Please note – the views in the following feature are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Safe Travels Magazine. Before travel, we recommend that you always do your own research, read travel advisories and buy appropriate travel insurance.

In the second of our ‘Is it safe to …?’ series, we asked a range of experts if it is safe to go to the Turkey this summer. We asked what risks visitors might face and what they can do to mitigate those risks – essential reading if you are heading in that direction!

Government travel advice

Links to travel advice on visiting Turkey from the following governments –

Click through here to read our coverage of recent events and developments in Turkey.

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Griffin Birch

Stuart Birch, Director at Griffin Birch

Email: stuart@griffinbirch.com
Website: www.griffinbirch.com
Twitter: @Griffin_Birch

Griffin Birch helps organisations with their employee safety overseas, focusing on the medical, security, and consular risks for business travel and assignment. In this changing world, Griffin Birch can help your organisation to assess and quantify the risks you and your people face, strategically plan to mitigate them, evaluate how existing services and insurances can be used more effectively, and dovetail this into your existing contractual structure.

How safe is it to visit Turkey?

Turkey is less safe than people may believe. The recent attempted Coup d’Etat was a media-worthy event, but the after-effects are less documented, and have a lasting and direct impact on travellers to the region.  There are currently threats within the country that are more akin to a troubled Middle Eastern dictatorship than a potential EU partner.

I believe many people will soon fall back into a perception of comfort over Turkey. Only ten years ago many Europeans owned holiday homes in its coastal towns, and may maintain the belief that the country will simply ‘sort itself out’. Turkey has been a melange of cultures, races, and ideologies for centuries and may now be entering another cycle of significant change.

What are the biggest risks?

Geo-political turmoil and personal security are the most immediate risks. A long-sheltered intolerance by some for certain creeds, religions, and lifestyles has flourished after the Coup attempt. There are reports of state-led sackings of university professors and teachers, and of torture and rape of detainees. Very recently there have been decapitations and burning of some of the LGBT population, signalling a rapid swing to the ultra-right wing views of fundamentalist religious groups.

In a country with fast-changing and unpredictable political policies, few of which are congruent to a Western view of what is acceptable, travellers of all demographics should consider Turkey a high-risk destination.

What are the overlooked risks?

Inter-racial tensions leading to rioting and hate-crimes against certain cultural groups. This is unlikely to be solely focused upon foreigners, but may be difficult to avoid if travelling into and around the country.

Turkey is a key location for the migration path of Middle Eastern refugees, and with a change of diplomatic stance with the EU we may see the state blocking the return of migrants from Greece back to areas like Syria. This will lead to a border stalemate with Greece, and I expect material numbers of refugees to be spending more time in a country that up until now they have been passing through. This tension could play out on the streets, and the state has a more militant approach to stabilising unrest, as the Kurds have learned. I predict high levels of racially-motivated violence in 2017/2018 if this stance continues.

How should people mitigate this?

The default position on travel to Turkey should be to avoid it, unless absolutely necessary.

If your position is that of the risk/reward equation falling in favour of travelling to Turkey, then perform a careful and realistic risk assessment, and prepare well. From the perspective of personal security you should consider your strategy within these three stages of your trip:

Before entering the country

  • Assess the demographic of your travelling population to the region. Such factors as racial background or sexual preference will have a material effect on the overall risk.
  • Vet all hotels and transport before booking, and if you have a Travel Management Company (TMC) doing this on your behalf then vet their process. The overall responsibility still lies with your board of directors, not with your TMC, if operating in a corporate environment.
  • Book all travel beforehand, as much as possible. Ask for photos of drivers to be provided and keep this information at hand.
  • Consider cultural awareness training – its value cannot be overstated.
  • Check with your Travel/Medical insurers as to what their stance is on cover within Turkey. They may have terms that stipulate non-cover in areas operating under a state of emergency, for example.

Operating within the country

  • Dress to fit in, not to stand out. Hide what might be considered wealth, and try not to act like a tourist (e.g. taking pictures in the street).
  • Raise your awareness level in all situations – be aware of who and what is around you.
  • Keep to your itinerary as much as possible and avoid areas outside of your hotel and your meeting locations.
  • If you are responsible for travellers, use a tracking process, e.g. via smartphone or similar, to monitor them. If a crisis emerges, knowing their location and being able to check in with them in real time will be of immense value.
  • Review your, or your company’s, crisis management process before travel is authorised, and communicate this to all travellers. Who will you call if things get difficult?

Exiting

  • Don’t change your behaviour just because you’re jumping into a taxi on the way to the airport. Maintain your vigilance until you’re out of the country.
  • Consider the potential consular challenges of a country in political turmoil – there are services available that you may call upon that can manage your interaction with your embassy. Less than 1% of all embassy enquiries are actioned, globally.
  • Ensure your crisis management process includes an exit strategy if things get really ugly, either for medical or security reasons. If there is an exodus and you’re waiting in the queue to get on a flight, you prolong your risk exposure.

 

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Rogan Dwyer at Global Asset Protection, Inc.

Email address: rogan@gaprotection.com
Website: www.gaprotection.com / www.b4stuffhappens.com
Twitter: @gapsecure

We consult and advise on the Duty of Care employers have for their employees, clients and stakeholders, and provide insurance and service solutions to protect assets overseas, both human and collateral. A global intelligence network and long standing contacts in the insurance and security industries are crucial to our continuing relevance and capability in this field.

How safe is it to visit Turkey?

