Gavin Greenwood, Director at Allan & Associates
Gavin Greenwood, Director of Hong Kong-based Allan & Associates, has lived and worked in Southeast and East Asia for many years. Allan & Associates, a security risk management company, provides a wide range of protective services from travel risk assessments to crisis management response.
Papua New Guinea: A high risk destination
Allan & Associates assess Papua New Guinea (PNG) as a high risk destination for business visitors and residents. There is a high risk of crime and foreign nationals may be targeted in car-jacking, muggings, theft, violent crime and sexual assault. Outbreaks of violent ethnic, communal and tribal conflict are common and can lead to major disruptions to services and travel in both urban and rural areas. There is also an elevated risk of business disruption and reputational harm due to arbitrary government actions and endemic corruption.
Nevertheless, there is a substantial expatriate community in the country employed in jobs ranging from mining in the Highlands, banking in Port Moresby, to development volunteers in remote valleys and on to teachers, technocrats and numerous specialists hired by the state or international agencies.
Of the estimated 60,000 or so foreign nationals registered as employed in PNG, more than a third are from neighbouring Australia, the de facto colonial power until PNG gained independence in 1975; a further 12 per cent from other developed nations, with the remainder drawn mainly from across Asia.
In addition, more than 66,500 business arrival were recorded in 2015, around 40,000 from Australia and New Zealand, outnumbering the 54,000 arrivals who cited tourism as their purpose of their visit. These figures offer some context as to how the undoubted threats and risks facing foreign business personnel in PNG are perceived by companies and individuals.
What are the biggest risks visitors face?
Crime and traffic accidents are the main risks facing foreign business visitors and residents in PNG – unusually, in that order. PNG has one of highest crime rates in the world, reflecting the continuing and often chaotic transition many local people experience as they migrate from often isolated rural communities, largely self-governed according to traditional tribal power structures, into the rapidly expanding urban settlements that offer few employment opportunities but many distractions.
One manifestation of such dislocation are the so-called ‘raskol’ (‘rascal’) gangs, comprising young men armed with bladed weapons and home-made firearms who survive through robbing and often assaulting any target of opportunity that comes within their orbit. Raskols are a permanent threat day and night in the heart of Port Moresby and Lae, or along the highways connecting PNG’s other main cities and towns. In terms of crime, these group are the most serious threat a foreign visitor or resident will generally face. The tendency for opportunistic crime in PNG to be accompanied by gratuitous violence is a particularly troubling characteristic of the local operating environment.
Another key risk is road travel, both as the result of crime and due to the threat of accidents. Raskols and local ad hoc criminal groups are adept at erecting road blocks or other means of halting traffic on rural roads, mainly but not exclusively at night, as are the police who may seek small bribes from the drivers they stop.
Disputes between differing ethnic or communal groups is another endemic threat. While such violence rarely involves Westerners, there remains the danger of becoming inadvertently caught at the wrong place at the wrong time. Violent confrontations between large groups involving traditional bladed weapons, clubs and bows and arrows can develop seemingly without warning. Areas at notable risk include parts of the Highlands, Oro Province, Central and Southern Bougainville and Lae, PNG’s second largest city.
Are there any risks that visitors should be careful not to overlook?
Sexual assaults, including those against foreign women, appear to be increasing although data are scare.
People of East Asian ancestry have also been targeted in the past. In June 2013 four Chinese nationals were killed in a shop in Port Moresby, while two other ethnic Chinese died in riots targeting their community in Lae in 2009. Apart from robbery, the motive for such attacks has been linked to animosity against Chinese migrants by sectors of the indigenous PNG population.
Other more prosaic but potentially dangerous threats include extreme weather and its impact on the country’s already fragile road network, where potholes, land slips and flooding can make travel extremely hazardous, even impossible.
Further, PNG’s rugged terrain and the remote locations of many of the country’s mines and other natural resource projects means air travel is often the only feasible means of transport. This carries its own risks, with eight separate air crashes and 51 fatalities recorded in past six years; by contrast neighbouring Australia recorded nine air crashes that resulted in no fatalities over a similar period.
What can visitors do to mitigate the risks described above?
Most crimes a foreign resident or visitor are likely to encounter are opportunistic and often based on the behaviour, even demeanor, of the victim. As a result the first defence against being targeted is to avoid the most obvious locations where an individual may be vulnerable and take straightforward precautions to deter a potential attack or reduce one’s ‘reward’ profile.
The principal protection is limit the amount of time spent on urban streets, and when it is essential to do so always travel with companions, do not openly carry valuable or attractive items, dress down and move confidently. A ‘throw-down wallet’ containing a small amount of local and foreign currency that can be readily handed over in the event of robbery might also be considered.
Vehicle doors should always be locked and windows rolled up while traveling by car. Those without access to vehicles provided by local colleagues or clients should only use transport provided by the hotel. When driving after dark vehicles should, wherever possible, travel in convoy and inter-city travel should be avoided at night.
Follow local media for any change in the overall security situation, and seek advice from trusted locally-based sources or contacts if there is any uncertainty over the wisdom of travelling to a particular location.
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