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Travel Warning: Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Consular Affairs issued a Travel Warning for the Democratic Republic of the Congo yesterday.  It reads as follows:

Congo, Democratic Republic of the

July 19, 2011

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa) (DRC), and recommends against non-essential travel to eastern and northeastern DRC.  This replaces the Travel Warning dated November 25, 2010, to update information on security, safety, and health concerns in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Elements of the Congolese military, as well as rebel fighters, remain a security concern in eastern and northeastern DRC.  These armed groups – located especially in the North Kivu, South Kivu, and Orientale provinces, as well as the northern part of Katanga province, parts of Equateur province, and the eastern part of Maniema province – are known to pillage, steal vehicles, kidnap, rape, kill, and carry out military or paramilitary operations in which civilians are indiscriminately targeted.  The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is present near the border with Uganda, Central African Republic, and the Republic of South Sudan.  Armed conflicts continue despite the signing of peace accords in 2008 and 2009 and the presence of UN forces (MONUSCO).  In January 2009, Rwandan government troops and the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) launched large-scale joint military operations against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels in North Kivu.  The DRC-Rwandan operations were followed by joint operations by the FARDC and MONUSCO, which are on-going.

In two separate incidents in early April 2010, one in Equateur province in the western DRC and one in South Kivu province in the east, foreigners were kidnapped by armed militia groups.  In South Kivu province, eight International Red Cross workers were kidnapped by a group called the Mai Mai Yakutumba, a group that controls its own territory in the region and was formed to resist Rwandan Hutu forces that fled into the DRC after the 1994 genocide.  The region has been the scene of violent clashes that have resulted in the displacement of more than 1.9 million civilians since the start of the conflict.

Travelers are frequently detained and questioned by poorly disciplined security forces at numerous official and unofficial roadblocks and border crossings throughout the country.  Requests for bribes in such instances are extremely common, and security forces have occasionally injured or killed people who refuse to pay.  In the past year, several U.S. citizens were illegally detained by government forces.  Very poor infrastructure (road and air) makes the provision of consular services difficult outside of Kinshasa.

Kinshasa has a critical crime threat, and U.S. citizens continue to be the victims of serious crimes, including armed robbery by groups posing as law enforcement officials in both urban and rural areas, especially after nightfall.  Avoid walking alone and displaying cash and other personal property of value.  Avoid taking photos in public, especially of government buildings and the airport (which are viewed as places of national security), police stations, the presidential palace, border crossings, and along the river, since doing so may lead to arrest.

Lock vehicle doors and keep windows closed when driving.  You should not stop at the scene of an accident or at intersections where people have gathered, as mobs can develop quickly.  In areas where the roads are in poor condition and the speed limit is minimal, be wary of gangs of street children who may approach your car, open your door, and steal your belongings.  Roadblocks are often found throughout the country, especially near government buildings and installations in Kinshasa, and should be avoided if possible.  If stopped at a roadblock, keep doors locked and crack the window in order to communicate.

Official Congolese motorcades pose hazards to motorists and pedestrians.  Drivers should pull over to the far side of the road when sirens or security forces announce their presence.  You should not take photographs of motorcades.  Proceed only when security forces permit you to do so.

There is no reliable public transportation system in the DRC.  Overcrowded vans and taxis, which often do not meet western safety standards, serve as public transportation in Kinshasa.  Few independent taxis are available, operating largely out of the big hotels, and most do not meet safety standards.  You should avoid all travel by public transportation, and hire private transport from a reliable source.

The DRC has few viable roads or railways, but does have several major waterways.  Boat transport is widely used; however, the vessels are often overloaded or badly maintained, and accidents are commonplace.  There have been multiple accidents in 2011 on both rivers and lakes resulting in hundreds of fatalities.

Public health concerns pose a hazard to U.S. citizen travelers due to outbreaks of deadly viruses and other diseases, which can occur without warning and often without swift reporting by local health authorities.  Information on personal protection for international travelers, including children, can be found on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website.  Travelers are required to carry evidence of yellow fever vaccination in order to enter the DRC.  Health officials at entry points, such as the airport in Kinshasa, will check for proof of vaccination.  If you do not have evidence of a yellow fever vaccination, you may be denied entry or required to pay a fine.

Due to the recent outbreak of Wild Polio Virus in the DRC, you should update your polio vaccination, if necessary, and refer to the CDC for additional guidance.  Due to the high levels of air irritants (i.e., dust, burning trash, debris, etc.) individuals with respiratory illnesses should bring all their necessary medications and equipment with adaptors.

Due to the immense size of the country, the terrible state of the roads, and the poor security situation, the only way to get around the country quickly is by plane.  Domestic air travel on Congolese or other local airlines in the DRC is not recommended.  The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has assessed the government of the DRC as not being compliant with international standards for aviation safety oversight.  There have been several recent incidents causing deaths and injuries, including one on August 25, 2010, that killed all but one passenger.  In April 2011, a flight crashed while landing in Kinshasa, killing 32 passengers and crew.  In July 2011, a flight crashed in Kisangani, killing over 70 passengers.  The U.S. Embassy has prohibited official travel by U.S. government employees and certain contractors on most airlines flying domestic routes in the DRC due to safety and maintenance concerns.  International flights on foreign-owned-and-operated carriers are not affected by this prohibition.

You should avoid all public demonstrations and areas where crowds have gathered because even peaceful events can turn confrontational and become violent.  You should exercise caution at all times, and closely monitor local and international news from reliable sources.  Radio Okapi broadcasts in French on 103.5 FM at 0700, 0800, 1200, and 1800, and provides updates throughout the day.  English-language news can be found on BBC at 92.6 FM.  In emergencies, the Belgian Embassy operates a French-language radio broadcast system at FM 98.8.  Changes in security conditions may occasionally restrict the travel of U.S. Mission personnel.

The U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa also strongly encourages U.S. citizens who travel to or remain in the DRC despite this Travel Warning to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) so you can receive the most up-to-date security information.  You should remember to keep all of your information in STEP current.  It is important to include your current phone number and email address where you can be reached in case of an emergency.

The U.S. Embassy is located at 310 Avenue des Aviateurs; the Consular Section entrance is located on Avenue Dumi, opposite Saint Anne’s church.  The Embassy’s telephone number, including for after-hours emergencies, is 243-81-556-0151; callers within the DRC should dial 081-556-0151.  All telephone lines in the DRC, cellular as well as landlines, are unreliable.  Click here to visit the Embassy website.

U.S. citizens should also consult the Department of State’s Country Specific Information Sheet for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Worldwide Caution.  Up-to-date information on safety and security is available toll-free at 1-888-407-4747 from within the United States and Canada, or at regular toll rates at 1-202-501-4444 for callers from other countries, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Stay up to date by bookmarking our Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which also contains the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts as well as the Worldwide Caution.  Follow us on Twitter and become a fan of the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well.


Written by OSB

20/07/2011 at 11:47

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