Afghanistal US Consular Information Sheet March 03, 2009
Afghanistan has made significant progress since the Taliban were deposed in 2001, but still faces daunting challenges, including de
A passport and valid visa are required to enter and exit Afghanistan. Afghan entry visas are not available at Kabul International Airport or any other ports of entry in Afghanistan. American citizens who arrive without a visa are subject to confiscation of their passport and face heavy fines and difficulties in retrieving their passport and obtaining a visa, as well as possible deportation from the country. Americans arriving in the country via military air usually have considerable difficulties if they choose to depart Afghanistan on commercial air, because their passports are not stamped to show that they entered the country legally. Those coming on military air should move quickly after arrival to legalize their status if there is any chance they will depart the country on anything other than military air. Visit the Embassy of Afghanistan web site at http://www.embassyofafghanistan.org for the most current visa information. The Consular office of the Embassy of Afghanistan is located at 2233 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Suite 216, Washington, DC 20007, phone number 202-298-9125. Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
The latest Travel Warning for Afghanistan emphasizes that the security situation remains critical for American citizens. The Taliban and associated insurgent groups, al-Qaida network terrorist organizations, and narco-traffickers oppose the strengthening of a democratic government. These groups aim to weaken or bring down the Government of Afghanistan and to drive Westerners out of the country. They do not hesitate to use violence, including targeting civilians. Terrorist activities may include, but are not limited to bombings -- including improvised explosive devices and car bombs -- assassinations, carjackings, rocket attacks, assaults and kidnappings. There were over 120 suicide attacks in 2008. There is an ongoing threat to attack and kidnap U.S. citizens and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) workers throughout the country. In 2008,, more than 30 NGO workers were killed (six foreigners) and at least 78 NGO staff members (seven foreigners) were abducted. Over 25 other foreign civilians, including journalists, were kidnapped. Kabul continues to experience suicide bombings against Afghan government personnel and installations, Afghan and coalition military assets, and international civilians. Riots -- sometimes violent -- have occurred in response to various political or other issues. Crime, including violent crime, remains a significant problem. Official Americans' use of the Kabul-Jalalabad, Kabul-Kandahar highways and other roads throughout the country is often restricted or completely curtailed because of security concerns. Insurgents continue to use roadside and car bombs to conduct attacks and abductions along major highways. Millions of unexploded land mines and other ordinance present a constant danger. The country faces a difficult period in the near term, and American citizens could be targeted or placed at risk by unpredictable local events. Americans should not come to Afghanistan unless they have made arrangements in advance to address security concerns. The absence of records for ownership of property, differing laws from various regimes and the chaos that comes from decades of civil strife have left property issues in great disorder. Afghan-Americans returning to Afghanistan to recover property, or Americans coming to the country to engage in business, have become involved in complicated real estate disputes and have faced threats of retaliatory action, including kidnapping for ransom and death. Large parts of Afghanistan are extremely isolated, with few roads, mostly in poor condition, irregular cell phone signals, and none of the basic physical infrastructure found in Kabul or the larger cities. Americans traveling in these areas who find themselves in trouble may not even have a way to communicate their difficulties to the outside world. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
A large portion of the Afghan population is unemployed, and many among the unemployed have moved to urban areas. Basic services are rudimentary or non-existent. These factors may directly contribute to crime and lawlessness. Diplomats and international relief workers have reported incidents of robberies and household burglaries as well as kidnappings and assault. Any American citizen who enters Afghanistan should remain vigilant for possible banditry, including violent attacks.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Kabul for assistance. The Embassy staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to provide a list of attorneys if needed. The local equivalent to the "911" emergency line in Afghanistan is: 119 Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Afghanistan’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. During the last several years, there have been incidents involving the arrest and/or detention of U.S. citizens. Arrested Americans have faced periods of detention—sometimes in difficult conditions—while awaiting trial. Penalties for possession or use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Afghanistan are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Another sensitive activity is proselytizing. Although the Afghan Constitution allows the free exercise of religion, proselytizing is often viewed as contrary to the beliefs of Islam and considered harmful to society. Proselytizing may lead to arrest and/or deportation. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
Because of the poor infrastructure in Afghanistan, access to banking facilities is limited and unreliable. Afghanistan's economy operates on a "cash-only" basis for most transactions. Credit card transactions are not available. International bank transfers are limited. Some ATM machines exist at Standard Charter Bank and Afghan International Bank (AIB) in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood of Kabul, but some travelers have complained of difficulties using them. International communications are difficult. Local telephone networks do not operate reliably. Most people rely on satellite or cellular telephone communications even to make local calls. Cellular phone service is available locally in Kabul and some other cities, but can be unreliable. Injured or distressed foreigners could face long delays before being able to communicate their needs to family or colleagues outside of Afghanistan. Internet access through local service providers is limited. In addition to being subject to all Afghan laws, U.S. citizens who are also citizens of Afghanistan may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on Afghan citizens. U.S. citizens who are also Afghan nationals do not require visas for entry into Afghanistan. The Embassy of Afghanistan issues a letter confirming your nationality for entry into Afghanistan. However, you may wish to obtain a visa as some Afghan-Americans have experienced difficulties at land border crossings because they do not have a visa in their passport. For additional information on dual nationality in general, see the Consular Affairs home page for our dual nationality flyer. