Volunteers, missionaries and aid workers set foot where other travellers won’t – but what happens when they want to do some good in the world’s most dangerous corners?
Ordinary insurance won’t cover travellers visiting countries with a severe history of civil unrest or violence, yet these are the places that stand to benefit most from dedicated volunteers and humanitarian projects.
And for some, the curiosity to find out what it’s really like to live and work in these parts of the world, along with the desire to help others, outweighs the risk.
After 15 years of insuring missionaries in some of the world’s toughest destinations – including securing emergency medical assistance – Salt Insurance has revealed the most dangerous places that it insured travel to in 2019.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) warns that the level of consular support from the British Embassy is severely restricted here and that the security situation could quickly worsen with little or no warning.
The FCO advises against all but essential travel to certain parts of Kabul, Panjshir province and the city of Bamian in Bamian province. It advises against all travel to the rest of Kabul and Afghanistan as a whole.
Terrorist attacks are considered ‘very likely’, with an increased overall threat to Western interests in Kabul. Protests and public gatherings are also seen as extremely high-risk situations. Travel by road is considered extremely dangerous and hotels and guesthouses used by foreign nationals are subject to regular threats.
So, why travel somewhere so fraught with risk? Being one of the least developed countries in the world, with an infrastructure severely damaged by war, there is a very wide range of issues that volunteers can help with.
Projects available include education, medicine and dentistry, construction and more. The majority of projects are based in Kabul.
2. Burkina Faso
This small, landlocked West African country has been repeatedly rocked by coups from the 1960s up until recent years.
The FCO advises against all travel to most of the country due to the risk of terrorist attacks and kidnap. Neighbouring countries Mali and Niger increase the risks associated with visiting Burkina Faso and their situations should be taken into account by travellers. Consular support is limited.
“Attacks could be indiscriminate”, warns the FCO, noting that attacks could even be against Burkina Faso’s own security forces and religious sites. A state of emergency is in place in many of its provinces. Burkina Faso is also classified as having a risk of Zika virus transmission.
With 80 per cent of the country’s population reliant on subsidiary farming (which is dependent on regular rainfall), poverty is rife. For volunteers determined to visit Burkina Faso, a range of humanitarian projects are available including childcare, teaching and healthcare. The average woman in Burkina Faso will have six children – it has one of the highest fertility rates on the planet – and projects that empower women are also available. It is common for volunteers to stay with a host family.
Burundi is a former European colony that was governed by Belgium and Germany, jointly with Rwanda, under the name Ruanda-Urundi until 1962. Ethnic cleansing, civil wars and genocides have left Burundi with an undeveloped economy and an extremely poor population.
Political instability has been rife since President Nkrunziza’s inauguration for a third term – considered highly controversial – and the FCO advises visitors to remain vigilant at all times. The FCO advises against all but essential travel to the majority of Burundi and advises against all travel to the rest of the country.
In 2017, Burundi became the world’s first country to leave the International Criminal Court (ICC) following accusations by the UN of human rights violations including extrajudicial killings, torture and sexual violence.
Health is also a concern for those visiting Burundi. As well as a risk of Zika and Ebola virus transmission, Burundi has a cholera epidemic.
For volunteers, the situation in Burundi is further complicated by its government’s 2018 announcement that it would suspend the work of NGOs. Volunteers should maintain a low profile as a rule.
The FCO currently advises against travel to all parts of Iraq except the Kurdistan region, where it recommends essential travel only.
While the Iraqi Prime Minister announced the defeat of Daesh in Iraq in 2017, the security situation remains extremely uncertain and terrorist attacks are considered very likely. The FCO warns that it may not be able to assist British nationals in leaving Iraq if the situation suddenly deteriorates.
Westerners visiting Iraq may find that there is increased attention on them, especially in the wake of heightened US tensions with neighbouring nation Iran. Iran fired missiles in Iraq as recently as January 2020, and Turkey regularly carries out airstrikes in the Kurdistan region. Anyone visiting Iraq should ensure they have excellent security in place and remain vigilant in monitoring the news.
Projects available in Iraq include human rights, construction, education, gender equality, humanitarian aid, and community development (although prospective volunteers may find that projects are not currently open due to current heightened tensions).
Dubbed by some as ‘the most dangerous country in the world’, Somalia has been in a state of civil war for decades. The FCO advises against all travel to Somalia and Somaliland (which is a self-declared republic), except the cities of Hargeisa and Berbera where it advises against all but essential travel.
Somalia’s piracy problem is well documented internationally due to a long history of kidnappings of both mariners and tourists; however, the situation inland is equally as dangerous for foreigners. The terrorist group al-Shabab (linked to al-Qaeda) retains a strong and active presence in the country with recent incidents including a December 2019 bombing in the capital city of Mogadishu.
With poverty prevalent in Somalia and Somaliland, there is a very wide scope of projects for volunteers to get involved with. From humanitarian relief, rape crisis centres and projects for young people, to projects that focus on drought response, those thinking of visiting will find no shortage of projects in need of help.
Despite the risks of travelling to these regions, Salt Insurance has long insured those visiting to carry out mission, volunteer and aid work.
Anyone considering visiting a country on this list should undertake extensive research into the country and the organisations working there, though – the stakes are extremely high, even for seasoned travellers.
You don’t have to be visiting one of the world’s most dangerous places to benefit from Salt’s travel expertise. Salt Insurance covers popular volunteering destinations on every continent, with top-of-the-range emergency medical assistance.
After all, if we can look after missionaries and aid workers in some of the toughest destinations in the world, then you can be confident we can look after you, too.
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