A protest takes place somewhere in the world almost every day. What should you do if you stumble into one while you’re travelling?Posted: December 17, 2009
Over the past week or so there have been protests about a multitude of issues in multiple locations around the world. Climate campaigners in Copenhagen, opposition protests in Tegucigalpa, Kurdish protests in Istanbul, steel worker protests in Middlesborough, government policy protests in Guatemala, minaret protests in Switzerland, opposition protests in Havana, West Bank & Gaza, Iran, Haiti, Somaliland, Kashmir and Omdurman, Sudan. The list goes on and on.
While a large number of these protests were in places that are anyway reckoned by travellers to be risky environments, some of them were in locations that anybody might visit for a holiday or for business. Take Switzerland and Istanbul, for example.
So what should you do if you happen on a protest in a city that you are passing through? The most important thing is to act with caution and move quickly away from where the demonstrators are gathered. Protests and demonstrations anywhere can turn violent very quickly. In some parts of the world, for example in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, this happens with monotonous regularity. By inadvertently becoming associated with a protest you can make yourself a target for riot police who, depending on their state of training, may lash out indiscriminately in order to try to control the situation.
In some countries, where police have loose ‘rules of engagement’ concerning the use of weapons and the legal system is opaque, this can land you in a lot of trouble. For example you could end up being locked up in a police cell for an indeterminate period or, worse, become critically injured in a place where the medical facilities are inadequate.
You can also reduce the chances of stumbling into an incident by keeping tabs on what’s happening in a city by speaking with hotel staff, cab drivers and local guides as you go about your day. In some countries riots happen spontaneously but elsewhere they start off as orderly demonstrations, given permission to take place by local authorities. Locals will know the locations in a city that, due to an open space or issue associated buildings, are prone to protests. Prior to departure, you can also use the map feature on the relevant country page on www.journeywatch.com to check for patterns of past protests in the city you’ll be visiting.
Finally, if you are caught up in a protest and you are unable to get away from it, you should move away from the ‘hot’ area where any violence may take place. This will reduce your chances of being injured or suffering an onslaught of water cannon or tear gas.