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passport with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available. As stated in the Travel Warning, consular assistance for American citizens in Afghanistan is limited. Islam provides the foundation of Afghanistan's customs, laws and practices. Foreign visitors -- men and women -- are expected to remain sensitive to the Islamic culture and not dress in a revealing or provocative manner, including the wearing of sleeveless shirts and blouses, halter-tops and shorts. Women in particular, especially when traveling outside of Kabul, may want to ensure that their tops have long sleeves and cover their collarbone and waistband, and that their pants/skirts cover their ankles. Almost all women in Afghanistan cover their hair in public; American women visitors should carry scarves for this purpose. Afghan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Afghanistan of items such as firearms, alcoholic beverages, religious materials, antiquities, medications, and printed materials. American travelers have faced fines and/or confiscation of items considered antiquities upon exiting Afghanistan. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements. Travelers en route to Afghanistan may transit countries that have restrictions on firearms, including antique or display models. If you plan to take firearms or ammunition to another country, you should contact officials at that country's embassy and those that you will be transiting to learn about their regulations and fully comply with those regulations before traveling. Please consult http://www.customs.gov for information on importing firearms into the United States. Please see our Customs Information sheet.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Well-equipped medical facilities are few and far between throughout Afghanistan. European and American medicines are available in limited quantities and may be expensive or difficult to locate. There is a shortage of basic medical supplies. Basic medicines manufactured in Iran, Pakistan, and India are available, but their reliability can be questionable. Several western-style private clinics have opened in Kabul: the DK-German Medical Diagnostic Center (www.medical-kabul.com), Acomet Family Hospital (www.afghancomet.com), and CURE International Hospital (ph. 079-883-830) offer a variety of basic and routine-type care; Americans seeking treatment should request American or Western health practitioners. Afghan public hospitals should be avoided. Individuals without government licenses or even medical degrees often operate private clinics; there is no public agency that monitors their operations. Travelers will not be able to find Western-trained medical personnel in most parts of the country outside of Kabul, although there are some international aid groups temporarily providing basic medical assistance in various cities and villages. For any medical treatment, payment is required in advance. Commercial medical evacuation capability from Afghanistan is limited and could take days to arrange. Even medevac companies that claim to service the world may not agree to come to Afghanistan. Those with medevac insurance should confirm with the insurance provider that it will be able to provide medevac assistance to this country. There have been outbreaks of Avian Influenza in poultry in Afghanistan, to include the areas of Nangahar, Laghman, and Wardak provinces, and in the city of Kabul, however, there have been no reported cases of the H5N1 virus in humans. Updates on the Avian Influenza situation in Afghanistan are published on the Embassy’s web site at http://kabul.usembassy.gov/information_for_travelers.html. For additional information on Avian Influenza, please refer to the Department of State's Avian Influenza Fact Sheet available at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/health/health_1181.html Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Afghanistan. For further information, please consult the CDC's Travel Notice on TB. http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx| The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Afghanistan. However, if one has questions, please inquire directly with the Embassy of Afghanistan at http://www.embassyofafghanistan.org before you travel. Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site. Further health information for travelers is available from the WHO.
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas. TRAFFIC
SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Afghanistan is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. All drivers face the potential danger of encountering improvised-explosive devices and land mines that may have been planted on or near roadways. An estimated 5-7 million landmines and large quantities of unexploded ordinance exist throughout the countryside and alongside roads, posing a danger to travelers. Robbery and kidnappings are also prevalent on highways outside of Kabul. The transportation system in Afghanistan is marginal, although the international community is constructing modern highways and provincial roads. Vehicles are poorly maintained, often overloaded, and traffic laws are not enforced. Vehicular traffic is chaotic and must contend with numerous pedestrians, bicyclists and animals. Many urban streets have large potholes and are not well lit. Rural roads are not paved. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Afghanistan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s internet website at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa. U.S. Government personnel are not authorized to travel on Ariana Afghan Airlines or any other airline falling under the oversight of the Government of Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority, owing to safety concerns; however, U.S. Government personnel are permitted to travel on international flights operated by airlines from countries whose civil aviation authorities meet international aviation safety standards for the oversight of their air carrier operations under the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program.
