Just for a moment, think back to the last time you took a flight abroad. As you were getting on the aircraft, you naturally glanced at the other people taking their seats.
Many were likely short-term business travelers, an equal number were tourists, some were expatriates returning to the country they lived in, and a good number were nationals from a multitude of countries in the vicinity of the flight's final destination.
Now, of the roughly 325 passengers who were sitting on that flight with you, how many of them would you guess became crime victims within two weeks of arriving at their destination? A bit of a stumper, huh?
Well, based on credible studies conducted by various organizations over the last few years, the average number of those being victimized is 64—or roughly 20 percent.
Before going further, let's put our hypothetical into perspective. If most of the passengers on the flight were going to Western European countries, the number of those victimized would in all likelihood decline𠄦perhaps to as little as 10 percent. Conversely, if most of your fellow passengers were traveling to developing countries, the victimization percentage would rise back to 20 percent.
As the title of this column suggests, this month's topic involves the potential for bad things to happen to good people, which unfortunately occurs quite a bit.
Back in April, a group of Canadian Rotarians traveled to Kaduna—a state in northern Nigeria—where they were to participate in an exchange program with Nigerian Rotarians.
Unfortunately, Nigeria happens to be one of the most violent countries in the world. Were it not for the fact I've spent most of my adult life protecting diplomats and multinational executives from threats in developing countries, it's not a place I'd feel particularly comfortable visiting.
I would also note these Canadians were not bound for Abuja (the capital) or Lagos (the business center), where there was at least the reach of embassies, evidence of high security in every corner, and people who could help. Kaduna, where they were instead headed, is one of the most volatile regions in the country—a place where violence between Christians and Muslims is a daily occurrence.
To make matters worse, over the last few years, there have been hundreds of kidnappings and hostage-takings of foreign oil workers in the oil-rich Niger Delta. In August of 2008, a project manager for the Israeli construction company Gillmor was kidnapped in Port Harcourt; a $12 million ransom was demanded. One week later, he was released after the ransom was paid by his employer.
On the evening of April 16, Rotarian Julie Ann Mulligan was traveling with her Nigerian host, when their car was stopped by four gunmen. After being robbed, Mulligan's companion was released, but she was taken to an unknown location by the gunmen.
After the crime was reported, the remaining Rotarians promptly returned to Canada, while local police and Nigeria's State Security Service began to search for Mulligan.
The police subsequently established contact with Mulligan's captors, who demanded a ransom of $136,000. Rotary International ruled out the option of paying the ransom—not a prudent strategy to take, particularly in Nigeria, where refusal to pay a ransom can and has resulted in the murder of the kidnap victim. The cardinal rule in hostage negotiation is to never tip your hand and publicly state what you will or will not do.
It should also be noted that after Mulligan's kidnapping, a number of expatriates criticized the very poor security afforded to the five Rotarians, considering the threat level. Most foreigners in Nigeria are very cognizant of the level of lawlessness and violence in the country, and many take extraordinary physical and procedural steps to prevent kidnappings, carjackings, and break-ins at hotels and residences.
Also, many foreigners, expatriates, diplomats, and aid workers are careful cautioned on the threat and provided extraordinary arrangements for airport transportation, hotel, and vehicular security. At a minimum, the Rotarians should have been provided an in-depth security briefing upon their arrival, outlining the security arrangements that had been set up for them (not many, evidently).
On April 29, 13 days after Mulligan was kidnapped, she was released on a rural road. Incredibly, apart from fatigue, stomach ailments, and the trauma of her ordeal, she was in good health. Following her release, Kaduna police were able to locate the house where Mulligan had been held through a sting operation.
Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade would not comment on how Mulligan came to be released, other than to say the Canadian government did not pay any ransom. Normally, such a statement leads one to believe that some form of ransom was paid to unknown parties for Mulligan's release.
Another possibility is the kidnappers simply got tired of waiting, and realized mounting Canadian pressure on the Nigerian government would increase their likelihood of being arrested. Nevertheless, it is rare for Nigerian kidnappers to simply release a captive while receiving nothing in return.
Given the threat level in Nigeria, any foreigners working there should be well protected with all aspects of their security arrangements handled by competent security consultants. Ideally, organizations that send foreigners into high-threat, lawless countries almost invariably have kidnap ransom insurance for those they are responsible for.
Here are some strategies to consider if your organization sends staff abroad to high-risk countries:
• Check your government's international travel Website, both for guidance and an assessment on the security threats in destination countries.
• Make sure your have international medical treatment and medical evacuation coverage. Your PPO/HMO will not be honored, and medical treatment costs (even for serious injuries) will be paid in advance.
• Seek out the counsel of experienced security consultants familiar with destination countries on establishing security arrangements.
• Ensure all travelers register their itinerary with the U.S. State Department or the appropriate foreign ministry.
• Obtain a security briefing on the threats you may encounter while abroad, and ask what choices you should make in the event of a multitude of security emergencies (carjacking, kidnapping, express kidnapping, armed robbery, and so on).
• If traveling to a very high-threat country, ask yourself whether the trip is absolutely essential.
• If traveling to rural areas, consider retaining the services of security escorts, particularly in areas where police patrols are sparse.
• Be aware rural areas in high-threat countries are fertile areas for kidnapping, as well as for police harassment at checkpoints where bribes may be solicited.
• Have an unlocked, quad-band cell phone, and keep it handy 24/7.
• Know who you can call in an emergency 24/7.
• Type the phone number of your embassy's security representative into your cell phone's speed-dialer.
• Know what action to take before you are faced with a crisis.
Ed Lee is a retired U.S. State Department diplomat and Regional Security Officer (RSO) who spent most of his life abroad, protecting U.S. diplomats and American business executives. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.