There is an ongoing threat of kidnapping in many parts of the world. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is aware of a number of kidnapping cases involving Australians, such as:
- kidnapping for ransom;
- kidnapping with political elements and demands; and
- kidnapping by pirates.
Countries where the threat of kidnapping is particularly prevalent, and where DFAT’s travel advisories specifically warn of the threat of kidnapping, are: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, India, Iraq, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tunisia, Yemen and the Indian Ocean, especially near the coast of Somalia.
For these countries, you should carefully read the destination-specific advice.
The instability that led to the international intervention in Mali has increased the risk of kidnapping throughout North and West Africa. Malian-based militants and others located in Nigeria and Niger have carried out a number of kidnappings over the past 12 months, including in neighboring countries such as Cameroon. Further kidnappings are likely in the North and West Africa region.
If you do decide to travel to those areas of these countries where there is a particular threat of kidnapping or to remote areas where we strongly advise you not to travel, you should ensure you have personal security measures in place, seek professional security advice and take out kidnapping insurance. Any road travel should be undertaken in daylight, in convoy and with a local guide. Kidnappings can also occur at sea and pirates have kidnapped people from commercial vessels and pleasure craft (such as yachts). You should maintain a high level of vigilance at all times and watch for any suspicious or unusual activity.
The Australian Government’s Role
The Government will work closely with the government of the country in which the kidnapping has taken place, as well as with colleagues from 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's longstanding policy is that it 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. If you do decide to travel to an area where there is a particular threat of kidnapping, you should ensure you have personal security measures in place, seek professional security advice and take out kidnapping insurance.
The Australian Government’s ability to provide consular assistance to Australian citizens may be severely limited in places where the security situation is particularly dangerous or access is limited.
Kidnapping cases differ in the motivations of the kidnappers, the demands being made for the release of the hostages, and the circumstances where the kidnapping has occurred. Terrorist and criminal groups both use kidnapping as a tactic to achieve their goals.
Terrorist groups often target foreigners. In some instances, terrorists have killed their kidnap victims when their demands were not met. Foreign employees, particularly those in the oil and mining sectors, aid and humanitarian workers, journalists, tourists and expatriates are regularly targeted.
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. Humanitarian workers and tourists in Kenya have been kidnapped by militants and held in Somalia.
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. For more information you should read the Travelling by sea bulletin.
In South America, terrorist groups are known to kidnap for ransom. Colombia has one of the highest rates of kidnappings in the world, often perpetrated by groups such as the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) in rural areas. Foreigners, including children, have been kidnapped and murdered.
Cultural festivals 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.
Criminal groups often kidnap tourists who are forced to withdraw money from ATMs. This is known 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. The use of ATMs located inside banks, hotels and shopping centres during daylight hours may reduce the risk. Some criminals pose as unlicensed taxi drivers. Once the victim is in the cab they are kidnapped until they agree to withdraw money.
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.
Recent kidnapping incidents include:
- On 23 March 2013, an expatriate was kidnapped in the suburb of Victoria Island in Lagos, Nigeria.
- On 13 March 2013, two Czech tourists were reportedly kidnapped by militants in Balochistan, Pakistan, after crossing the border from Iran.
- On 19 February 2013, seven French nationals were kidnapped by militants in Cameroon, close to the border with Nigeria.
- On 16 February 2013, seven foreigners employed by a construction company were kidnapped by militants in Bauchi state, northern Nigeria. The hostages were reportedly killed by their captors in March 2013.
- In December 2012, two German nationals were kidnapped by militants in the Catatumbo region in northeastern Colombia, near the border with Venezuela.
- On 19 December 2012, a French national employed by a foreign energy company was kidnapped by gunmen from a guarded residence near Katsina City, northern Nigeria.
- On 20 November 2012, a French tourist was kidnapped near the town of Diema, Mali (a location close to the border with Senegal and Mauritania).
- On 14 November 2012, two Malaysian nationals were kidnapped from a coastal location in eastern Sabah, Malaysia.
- On 29 July 2012, an Italian national was kidnapped in Sana’a, Yemen.
- On 29 June 2012, four foreign aid workers were kidnapped from the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.
- On 15 April 2012, a Swiss national was kidnapped in Timbuktu, Mali.
- On 16 March 2012, a Swiss national was kidnapped in Hodeida, Yemen.
- On 14 March 2012, two Italian nationals were kidnapped in Odisha (Orissa) state, India.
- On 26 January 2012, a German national was kidnapped in Kano, Nigeria.
- On 22 January 2012, a foreign humanitarian worker was kidnapped in Naushahro Feroz, Sindh, in Pakistan.
- On 19 January 2012, two foreign humanitarian workers were kidnapped in Multan, Punjab, Pakistan.
- On 16 January 2012, two foreign tourists were kidnapped in the Danakil region of Ethiopia. Five foreign tourists were killed in the attack.
- On 5 January 2012, a humanitarian aid worker with an international organisation was kidnapped in Quetta, Pakistan.
- On 5 December 2011, an Australian citizen was kidnapped from Zamboanga Sibugay, in the Philippines and released in March 2013.
- On 25 November 2011, three western tourists were kidnapped from central Timbuktu in Mali.
- On 24 November 2011, two French nationals were kidnapped from the town of Hombori in Mopti province, Mali, close to the border with Burkina Faso.
- On 25 October 2011, a US and a Danish aid worker were kidnapped near Galkayo in the Somali region of Puntland. They were freed after a military operation in January 2012.
- On 13 October 2011, two Spanish aid workers were kidnapped from the Dadaab refugee camp, near the border with Somalia.
- On 1 October 2011, a French national was kidnapped by an armed gang from Manda Island (adjacent to Lamu Island) Kenya. The victim subsequently died in captivity.
- On 11 September 2011, a British national was kidnapped and another killed at a resort north of Lamu in Kenya. The surviving victim was released in March 2012.
- In August 2011, a US aid worker was kidnapped from his house in Lahore, Pakistan.
Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
- We strongly recommend that you 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, including concerning kidnapping.
- 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.
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.