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction. R
EGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Afghanistan are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Afghanistan. Americans without internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located in Kabul on Great Massoud (Airport) Road, local phone number 0700-108-001 or 0700-108-002, and for emergencies after hours 0700-201-908. The web site is http://kabul.usembassy.gov/ * * * * * This replaces the Country Specific Information dated June 16, 2008 to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Information for Victims of Crime, Criminal Penalties, Special Circumstances, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
Jalalabad, Afghanistan, May 13, 2019 (AFP) - At least three people were killed and another 20 wounded in a series of blasts in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Monday, an official said. Nangarhar provincial spokesman Attaullah Khogyani said three blasts rocked the city centre, and had taken place near an armoured police vehicle. "The nature of explosions is not clear, but it could be IEDs," Khogyani said, using the acronym for improvised explosive devices. "So far we can confirm three people have been killed and 20 wounded."
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but the area around Jalalabad is home to fighters from both the Taliban and the Islamic State group's Afghan affiliate. On March 6, at least 16 people were killed in a suicide attack on a construction company in Jalalabad, which is near the Pakistan border. Violence in Afghanistan has continued apace even during the holy month of Ramadan, and despite government calls for a ceasefire.
Ghazni, Afghanistan, May 11, 2019 (AFP) - A landmine explosion killed seven children and wounded two others in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, officials said, as war ordnance again claimed civilian lives. The blast occurred in Ghazni province, south of the capital Kabul, when the children stepped on a landmine while playing near a main road, provincial spokesman Aref Noori told AFP. "The mine was planted by the Taliban on a main road to inflict casualties on security forces," he said. The Taliban did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The insurgents often use roadside bombs and landmines to target Afghan security forces, but the lethal weapons also inflict casualties on civilians. Amanullah Kamrani, a member of Ghazni provincial council, said the children were aged between seven and nine and at least four of them belonged to one family.
Years of conflict have left Afghanistan strewn with landmines, unexploded mortars, rockets and homemade bombs -- and many are picked up by curious children. Last month, seven children were killed and 10 more wounded in the eastern province of Laghman when a mortar shell exploded while they were playing with it. According to the United Nations, 3,804 civilians -- including more than 900 children-- were killed in Afghanistan in 2018, with another 7,000 wounded. It was the deadliest year to date for civilians in Afghanistan's conflict.
Kabul, April 16, 2019 (AFP) - Torrential rainstorms have lashed drought-stricken Afghanistan in recent days, bringing widespread flooding that has killed at least five people and washed away homes including in the capital Kabul, officials said Tuesday. While some welcomed the wet weather after the punishing dry spell of recent years, residents complained about the lack of infrastructure and government assistance to help them clear up from the deluge.
Sixteen of Afghanistan's 34 provinces were hit in the past 24 hours, destroying or damaging hundreds of houses and sweeping away livestock, said Hashmat Bahaduri, a spokesman for Afghanistan's National Disaster Management Authority (ANDMA). Hardest hit was Herat province in western Afghanistan, where at least five people were killed when their houses collapsed, Jilani Farhad, a spokesman for the local governor said. Officials were also searching for 17 people whose minivan was swept away by flooding in the province's Obey district late Monday, Farhad added. "There were women and children in the vehicle, we are searching but haven't found any sign of them yet," he said.
Extraordinary scenes played out in the capital, where the usually parched Kabul River swelled suddenly, bursting its banks in places and swamping surrounding streets and neighbourhoods with about one metre (three feet) of water in places. Drug addicts who normally spend their time in the riverbed or hiding under bridges could be seen openly smoking opium at street level as water swirled around them. By Tuesday, authorities were warning locals living along the river to be prepared to evacuate their homes as water levels surged. Bahaduri said 113 houses had already been partially or completely destroyed in Kabul.
In the capital, a university student named Mujtaba bemoaned a lack of drainage canals, but others welcomed the rain. "It is a bliss to have all this water and rain, we are thankful to God to have rain and get rid of the drought problems," Kabul resident Mansoor Majab told AFP. Years of dry weather, combined with a booming population and wasteful consumption, have drained Kabul's water basin, forcing residents to drill ever-deeper wells. This winter saw heavy snowfall across parts of Afghanistan, which had led to flash floods in the spring melt. Over one hundred people had been killed as of March 28 due to flooding in Afghanistan so far this year, according to ANDMA.
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Herat, Afghanistan, March 31, 2019 (AFP) - Villagers in western Afghanistan began cleaning up Sunday after the worst floods in a decade swept away houses and forced many families -- already displaced by drought -- to abandon damaged homes. Heavy rains that started early Friday and continued for two days caused flash floods in at least five provinces in western and northern parts of Afghanistan, killing at least 35 people. Aside from washing away houses, the floods destroyed some internally displaced people's shelters and cut off access to remote villages across several parts of the country.