A country’s borders are generally the most sensitive areas and the Turkey/Syria border is a graphic example of this. It is not safe and only those with very specific reasons to travel there should consider going and, even then, only with substantial intelligence, a security plan and professional back-up. Turkey’s other borders are of less concern but border guards are uneasy and outcomes are unpredictable so best avoided.

Major cities are not recommended at this time owing to the continuing threat of radical terrorism, be that domestic or international. International airports cannot easily be avoided but the areas within passport control and security are obviously less likely to be subject to attacks.

Rural tourist areas including the coastline are less likely to be targeted by organized groups and in general crime is relatively low.

Whilst the risk of direct involvement in a terrorist attack is relatively low, recent political events have shown that the situation is volatile to add to concerns about any trip there.

What are the biggest risks?

The biggest threats are random acts of terrorism and political instability, although in the wake of the recent failed coup it is unlikely that anything immediate will threaten the government. All bets are off on the Syrian border where any manner of risks exist. Criminal concerns exist countrywide in the same proportion to any other foreign country. The worth of vigilance and awareness cannot be overstated.

What are the overlooked risks?

Any involvement with the authorities carries a risk, and diplomatic tensions exist which limit the influence of foreign governments. The ever-shifting influences in Turkey can be followed in the press but law enforcement will be understandably unsympathetic to tourist misdemeanors.

How should people mitigate this?

Pre-trip advice is strongly recommended. Foreign Office, State Department and other national governments have good advisory resources. However, their ability to react is limited and constrained by diplomacy. Assume neither your government nor your tour company is going to bail you out and then consider who is. Resources are available and with some pre planning low intrusion, highly effective assistance can be there to support anyone traveling so that the focus on any trip can be the purpose of the trip and not the possible consequences.

James Pothecary photo

James Pothecary at Allan & Associates

Email: jpothecary@allan-assoc.com
Website: www.allan-assoc.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/A2Globalrisk

James Pothecary is a London-based political and security risk analyst specialising in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. James works at Allan & Associates, a security risk management agency, which provides a wide range of protective services from travel risk assessments to crisis management response.

How safe is it to visit Turkey?

Given the large number of terrorist attacks in the country’s major urban areas and the 15 July coup attempted by a faction of the military, stories which have dominated international media, one would be forgiven for dismissing Turkey as an inherently unsafe, terror-stricken nation afflicted with endemic political and civil instability.

However, I would say that for the vast majority of visitors most of Turkey is a reasonably safe destination for holiday or work. With an effective security apparatus and a developed, internationally minded economy, tourists within Turkish resorts are unlikely to face a major security threat. Every year, millions of tourists and businesspeople visit Turkey safely and without incident.

What are the biggest risks?

The risk of falling victim to another spectacular terror attack, while statistically low, cannot be ruled out, any more than it could be in Paris, London or Brussels. Travellers should maintain situational awareness in-country. This is particularly the case in major urban centres such as Istanbul, specifically the landside areas of airports, at major tourist attractions and locations close to governmental or military buildings.

Travellers should steer clear of street demonstrations. There are ongoing major pro-government gatherings, and although violence at such marches is not common, it remains a distinct possibility. Avoid such protests whenever practical and safe to do so, but simultaneously do not be overly alarmed by such events.

Travellers should be aware that some parts of Turkey are dramatically less safe than others. There is an ongoing Kurdish insurgency in the country’s south-east, in provinces such as Diyerbakir. This area is highly unstable, with full-scale fighting between militants and the military. Travellers should actively avoid this area, as it is categorically unsafe for civilian personnel. Turkey, like all countries, has crime. Travellers who are obviously intoxicated, ostentatiously displaying wealth or who fail to adhere to basic personal security principles – such as only using licensed radio-dispatch taxis – will be at an elevated risk of falling victim to harassment, theft or assault.

What are the overlooked risks?

With a road traffic collision fatality rate of around 13 deaths per 100,000 individuals, the risk from vehicles is, although overlooked, the major threat facing travellers in Turkey. Poor driving standards and lax adherence to safety protocols mean that travellers should take great care when moving by vehicle, and in particular should not attempt to self-drive.

Some national and minority groups are at a higher risk in Turkey due to local and historical sentiment. Kurds, Assyrians and Armenians, or visitors with surnames descended from those areas, should take additional care when moving about the country and be aware that they might encounter more scrutiny from security and border personnel than other travellers.

Turkey is one of the few countries in the Middle East and North Africa region where LGBTQ individuals are not at risk of imprisonment for their orientation. However, anti-LGBTQ sentiment is prevalent throughout the country. A gay man was recently beheaded in Istanbul by vigilantes, a shocking but pertinent indicator that the risk is not, unfortunately, hypothetical. LGBTQ travellers should be aware that this constitutes a real threat to their personal security in Turkey.

How should people mitigate this?

In a word, preparation. Know where you’re going, who you’re meeting and when. Don’t flag down taxis in the street, or allow strangers to lead you somewhere else. Make sure your mobile phone is operable in Turkey, and that you know the contact details for your embassy.

Take common-sense precautionary strategies, such as avoiding walking alone at night or in areas you’re unfamiliar with. Don’t carry large amounts of cash, and conceal valuable jewellery, watches or electronic devices when in public. Ensure you are aware of local customs and expectations particularly if travelling in a more rural or conservative area, and respect them. This could include, for example, dressing reasonably conservatively, and abstaining from publicly consuming food or drink during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Finally, obey the most important rule of all: if you feel something is wrong, or you are uncomfortable, extricate yourself from the situation as soon as possible and return somewhere you feel safe. Trust your judgement, and don’t be afraid to act on it.

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