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, including cases of:
- 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, include: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, India, Iraq, Kenya, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, 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 neighbouring countries such as Cameroon. Further kidnappings are likely in the North and West Africa region. Recent cases of kidnapping in Libya and Yemen have underlined the ongoing risk in those countries.
The conflict in Syria has resulted in the kidnapping of a significant number of foreign nationals, including media, humanitarian workers and other foreigners remaining in the country.
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 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.
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.
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 boat page.
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:
- In January and February 2014, several foreigners were kidnapped in separate incidents in the Yemeni capital Sana’a.
- On 20 January 2014, a South Korean official was kidnapped in Tripoli, Libya.
- On 17 January 2014, two Italian nationals were kidnapped near Derna, Libya.
- On 15 November 2013, two Taiwanese tourists were attacked in their hotel on an island off the coast of eastern Sabah, Malaysia. One tourist was murdered and another was kidnapped.
- On 2 November 2013, two French journalists were kidnapped in northern Mali and later found murdered.
- In September and October 2013, a foreigner working with the UN and a foreign journalist were kidnapped in Sana’a, Yemen.
- On 21 August 2013, two foreign humanitarian workers were kidnapped in Bamyan province Afghanistan.
- In June 2013, two Dutch nationals were reported missing and presumed kidnapped in Sana’a in Yemen.
- In May 2013, two South African citizens were kidnapped in Ta’iz in Yemen.
- In May 2013, five members of the International Committee of the Red Cross, including three foreign nationals, were kidnapped in Yemen.
- On 13 March 2013, two Czech tourists were 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.
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.