In Herat province in the west, at least 10 districts and some parts of Herat city were affected. Video footage from Herat province showed crumpled cars buried deep in mud, collapsed walls, mud houses strewn with debris, fallen trees and people trying to rescue whatever was left of their property from the mud. "We have lost everything here and have nothing left to survive on," Bibi Gul, a resident of Herat who had lost her house, told AFP. Fazel Ahmad, another resident, described a similar sense of loss. "Cows, sheep and even our pigeons are under the debris," Ahmad said. Mohammad Hanif Arbabzada said about 80 percent of the houses in his village were destroyed.
In all, more than 3,000 houses were either partially or completely destroyed, according to Hashmat Bahaduri, a spokesman for Afghanistan's National Disaster Management Authority. Heavy snowfall across large swathes of Afghanistan this winter raised fears of severe flooding as spring approaches, following years of devastating drought. Earlier this month, at least 20 people were killed by flash floods caused by heavy rains that swept away thousands of homes and vehicles in southern Kandahar province.
January 13, 2009
Spain and Andorra are both advanced stable democracies and modern economies. Spain is a member of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union.
Read the D
Spain is a party to the Schengen agreement.
As such, U.S. citizens may enter Spain for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.
The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay.
For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our Schengen Fact Sheet.
In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points.
These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present.
Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.
For further information concerning entry requirements for Spain, travelers should contact the Embassy of Spain at 2375 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20037, telephone (202) 452-0100, or the nearest Spanish Consulate in Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, or San Juan.
Spanish government web sites with information about entry requirements (in Spanish) can be found at http://www.mae.es and http://www.mir.es.
Additional information may be obtained from the Tourist Office of Spain in New York, telephone (212) 265-8822, or online at http://www.spain.info/.
For further information on entry requirements to Andorra, travelers should contact the Andorran Mission to the UN, 2 U.N. Plaza, 25th floor, New York, NY 10018, telephone (212) 750-8064 or online at http://www.andorra.ad.
Visit the Embassy of Spain and Andorra web sites for the most current visa information.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Spain and Andorra share with the rest of the world an increased threat of international terrorist incidents.
Like other countries in the Schengen area, Spain's open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups entering and exiting the country with anonymity.
Spain’s proximity to North Africa makes it vulnerable to attack from Al Qaeda terrorists in the Maghreb region.
Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution.
In the deadliest terrorist attack in recent European history, in March 2004, Islamist extremists bombed four commuter trains entering Madrid, causing 191 deaths and over 1,400 injuries.
Spanish authorities tried the suspected terrorists and their co-conspirators in February 2007 and convicted in October 2007.
The Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) terrorist organization remains active in Spain.
ETA has historically avoided targeting foreigners, directing their attacks against the police, military, local politicians, and Spanish government targets as well as attempts to disrupt transportation and daily life. However, foreigners have been killed or injured collaterally in ETA attacks.
Two examples of this are the Barajas Airport bombing in December 2006, in which two Ecuadorian nationals were killed and the bombing at the University of Navarre in October 2008, in which 17 students were injured including one American student.
In addition, bombs have been used as part of criminal extortion of businesses, particularly in the Basque region. The risk of “being in the wrong place at the wrong time” in event of an ETA action is a concern for foreign visitors and tourists.
U.S. tourists traveling to Spain should remain vigilant, exercise caution, monitor local developments, and avoid demonstrations and other potentially violent situations.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s A Safe Trip Abroad.
Andorra has a low rate of crime.
While most of Spain has a moderate rate of crime and most of the estimated one million American tourists have trouble free visits to Spain each year, street crimes against tourists occur in the principal tourist areas.
Madrid and Barcelona, in particular, report incidents of pick-pocketing, mugging and occasional violent attacks, some of which require the victim to seek medical attention.
Although crimes occur at all times of day and night and to people of all ages, older tourists and Asian Americans seem to be particularly at risk.
Criminals frequent tourist areas and major attractions such as museums, monuments, restaurants, outdoor cafes, Internet cafes, hotel lobbies, beach resorts, city buses, subways, trains, train stations, airports, and ATMs.
In Madrid, incidents have been reported in all major tourist areas, including the area near the Prado Museum, near Atocha train station, in Retiro Park, in areas of old Madrid including near the Royal Palace and in Plaza Mayor.
There have been a number of passport and bag thefts reported at Madrid’s Barajas Airport, local hotels, as well as in El Rastro (Madrid’s flea market) and in the Metro.
In Barcelona, the largest number of incidents reported also occurred in major tourist areas, on Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s El Prat airport, Sants train station, Metro stations, in the Sagrada Familia Area, in the Gothic Quarter, in Parc Güell, in Plaza Real, and along Barcelona’s beaches.
There has been a rise in the number of thefts reported at the Port Olimpic Area and nearby beaches.
