Saturday, November 26, 2011

Evaluating the Risk

Here's what you'll hear in the news which will concern you: 

In two separate incidents in the last three days there have been kidnappings in Northern Mali. The first instance involved two French nationals kidnapped by an armed gang from their hotel in Hombori, Northern Mali, not far from the border with Burkina Faso and about 330 km outside of the regional capital of Mopti. In the second instance three European tourists were kidnapped and a fourth was killed while resisting being kidnapped from a restaurant in Timbuktu (Tomboctou).

This is what won't be emphasized in the news but which should be reassuring:

Although this does mark a slight uptick in violence, both incidents occurred in the North of the country which has been experiencing this kind of aggression for years. It is also worth noting that Timbuktu has been widely considered an unsafe travel destination for some time and the two French nationals taken from Hombori were likely involved in some pretty shady work, considering their track records of being "mercenaries" as described on French radio. Hombori is located significantly East of Mopti and is on the border of the region of Gao. The North-Eastern regions of Mali are known to be the least safe, especially nearing the borders of Algeria and Niger.

The location of both incidents is significantly North of the Peace Corps no-go line which restricts our travel as volunteers, and since Peace Corps likes to play it safe, after every incident the PC security officer reevaluates the no-travel line. As far as volunteers currently placed in the region, the farthest North any volunteers are placed is Mopti, and there are only a handful of volunteers there. Site relocation happens not infrequently for a variety of reasons, not always security-related, so moving the volunteers out of Mopti should there be a shadow of a doubt about their safety is a safe bet. As far as my personal safety goes, my homestay site is not far from Bamako and very far from the northern line. I also have been told by individuals outside of Peace Corps that the organization has a strong and positive reputation even in the North. Lastly, the kidnappings that have occurred in Mali so far have been exclusively of Europeans.

On top of all this we have already had several sessions on the Peace Corps Emergency Action Plan (EAP), which can be activated at any time and which (if necessary) will implement the evacuation of all volunteers from country within 72 hours, as happened directly following the 1991 coup d'état in Mali and similar events in neighboring Peace Corps countries. This is quite a feat considering the 140+ volunteers currently in country! I'm in good hands.

Some further reading:
And in French: