliar location.

 

Virtual Kidnapping  

Another trend is 'virtual kidnapping'. 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. Do not divulge financial, business or personal information to strangers.

 

Piracy 

Pirates have 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

The kidnapping threat is particularly high in some parts of the world. The list below does not cover all high-threat areas.  See country-specific travel advisories for further information.

 

Afghanistan

All parts of Afghanistan are subject to a high threat of kidnapping. A number of foreigners have been kidnapped 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 has increased the risk of kidnapping throughout the region. Terrorists based in Mali and Nigeria have carried out a number of kidnappings over the past few years in the region, including in Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon and Algeria. More 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. This risk is highest in the area between the towns of Sandakan and Tawau and particularly at outlying resorts.

 

Syria and Iraq

A significant number of foreign nationals have been kidnapped in Syria has resulted in the kidnapping of  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 increased the 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 Yemen and Somalia is ongoing. Foreigners, especially Westerners, are high priority targets for 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.

Recent examples involving Australians

November 2017

 

An Australian was kidnapped in Nigeria and released a week later.

 

August 2017

 

An Australian was kidnapped in Kabul, Afghanistan and released a week later.

 

July 2017

 

An Australian was kidnapped in Manila, the Philippines and released three days later.

 

November 2016

 

An Australian was kidnapped in Kabul, Afghanistan and released after four months in captivity.

 

October 2016 

An Australian was kidnapped in Sana'a, Yemen and released after eight months in captivity.

 

August 2016

An Australian and a US national were kidnapped in Kabul, Afghanistan.  They remain in captivity.

 

June 2016

A number of Australian expatriate workers were kidnapped in southern Nigeria. They were released after a short time in captivity.

 

April 2016

An Australian aid worker was kidnapped in Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan and released after five months in captivity.

 

January 2016

Two Australians were kidnapped near Djibo in northern Burkina Faso. One remains in captivity.

Your responsibilities as a traveller

If you travel to a high-risk area, it is your (or your employer's) responsibility to conduct security risk assessments and put in place security arrangements to reflect those assessments. The Australian Government is not able to guarantee your safety and security or provide security protection.

Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:

  • seek professional security advice and ensure you have effective personal security measures if travelling to an area of high kidnapping risk
  • subscribe to the travel advice for the destination you intend to travel to in order to receive free email updates each time the travel advice is updated.
  • 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. Standard travel insurance policies may not provide coverage in 'Do not travel' destinations.

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 advise against all travel and in places where the security situation is particularly dangerous or access is limited.

If an Australian is 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. 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. Ransom payments to kidnappers, many of whom are associated with proscribed terrorist groups, are known to have funded subsequent terrorist attacks. Ransom payments to terrorist groups are likely to contravene Australian anti-terrorism financing laws.

Where to get help

You can get 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.

More information

See advice for Australian business travellers for information on mitigating the risk of kidnapping. ASIO's Business and Government 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 consular.feedback@dfat.gov.au.