Travelers should remain alert to their personal security and exercise caution. Travelers are encouraged to carry limited cash, only one credit card, and a copy of their passport; leaving extra cash, extra credit cards, passports and personal documents in a safe location.
When carrying documents, credit cards or cash, you are encouraged to secure them in a hard-to-reach place and not to carry all valuables together in a purse or backpack.
Thieves often work in teams of two or more people.
In many cases, one person distracts a victim while the accomplices perform the robbery.
For example, someone might wave a map in your face and ask for directions, “inadvertently” spill something on you, or help you clean-up bird droppings thrown on you by a third unseen accomplice.
While your attention is diverted, an accomplice makes off with the valuables.
Thieves may drop coins or keys at your feet to distract you and try to take your belongings while you are trying to help.
Attacks are sometimes initiated from behind, with the victim being grabbed around the neck and choked by one assailant while others rifle through or grab the belongings.
A group of assailants may surround the victim in a crowded popular tourist area or on public transportation, and only after the group has departed does the person discover he/she has been robbed.
Purse-snatchers may grab purses or wallets and run away, or immediately pass the stolen item to an accomplice.
A passenger on a passing motorcycle sometimes robs pedestrians.
There have been reports of thieves posing as plainclothes police officers, beckoning to pedestrians from cars and sometimes confronting them on the street asking for documents, or to inspect their cash for counterfeit bills, which they ultimately “confiscate” as evidence.
The U.S. Embassy in Madrid has received reports of cars on limited access motorways being pulled over by supposed unmarked police cars.
The Spanish police do not operate in this fashion.
American citizens are encouraged to ask for a uniformed law enforcement officer if approached.
Theft from vehicles is also common.
“Good Samaritan" scams are unfortunately common, where a passing car or helpful stranger will attempt to divert the driver’s attention by indicating there is a flat tire or mechanical problem.
When the driver stops to check the vehicle, the “good Samaritan” will appear to help the driver and passengers while the accomplice steals from the unlocked car. Drivers should be cautious about accepting help from anyone other than a uniformed Spanish police officer or Civil Guard.
Items high in value like luggage, cameras, laptop computers, or briefcases are often stolen from cars. Travelers are advised not to leave valuables in parked cars, and to keep doors locked, windows rolled up, and valuables out of sight when driving.
While the incidence of sexual assault is statistically very low, attacks do occur.
Spanish authorities warn of the availability of so-called "date-rape" drugs and other drugs, including "GBH" and liquid ecstasy.
Americans should not lower their personal security awareness because they are on vacation.
A number of American citizens have been victims of lottery or advance fee scams in which a person is lured to Spain to finalize a financial transaction. Often the victims are initially contacted via Internet or fax and informed they have won the Spanish Lottery (El Gordo), inherited money from a distant relative, or are needed to assist in a major financial transaction from one country to another.
For more information, please see the Bureau of Consular Affairs web site on International Financial Scams.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law.
In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm.
The Embassy’s U.S. Commercial Service receives reports of a type of scam targeting U.S. businesses, utilizing the name of a legitimate Spanish concern and legitimate-appearing Spanish bank references.
The scam usually involves a temptingly large order or business proposal.
The U.S. Commercial Service in Spain at http://www.buyusa.gov/spain/en/ stands ready to counsel any U.S. firm which would like to verify the legitimacy of an unsolicited business proposal purporting to come from a Spanish firm.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, help you find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
Spain does have a Crime Victim’s Assistance program.
More information can be obtained at http://www.mjusticia.es/Directorio/Victimas?menu_activo=1057821035144&lang=es_es.
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Spain is 112.
Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Good medical care is available in both Spain and Andorra.
Regulations regarding medications may vary from those in the United States; Americans with need for specific medications are encouraged to bring a supply sufficient for their anticipated period of stay, as the medication may not be available and customs regulations may prohibit certain medications to be mailed from the United States to Spain or Andorra.
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance companies prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and if it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
U.S. medical insurance plans may not cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased.
Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. You should contact your insurance provider before departure so appropriate arrangements can be made.
Many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas, including emergency services such as medical evacuations.
When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the United States may cost well in excess of $50,000.
Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties, whereas travelers who have purchased overseas medical insurance have found it to be life saving when a medical emergency has occurred.
When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, please ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider or if you will be reimbursed later for expenses that you incur.
Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Spain or Andorra.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning name of country is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Traffic in Madrid and Barcelona is faster-paced than in U.S. cities and can be unnerving due to unfamiliar signs or motorbikes weaving between traffic lanes.
Drivers should always obey the closest traffic light, as there are separate pedestrian lights in the city.
Drivers should be alert when driving at night in urban areas, due to the possibility of encountering drivers or pedestrians under the influence of alcohol.
