International insecurity

 
 

Now that emigration is looking to be the chosen path for many here at home, Features Editor Leanne Waters looks at the dangers beyond our Irish shores.

Despite political chaos, societal turmoil and economic ruin in recent years, Ireland – for the most part – can often be seen as a docile, perhaps even provincial, nation. As I’m sure many would agree, the Emerald Isle was once a relatively comfortable place to grow up and flourish in. Now, however, with so much talk of bills, budgets, taxes and cuts, the concept of mass emigration is being resurrected again and again. As in the eighties we start to experience mass facets of Irish society fleeing our shores, it calls one issue into question: how safe are we abroad?

In answer to this question, we have two extreme examples; both of which have been made subject to our own technologically-developed entertainment. The first example can be found in the adventures of one Karl Pilkington. For those unaware, Karl Pilkington was the somewhat victimised guinea pig in the recent hit show An Idiot Abroad, which was produced by Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais.

The travel show followed Pilkington, the aforementioned ‘idiot’, as he visited the seven wonders of the world. Full to the brim of humour and laugh-out-loud moments, the programme was light hearted and of a cheery nature. And yet, one does wonder just how different this depiction is from reality. What must be borne in mind is that though visiting supposedly dangerous areas in the world, Pilkington was accompanied and protected by the might of Sky and the show production team. This, unfortunately, is not quite so readily available for your everyday globe tripper.

Perhaps slightly more true to life as we know it, is our second example. Ever relishing in the things that shock us the most, the long-standing Banged Up Abroad series seems to carry much weight with students and older generations alike. With harsh and often shocking stories of conflict, threats and imprisonment, the show gives no allusions as to the dangers that can potentially threaten any and all travellers.

In spite of this, there often seems to be a sense of invincibility among travellers. And the student body are of no exception. When asked if dangers and risks were a big consideration while travelling, first-year History and Sociology student Fiach Kunz comments: “Yeah I suppose I do take most risks into consideration. I was in Spain last year on a sixth year holiday and nothing bad happened to any of us.

“I think it’s just important to stick with your friends. Don’t get so drunk that you leave yourself vulnerable and have your wits about you in all situations. Of course there are risks when you’re travelling abroad but if you’re smart enough, you’ll avoid them.”

Furthermore, it is arguable to say that often our own behaviour determines what could be treacherous fate. A lack of consideration of our own safety was greatly highlighted in speaking to second-year Science student, David Archer, who says: “Well I often go away with intentions of being cautious, but usually I just get too hammered. Then things get dangerous, although it’s usually self inflicted.”

Despite a clear sense of safety among many students, perhaps it is too naïve to believe in our own security. Far beyond the repercussions of alcoholic indulgence and excessive socialising, there lies in many far-away destinations unthinkable hazards, which not even we would-be immortal students could tackle. One major threat posed to anybody wading in unknown waters is that of hostage taking. We have all heard the tales of kidnaps and ransoms across headlines from destinations all around the globe.

In July of 2009, for example, the Belfast Telegraph reported the following: “Omer Mohamed Ahmed Siddig, Sudan’s Ambassador to Ireland, said his government was hopeful Sharon Commins (32), from Dublin, and Ugandan Hilda Kuwuki, would be released within days. The pair, who work for Irish aid agency Goal, were captured from their compound in the town of Kutum, northern Darfur, last Friday, by men wielding AK-47 assault rifles. According to Mr Siddig, Sudan’s state minister for humanitarian affairs, Abdel Baqi al-Jailani says a criminal gang who were demanding a ransom for the two women, had been located.”

Sharon Commins and Hilda Kuwuki, as mentioned above, were two of the lucky minority who have managed to return home from such horrendous situations. Unfortunately, most are not so lucky. With modern targets ranging from journalists and tourists to aid workers, it appears that everyone who dares to brave the waters of the unknown is at risk.

According to Prime Defence International, the highest risk areas on our globe are South America, in particular, Columbia. In taking Columbia for example, the South American country holds the record for the most kidnappings per annum and the highest ransom demands. More often than not, the taking of hostages is somewhat of a business in Columbia, and kidnappings are often professional, very well organised and can last for considerable periods of time.

Prime Defence International records that “in the last eight years, the number of kidnappings around the world has increased by 70 per cent, reports the British insurance company Hiscox. According to recent reports “the most realistic estimate is between 20,000 and 30,000 kidnappings every year”. And, the experts note, Latin America accounts for a higher proportion of this figure than any other region of the world.

Hiscox and International Risk Solutions list Colombia, Brazil and Mexico among the countries where the risk of being abducted is greatest. In Colombia alone, 1,500 people are currently victims. (This is the official figure – the actual number is probably much higher, since many cases go unreported). These numbers become even more terrifying if one takes into account figures supplied by Fundación País Libre, a Colombian organisation that works to combat kidnapping, indicating that 141 of those abducted are children.

About 200 adult expatriates have been kidnapped in the Niger Delta since the start of 2006, and 15 are still being held by various armed groups. Most of the abductions are for ransom, although a few have been politically motivated.

However, it has become clear in recent years that one need not travel quite so far from our now seemingly safe coastline to encounter perilous jeopardy. Though still and unsolved matter, we need only look at the heart-wrenching case of young Madeleine McCann. The British girl went missing on the evening of Thursday, May 3rd 2007, during the course of a holiday with her parents in the Algarve region of Portugal.

It was only a few days before Madeleine’s fourth birthday when she disappeared from an apartment, in the central area of the resort of Praia da Luz. Madeleine’s parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, have said that they left the children unsupervised in a ground floor bedroom while they ate at a restaurant.

Though the truth of Madeleine’s disappearance is still unconfirmed, the story – which gripped and deeply moved all around the world – gave clear signs that security and safety are but transient entities that are not guaranteed. Moreover, the headline-breaking news from sunny Portugal confirmed that one does not need to travel very far to trip upon endangerment in its most shocking of forms. Madeleine McCann is still missing today.

With undeniable evidence to support the hazards and risks that can occur abroad, could we rely on our government to protect their flyaway birds? On the matter of hostage-taking situations and the procedures that come into practise in these cases, the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) were unable to give The University Observer any comment. However, DFA policies can be found on their website.

On this matter in particular, the policy provided was as follows: “Political Division provides policy advice on international cooperation against terrorism.  The Division is responsible for co-operation with international bodies, including the United Nations, on this issue and, together with relevant government departments, it is responsible for monitoring the implementation of United Nations sanctions against persons and entities associated with international terrorism.

“It also co-ordinates Ireland’s responses to requests for information submitted by UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism and Al-Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Committees. At EU level, the Division, working with the Permanent Representation, Brussels, is responsible for the Irish input into the development of the Union’s external policies on combating international terrorism.”

In what is becoming a more and more dangerous world, one would think that emigration would be the furthest thing from our minds. Yet with the recent budget, it appears still that Irish people would rather venture into the unknown than remain in what has been described as a now volatile environment here at home. With 2011 and there onwards set to see thousands say slán to the Irish coast, will emigration be stinted by fears of foreign foreboding? No, it seems not.

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