03 January 2006

Stay out of Yemen

BerlinBear avatarWith the Yemeni tribesmen who have kidnapped five Italian tourists now threatening to kill their hostages if government forces storm their hideout, and with the German family previously held hostage there only just having returned home yesterday, I can't help wondering how it is that there are any tourists left in Yemen to kidnap. In the past six months, there have now been four separate kidnapping incidents involving Western tourists. First it was Swiss tourists, then Austrian tourists, then the Germans, and now it's Italians.

But why on earth are these tourists there in the first place? All the government consular websites I've checked have some sort of travel warning for Yemen. They range from New Zealand's "Extreme Risk - We advise against all travel", to the United States' "The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to consider carefully the risks of traveling to Yemen. The security threat level remains high due to terrorist activities in Yemen, and Americans are urged to exercise caution and take prudent measures to maintain their security." Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and Germany, which are the ones I've checked , all have some sort of travel warning for Yemen which falls somewhere between those two examples above. I presume that the same is true for most other Western countries.

Given that, I wonder why Western tourists are still travelling to Yemen at all. You'd have to be mad, wouldn't you, to head somewhere on holiday where your government (and numerous others) strongly recommend you don't go, and where there's a fair chance you'll end up a pawn in someone else's negotiations? So far, the recent spate of kidnappings of Western tourists has thankfully not involved any bloodshed. But who knows how long that will last?

For now, I'd have thought the message to Western tourists was crystal clear: Yemen is not the place to be. Go somewhere else.