Night driving in isolated rural areas can be dangerous because of farm animals and poorly marked roads.
Rural traffic is generally heavier in July and August as well as during the Christmas and Easter seasons.
Traffic regulations in effect in Spain include the prohibition on the use of a mobile phone without a hands-free device while driving a car.
There is a fine of 300 euros for violation of this regulation and loss of driving privileges.
In addition, all drivers and passengers are required to carry a reflective vest and put it on if they need to stop on the roadside.
A reflective triangle warning sign for a vehicle stopped on the side of the road is also mandatory.
Those renting vehicles are encouraged to check with the rental company about traffic regulations and safety equipment.
U.S. citizens using U.S. issued drivers licenses must obtain International Driving Permits prior to their arrival if they plan to drive in Spain.
Pedestrians should use designated crossing areas when crossing streets and obey traffic lights.
Public transportation in large Spanish cities is generally excellent.
All major cities have metered taxis, in which extra charges must be posted in the vehicle.
Travelers are advised to use only clearly identified cabs and to ensure that taxi drivers always switch on the meter.
A green light on the roof indicates that the taxi is available.
Rail service is comfortable and reliable, but varies in quality and speed. Intercity buses are usually comfortable and inexpensive.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
For specific information concerning Spanish driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact the Spanish National Tourist Organization offices in New York at http://www.spain.info/us/TourSpain.
For information about driving in Andorra, refer to http://www.andorra.ad/en-US/Pages/default.aspx.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Spain’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Spain’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offences.
Persons violating the laws of Spain or Andorra, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Spain and Andorra are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. The cities of Madrid and Barcelona and The Balearics Regional Government have banned the consumption of alcohol in the street, other than in registered street cafes and bars.
Visitors to Madrid, Barcelona, Mallorca, Ibiza, and Menorca should be aware that failure to respect this law might result in the imposition of fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Spain or Andorra are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site to obtain updated information on travel and security within Spain or Andorra.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at Serrano 75; telephone (34) (91) 587-2200, and fax (34) (91) 587-2303. U.S. citizens who register in the Consular Section at the U.S. Embassy, Consulate General, or one of the Consular Agencies listed below can obtain updated information on travel and security within Spain or Andorra.
Additional information and appointments for routine services are available through the U.S. Embassy’s home page at http://madrid.usembassy.gov.
Appointments are required for routine Consular Services.
To make an appointment, go to https://evisaforms.state.gov/acs/default.asp?postcode=MDD&appcode=1.
The U.S. Consulate in Barcelona is located at Paseo Reina Elisenda 23-25; telephone (34) (93) 280-2227 and fax (34) (93) 205-5206.
Visitors to Barcelona can access additional information from the Consulate General’s web page at http://madrid.usembassy.gov/barcelonaen.html.
There are six consular agencies in Spain, which provide limited services to American citizens, but are not authorized to issue passports.
Anyone requesting service at one of the consular agencies should call ahead to verify that the service requested will be available on the day you expect to visit the agency.
Fuengirola (in Malaga Province), at Avenida Juan Gomez Juanito #8, Edificio Lucia 1C, Fuengirola 29640 Spain. Telephone (34) (952) 474-891 and fax (34) (952) 465-189.
Hours 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
La Coruna, Calle Juana de Vega 8, 5º Piso, Oficina I, La Coruna 15003 Spain.
Telephone (34) (981) 213-233 and fax (34) (981 22 28 08).
Hours 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Las Palmas, at Edificio Arca, Calle Los Martinez de Escobar 3, Oficina 7, Las Palmas, Gran Canaria 35007 Spain.
Telephone (34)(928) 222-552 and fax (34)(928) 225-863.
Hours 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Palma de Mallorca, Edificio Reina Constanza, Porto Pi, 8, 9-D, 07015 Palma de Mallorca 07015 Spain.
Telephone (34) (971) 40-3707 or 40-3905 and fax (34) (971) 40-3971.
Hours 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Seville, at Plaza Nueva 8-8 duplicado, 2nd Floor, Office E-2 No.4, Sevilla, 41101 Spain. Telephone: (34) (65) 422-8751 and fax (34) (91) 422-0791.
Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Valencia, at Doctor Romagosa #1, 2-J, 46002, Valencia 46002 Spain.
Telephone (34) (96)-351-6973 and fax (34) (96) 352-9565.
Hours 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
For Andorra, please contact the U.S. Consulate in Barcelona.
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Spain and Andorra dated July 15, 2008, to update sections on Safety and Security and Medical Facilities and Health Information.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
Madrid, April 12, 2019 (AFP) - Spanish travellers face a range of transport woes during Holy Week as air and rail unions on Friday called for walkouts. Pre-Easter processions are scheduled all over the predominantly Catholic country this week through to Easter Sunday on April 21. Millions traditionally go away for a few days during this time of year, which is one of the most important holiday periods, alongside August and Christmas. Airport unions USO and UGT have called on some 60,000 ground staff to go on strike on Easter Sunday and on April 24 as they demand that employers' rights be carried over when they switch from one company to another.
