Updated: Nov 27, 2020
War zones or former war zones, often called hostile environments, are distinctly dangerous. It is highly unusual for anyone other than professionals sent with a specific mission, or locals who cannot or will not leave, to be wandering around war zones.
Some people must travel to these areas as part of their job; these include soldiers, reporters, diplomats, military or security contractors, and often people employed by various governments, international agencies and NGOs to provide relief from some of the ravages of war, to deal with refugee problems, or to rebuild after a war. Usually, those people will have had special training and the organization will provide extensive support — almost always a professional security team and heavily-secured buildings, often armored vehicles and/or armed guards for any required travel. They may also be partly protected by DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY, by press credentials, or by some symbol like a Red Cross or the blue helmets of UN peacekeepers.
Going into such an area for tourism is a spectacularly bad idea since you may not have the training and will certainly not have the backup or protections that the professionals do. Even a tourist with no hostile intentions may provoke heated reactions; among other things, you may be taken for a spy. Tourists can be just as much a target of hostility as any military force. Indeed, tourists are a soft target, much easier to attack than the professionals. Some may be specifically targeted because of their home country, religion or ethnic group.
In some areas, such as Afghanistan and the southern Philippines, tourists are prime targets for kidnapping. Many national governments have a policy of not paying ransoms for citizens who are kidnapped. Even if your government, employer or family is willing to pay a ransom, some of the kidnappers would rather have a beheading video that helps publicize their cause than just get some money. Diplomatic Missions are often unable to provide any assistance to their citizens who are travelling in war zones. If your country has military forces in the area or is supporting one side in the conflict, those groups are quite unlikely to think their mission includes protecting tourists but the other side is almost certain to consider you hostile.
In general, national governments strongly advise against visiting war zones for any reason, and only send diplomats and other official representatives into these areas when they are accompanied by security teams or are located in a well protected area. Other organizations also provide safety information to groups such as Non Governmental Organisations and Humanitarian Aid Groups that work in war zones. Sources of information and include:
British Foreign & Commonwealth Office provides travel advice
International NGO Safety Organisation exists to provide information and assistance to enable safer circumstances for NGOs
US State Department provides travel advice, warnings and country information.
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs - Smartraveller provides travel advice for countries and events, travel tips and safety information
Training courses your best bet for safety Anyone planning a visit to a country that could be considered a war zone should get professional training. Such courses are becoming increasingly easy to find. A search of the Internet for 'Hostile environment course' will probably provide the address of a local company. A course will normally cover all the issues discussed here in far greater detail, usually with practical experience. They can be a lot of fun too. A course will normally be from 2-5 days and will involve role play, a lot of first aid and sometimes weapons training. Most NGO staff, journalists, diplomats, et al. will have taken these courses.
Pilgrims Group offer training in the UK.
Athena Security & Intelligence Consultants (ASIC) offer training both in the UK and globally. They are experts in the delivery of Kidnap Avoidance and Hostage Survival training as well as offering a variety of other training specialisations.
OnPoint Tactical. located in the US. Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape training for civilians and military alike.
War Zone Tours conduct regular hostile environment/anti-kidnap training for travelers visiting high risk regions of the world.
The UN has courses that are required for all staff it sends to such areas.
For further information you may contact us at our email and we will guide you to addressing your travel plans and possible attach a team member to your group as a risk planner and detail.