I got the following email today:
The travel advice for Turkey has been reviewed and reissued.
The Advice was last issued on Thursday, 29 August 2013. It contains new
information under Civil unrest/political tension (Australians in border
areas with Syria who hold concerns for their safety as a result of the
current regional tensions surrounding events in Syria should consider
departing these areas). We continue to advise you to exercise a high degree
of caution in Turkey because of the high threat of terrorist attack and to
avoid all protests and demonstrations.
For a full text of the revised advice, please refer to www.smartraveller.gov.au.
Australian Embassy, Ankara, Turkey
It came because back in July I laboriously entered my travel plans into the Department of Foreign Affairs Smart Traveller website, so they know I’ll be in Istanbul tomorrow night on the way back home and they must email those Australians who they know will be in the area. It is welcome, since I’ve been away from the news for a few days and missed the accelerated reaction to the nerve gas attack in Syria. Turkey is NATO’s frontline in this conflict and, without the support of the UN, the greater conflict becomes one of NATO/rebels vs Russia/Iran/Syrian government. The Syrian rebels have, until now, largely been supported by the gulf Arab countries, mainly Saudi Arabia and Qatar. But if NATO steps in, they take a backseat, and Turkey becomes the easiest enemy for Iran/Syria/Hezbollah to hit.
So DFAT‘s concerns so far fill us with a great deal of confidence. So far.
The problem starts when you actually follow the links to the website and start reading the advisories. They have 5 levels of advice for each country and, in some cases, significant parts of each country:
1. Do not travel
2. Reconsider your need to travel
3. Exercise a high degree of caution
4. Exercise normal safety precautions
5. (Nothing, it’s all good, do whatever you like, don’t bother with normal safety precautions, you’ll be fine)
Now, can we guess which countries are in the Do not travel category? Syria, obviously. Afghanistan, correct. Iraq, too (although parts of Iraqi Kurdistan get the Reconsider seal of sort of approval). Libya gets it too, more than two years after ousting Gaddafi. Two countries in central Africa, two in the Sahel region and three in east Africa get it, as well as Yemen in the Middle East. That’s it.
So, what about the safest places, those places where less than the normal safety precautions are all you need, according to DFAT? They are Andorra in the Pyrenees, the vast majority of the islands of the Caribbean (but not famously-lawless Jamaica, they get high degree of caution), lots of islands in the Pacific where nothing really happens (including, amusingly, our own penal colony, Nauru), obviously that Mecca of happiness Bhutan, a couple of sleepy central European countries. And…Bulgaria. Yes, it seems the same Bulgaria where Aussie Jock Palfreeman stood up for a couple of gypsies and a lot went wrong and he’s now in a Bulgarian prison for a very long time. Japan? I hear you ask? No, Japan requires you to exercise Normal safety precautions. Yes, that same Japan where you couldn’t get 2 screens into buying a train ticket before some kind Japanese person did it for you and then led you to your platform, missing their own train in the process. New Zealand, surely? Nope, they get Normal safety precautions too. Is it because of the earthquakes? Seems unfair.
So what about our good friends the United States of America? Where an Australian in a sleepy town was shot in the back by some bored kids? Relax, only Normal safety precautions required there. In the entire USA. Does a kevlar running vest count as normal precautions? And what about the United Kingdom? There’s parts of London you don’t want to go, so there’s got to be a travel advice for the UK. But then again, even the roughest parts of London seem safer than Bulgaria, so…now I’m confused. The UK gets Normal safety precautions too.
Now, the absurdity of these advisories comes into greater focus having just been to a country like Iran. Iran escapes the Do not travel tag and scrapes in with Reconsider your need to travel (the more lawless parts of the border areas do get Do not travel). But I have never felt safer among people than in that country. I’m well aware of the corruption of the system and the Australian government’s inability to offer much help because of limited political ties with Iran, but the people there understand all this too, and they know what to do. There is no rapacious tourist industry and there is a culture of hospitality that the rest of the world would do well to emulate. Contrast that with Bali and parts of Indonesia where institutions are corrupt and tourists are a regular target for all kinds of crime.
It is not DFAT’s job to issue travel advisories for, say, Northbridge in Perth, or the northern suburbs of Melbourne, or the bus to Frankston, but one wonders what travel advisories they might give foreign tourists if they had to apply the same standards. Even if we do make too much of the crime on our streets sometimes, a lot of the world is much, much safer than our cities, and that’s impossible to see in these advisories.
But the Turkey advisory today is welcome. Even if it has got me worried that someone might bomb the Sheraton tomorrow on my first ever night in a Sheraton.
Now here are some pictures of nice people from Iran (Reconsider your need to travel) and Georgia (Exercise normal safety precautions):