Pilots' union Sepla also called for stoppages by its Air Nostrum pilots on April 15, 16, 17, 22, 23 and 24 in protest over plans to outsource flights to other companies within the same group, Ilai. "The Sepla strike will force Air Nostrum to cancel 148 flights next week," the carrier said, adding that "some 10,000 passengers will be affected by the cancellations in the first three days" of stoppages. Rail unions have also called a strike on April 17 to force the Spanish state to sign up to a collective bargaining agreement. Meanwhile, the traindrivers' union, Renfe, has called off a stoppage planned for April 23 saying bosses have made concessions with regard to some of their demands.
Madrid, March 27, 2019 (AFP) - Madrid's city hall adopted a plan Wednesday to limit to 90 days per year the unlicensed leasing of homes to tourists, potentially rendering thousands of holiday rentals illegal. The capital of Spain, heavily reliant on tourist dollars, moved to clamp down on the growing number of houses and apartments rented out to tourists instead of residents facing an ever-shrinking accommodation pool. Owners looking to rent out their property to travellers for more than three months a year will require a licence, which can be granted only if the lodging has its own, independent entrance, like a hotel room. Most landlords will fall foul of the condition in districts where the housing problem has become acute and the new rule could render about 10,000 current rentals illegal. Madrid's leftist administration said it wants "to preserve residential usage."
Mayor Manuela Carmena, a former judge, said the policy was designed to stop the flow of residents from the city centre, where rent has been soaring for several years -- 14.9 percent last year alone, according to the Fotocasa real estate portal. The director general of Airbnb Marketing Services, Arnaldo Munoz, said he feared the new rule could cost the city economy hundreds of millions of euros. The rental platform insisted the solution was to put to use "153,100 empty residences representing 10 percent of total Madrid dwellings," citing a 2013 figure from Spain's National Statistical Institute. Major cities including Paris have also moved to stem the proliferation in home-sharing rentals with tighter controls as rents spiral and supply slides.
By Álvaro VILLALOBOS
Madrid, March 8, 2019 (AFP) - For the second year running, Spanish women went on strike Friday for International Women's Day, with several protests kicking off over what has become a hot topic in the country's election campaign. "If we stop, the world stops." Armed with this slogan, Spain's largest unions CCOO and UGT organised a two-hour work stoppage -- the first starting at midday -- while smaller unions have called for a 24-hour strike.
Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena, prominent journalists, nuns and company employees are among hundreds of women who have pledged to take part in a strike that seeks to recreate an unprecedented two-hour work stoppage that took place on the same day in 2018. It was as yet unclear how many women were participating. International Women's Day was being celebrated around the world on Friday, with marches and other actions expected.
Hundreds of protests and gatherings were planned across Spain. In Barcelona, demonstrators blocked a major thoroughfare, some wearing purple wigs -- the colour long associated with gender equality. Unions, feminist associations and left-wing parties are hoping to draw hundreds of thousands of people in big marches later in the day in Madrid and Barcelona.
As snap general elections near on April 28, women's rights has become a crux theme of left- and right-wing parties' election campaigns, with all pledging to do their bit for inequalities. The gender pay gap stands at 14.2 percent according to the latest EU statistics, two points below the EU average.
And gender violence continues to take its toll on women, with 47 killed by their partners or ex-partners last year and at least 975 dead since 2003, according to government figures. "Us women need to be seen, because there is still a lot of work to do," Ana Pastor, the conservative parliament speaker, told Spanish television. "Women don't have real power."
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who has made women's rights one of the central themes of his campaign, tweeted that he wanted "a feminist Spain." "Only with feminism will we end violence against women and achieve real equality," he said. Spanish media is awash with stories about women's rights and gender inequality. On Thursday, the national police force announced it was working on a "non-sexist language guide for its agents."
- Dissenting voices -
But there are increasing dissenting voices against what some conservative groups believe has gone too far. The conservative Popular Party won't take part in the Madrid protest, considering the manifesto that called the demonstration "unacceptable." This calls on people to mobilise "in the face of the right and far-right that have placed us women and migrants as a priority target of their ultra-liberal, racist and patriarchal offensive."
Centre-right party Ciudadanos, meanwhile, has lashed out at what it considers an attempt by the left to appropriate feminism to get more votes on April 28 general elections. The "Women of the World Global Platform," a Spanish initiative that groups together conservative associations from around the world, has also called for a counter-protest in central Madrid on March 10.
