Andy Williams, Senior Consultant at RPS Partnership
High-Risk Media Safety Advisor and Hostile Environment Trainer. Former Parachute Regiment and over ten years in the security sector. Internationally recognised Risk Mitigation Consultant and Personal Safety Trainer.
Gaziantep Travel Safety Advice
Gaziantep is a province in south-east Turkey approximately 100km North of Aleppo, Syria. Gaziantep has seen infrequent attacks against security forces in recent months with a spill over from the war in Syria.
In May this year, an explosive device was detonated outside the police headquarters, targeting the administrative heart of Gaziantep killing 2 people and injuring many more. In April, Turkish security forces detained two suspects in Gaziantep with suspected links to IS.
With Turkish authorities facing increasing tension and security threats what travel advice would we give to anyone planning to visit Gaziantep. One of our consultants gives us his take on the situation there.
There is a heightened threat from indiscriminate attacks against foreign nationals in Gaziantep including express kidnappings, especially close to the border region where IS routinely use kidnapping as a tactic.
There are a number of terrorist groups active in Turkey motivated by the conflict in Syria in addition to a domestic terrorist footprint in the south-east of the country. The advice given is based on recent travel and observations of the city and having the opportunity to talk to the people who live there.
Local laws and customs
Females should dress modestly, especially if you are near a mosque or a religious shrine.
It is also worth noting that it is illegal not to carry some form of photographic ID in Turkey. At all times carry your passport, petty cash (Turkish Lira and USD), a hard copy of your e-visa / passport and emergency numbers in a money belt or cross body satchel.
Simply put, nonverbal body language and your profile matter. Research into behavioural analysis suggest that up to 93% make up the majority of body language, so if your emotional condition does not match the image you are trying to portray, your movements will be awkward and unnatural. Talk, move and look like you belong. Consider wearing dull, non-descriptive clothing.
Be mindful of third-party awareness and do not give any information away about yourself unnecessarily. Common items that I notice from travellers are military style clothing, and company logos / tags on baggage. During transit and during check in, remain situational aware of what is going on around you and who may be listening. We have all been stood behind ‘that one’ person at a check in who speaks so loud that you become aware of their entire itinerary before they have even received a room key!
British nationals need a visa to enter Turkey. You can apply for an e-Visa online before you travel through the official Republic of Turkey e-Visa website. An e-visa costs $20 and you can pay using a credit or debit card. You can apply up to 3 months in advance of your travel date. Turkish visit visas issued on arrival are valid for multiple stays up to a maximum of 90 days in a 180-day period.
Gaziantep International Airport is located approximately 20 km southeast of the city of Gaziantep. Gaziantep Airport offers both domestic and international flights and has a handful of small shops and cafes. If travelling through Istanbul, for priority pass members there is an option for access to one of the business lounges.
Carefully plan and consider the time of day that you choose to fly, including any connecting flights. Turkish Airways offer frequent daily flights from Istanbul which take 1hr 20 minutes.
It is advised that you pre-organise your pick up arrangements before your travel. Consider asking the taxi company or driver to hold up a neutral sign that does not give away any of your personal information. Airports are generally a hot spot for criminality.
Research your hotel prior to departure. Look carefully at the location and consider its proximity to other key buildings such as government buildings, hospitals or shopping malls. How will you get about? Gaziantep is small enough to walk to most locations in the city.
Ask for a room between the third and sixth floors – where rooms are high enough to avoid any criminality, but low enough to be reached in the event of a fire.
Pick up two hotel business cards and place one by the phone in your room so if there is an incident, you can relay your location to the embassy or emergency services. Place the other card in your money belt.
Formulate a check in mechanism with someone who you trust back home. Let them know your planned movements each day and the address of where you are staying, including your room number.
Ask for a map of the area you are staying, mark the location of your hotel and orientate yourself to the immediate area. How far away is the nearest hospital? One of the main hospitals is Medical Park Gaziantep Hospital which is located in the Southeastern Anatolia Region and provides health service 7 days, 24 hours a day and is recognized as one of the top hospitals for medical tourism.
Familiarize yourself with the hotel’s evacuation plan, floor layout and fire escapes. Formulate your own security plan and other contingency plans to deal with bomb threats, suspect packages, evacuation or a hotel assault.
Conduct a basic room search every morning and evening looking for anything that may raise your suspicion. Does the door and windows lock securely? Many casualties in urban terrorist attacks are caused by flying glass shrapnel.
Always find an alternative method of exiting the hotel in the event of an incident, perhaps through a window or down a stairwell. Identify the number of doors to the stairwell from your room in case you need to exit the building in a hurry during the night.
In every environment it is essential that you know exactly where you are, have an exit strategy and a method of communication.
Check that the room telephone is working and you are able to access the Wi-Fi router from your room. I will also check the walls as Interior rooms with reinforced concrete or masonry walls often make suitable protected spaces and tend to remain intact in the event of an explosion outside the building.
Finally, during the evenings I have my ‘grab bag’ packed full of essential pieces of kit (GPS, travel documents / cash and a basic trauma pack), suitable footwear and a torch at the side of the bed.
Take at least two methods of communication. It is essential to have adequate communications within and between protected spaces.
I travel with three phones, which include a smart phone, a cheap Nokia style phone with a local sim and pre-loaded credit inserted plus a satellite phone. Create a daily communication’s plan and movement log. Whatever system you choose should be regularly tested and available within the protected space.
The current situation in Turkey has calmed following an attempted coup in July 2016. The security environment, however, remains potentially volatile. Flights to, from and through airports in Turkey have returned to normal. Check with your airline or travel company if you need more information before you travel.
If you are planning on going to Gaziantep you should remain vigilant, follow the advice given and take sensible precautions.
Demonstrations and civil unrest may take place without notice. You should be vigilant, particularly in areas where crowds may gather, and stay well away from any demonstrations.
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