Sunday, June 23, 2013

Somalia: US Department of State Issues Updated Travel Warning, Effective June 21

COMMENT: Effective June 21, 2013, the US Department of State has updated its travel warning for Somalia.

There is no US Embassy or other formal US diplomatic presence in Somalia. Consequently, the US government is not in a position to assist or effectively provide services to US citizens in Somalia. In light of this and continuous security threats, the US government recommends that you avoid all travel to Somalia.

The security situation inside Somalia remains unstable and dangerous. Terrorist operatives and armed groups in Somalia have demonstrated their intent to attack the Somali authorities, African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and other non-military targets. Kidnapping, bombings, murder, illegal roadblocks, banditry, and other violent incidents and threats to US citizens and other foreigners can occur in any region. In addition, there is a particular threat to foreigners in places where large crowds gather and westerners frequent, including airports, government buildings, and shopping areas. Inter-clan and inter-factional fighting flares up with little or no warning. This has resulted in the deaths of countless Somali nationals and the displacement of more than one million people.

In February 2012, Al-Shabaab announced that it had merged with al-Qaeda. The former has planned assassinations, kidnappings and armed attacks in civilian areas on both sides of the Kenyan-Somalian border.While Mogadishu and parts of south/central Somalia are now under Somali government control with the military support of African Union forces, al-Shabaab continues to demonstrate the capability to carry out attacks in government-controlled territory with particular emphasis on targeting government facilities. On June 19, 2013, Islamist militants carried out a deadly assault on the main UN compound in Mogadishu killing at least 17 people. African Union (AU) soldiers restored order after a 90 minute gun battle. On April 14, a combined suicide bombing/armed assault by al-Shabaab gunmen killed 29 and wounded 58. On May 5, an attack on a government convoy carrying foreign diplomats killed eight bystanders.

Pirates and other criminals have specifically targeted and kidnapped foreigners working in Somalia. In October 2011, a US citizen aid worker living in Somalia was kidnapped, and in January 2012, another US citizen was kidnapped while on work-related travel in Somalia. In both cases, as well as in recent kidnappings of other westerners, the victims took precautionary measures by hiring local security personnel, but those hired to protect them appear to have played a key role in the abductions. A strong familiarity with Somalia and/or extensive prior travel to the region does not reduce travel risk. US citizens contemplating travel to Somalia, including Somaliland and Puntland, are advised to obtain kidnap and recovery insurance, as well as medical evacuation insurance, prior to travel.

Additionally, US citizens are urged to avoid sailing close to the coast of Somalia as attacks have occurred as far as 1,000 nautical miles off the coast in international waters. Merchant vessels, fishing boats, and recreational craft all risk seizure by pirates and having their crews held for ransom in the waters off the Horn of Africa, especially in the international waters near Somalia. Somali pirates captured and killed four US citizens aboard their boat on February 22, 2011. If transit around the Horn of Africa is necessary, it is strongly recommended that vessels travel in convoys, maintain good communications contact at all times, and follow the guidance provided by the Maritime Security Center – Horn of Africa (MSC-HOA). You should consult the Maritime Administration’s Horn of Africa Piracy page for information on maritime advisories, self-protection measures, and naval forces in the region.

For the full text of the updated travel warning, see:

http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_6014