The United States has added a “risk of kidnapping” metric to travel advisories issued by its Department of State, just days after a U.S. tourist and her driver were abducted and then safely released in Uganda.
The new “K” indicator is meant to more clearly communicate the risk of hostage taking or kidnapping in the 35 countries to which it was applied, and will stand alongside existing ratings for crime, civil unrest, natural disasters and other risks that the public may encounter.
Sixteen of the countries under the kidnapping risk warning are on the African continent. In addition to Uganda, they include: Algeria, Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan.
“The U.S. Department of State has no greater responsibility than the safety and welfare of Americans overseas,” the agency said. “We will continue to update our public information as part of our ongoing commitment to serve U.S. citizens as they travel abroad.”
The announcement comes one week after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Robert O’Brien, a special envoy for hostage affairs, spoke to the families of U.S. citizens who are held captive in other nations. They underscored the U.S. policy against paying ransom to criminal and terrorist actors.
“There are those who have talked about this idea that the United States ought to return to the practice of paying ransom for exchanging – exchanging the return of individuals back to the United States,” Pompeo said. “I understand this plea from the bottom of my heart; indeed, I am confident that if I stood in your shoes, I too would be willing to do anything.”
Pompeo acknowledged that the suffering of these families is “unspeakable,” but that the ransom policy seeks to reduce risk.
“We know that there are nations that take Americans less because there is less money coming from America,” he said, using African groups as an example.
“Please remember that any payment to a terrorist or a terrorist regime gives money so that they can seize more of our people. We cannot accept that risk,” he said. “Even a small payment to a group in, say, Africa can facilitate the killing or seizure of tens or even hundreds of others, including Americans or foreign nationals in that region.”
To review specific U.S. travel advisories, check this link.
Image: Secretary Pompeo file