International Women's Day "has converted into a day for those who reject femininity as well as masculinity, complementarity, maternity and dedication to the family," spokeswoman Leonor Tamayo said in a statement. Small far-right party Vox, which opposes a law against gender violence that it feels is "ideological" and "discriminatory" towards men, has also been gaining ground. Pastor, though, retorted that "this is not about parties." "There are thousands of women in Spain who don't vote, who don't identify with parties... A day like today is more about speaking as people, above all as women."
Madrid, March 4, 2019 (AFP) - Dozens of wildfires raged across northern Spain Monday, fuelled by strong, dry winds and warm temperatures, local officials said, unusual in a region that is normally rainy, especially in winter. Some 300 firefighters and soldiers backed by nine water-dropping aircraft battled 99 forest fire burning across the Asturias region, local emergency services said, while another 18 blazes raged in neighbouring Cantabria. The fires were being fed by strong southerly winds, with gusts of up to 100 kilometres (60 miles) an hour, and unusually warm temperatures for this time of the year, local officials said. No injuries were reported.
Temperatures hit 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit) on Sunday in Gijon, the largest city in Asturias, according to national weather office Aemet. All of Asturias faced either an "very high" or "extreme" risk of wildfires on Monday, the region's government said. The president of the regional government of Cantabria, Miguel Angel Revilla, urged locals to be vigilant, warning that Tuesday's forecast was for more "very strong winds" from the south. Spain is prone to wildfires in summer, especially in the more arid southern regions and along its Mediterranean coastline. But such incidents are unusual in winter, especially in rainier northern regions such as Asturias and Cantabria.
By Daniel BOSQUE
Barcelona, Feb 21, 2019 (AFP) - Activists blocked roads and rail lines in Catalonia on Thursday while tens of thousands took to the streets during a region-wide strike against the trial of separatist leaders for their role in a failed 2017 secession attempt. On Thursday evening 40,000 people rallied along one of Barcelona's major avenues, police said, while earlier around 1,000 demonstrators gathered in the central University Square, where the city's oldest university stands. Four people were arrested with 37 people injured in clashes including six police. Called by a small pro-independence union, Intersindical CSC, but without the backing of larger unions, the one-day strike was not widely followed in the northeastern region. Public transport in Barcelona was slower than usual but most shops remained open.
Traffic authorities in Catalonia said activists cut off around 20 roads, including the A7 highway that links Spain to France, the A2 between Madrid and Barcelona and the main entry points to the Mediterranean city. Police cleared several of the road blocks and detained two protesters, a spokesman said. Activists also briefly blocked train traffic by occupying the tracks at a station in Barcelona and in other parts of the region, according to the company that manages Spain's rail network. "We're here in solidarity with those who are victims of a trial that just doesn't hold water," said Jaume Sole, a 45-year-old engineer
- 'Politically-motivated' -
The Catalan employers' association has denounced the work stoppage as politically motivated. Separatist parties and associations are backing it. They began mobilising last week in solidarity with the Catalan separatist leaders on trial for pushing a secession referendum in October 2017 in defiance of a court ban, and a subsequent short-lived declaration of independence.
On Saturday, around 200,000 people including regional president Quim Torra protested in central Barcelona, police said, behind a banner that read "self-determination is not a crime." Torra's separatist executive has expressed solidarity with the strike and cancelled all official events planned for Thursday. The trial of the Catalan separatists started on February 12 under intense domestic and foreign scrutiny. It was due to last three months but the court on Wednesday sped up the process to try and finish the trial before snap general elections on April 28.
Catalonia's former president Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium soon after the declaration of independence on October 27, 2017, is not among the defendants as Spain doesn't judge people in absentia for major offences. So far, those on trial have defended the peaceful nature of the secession movement. They have justified holding the referendum on a democratic mandate they say they got from voters in Catalonia who handed separatist parties a majority in 2015 polls. This prompted unusually outspoken comments from King Felipe VI on Wednesday who said it was "unacceptable to appeal to a so-called democracy that is above the law."
- 'Criminalising' a protest -
Defendants have also said the proclamation of independence was a mere political declaration without legal effect. On Thursday, Santi Vila, a regional government member at the time, said the referendum was actually "a big political mobilisation" rather than a plebiscite given the Constitutional Court had banned it. "It was about tightening the rope without it breaking," Vila, who faces up to seven years in jail for misuse of public funds and disobedience, told the court. Prosecutors accuse the defendants of implementing a strategy concerted by the regional government, parliament and pro-independence associations to achieve secession outside the law. They accuse nine of them of rebellion, a serious offence that implies a "violent uprising."
Prosecutors point for instance to damage made to police cars during a pre-referendum protest on September 20, 2017, or claim separatists used citizens as "human walls" against police dispatched to stop the referendum. Independence supporters and the defendant's lawyers, however, argue there was never any violence. Jordi Sanchez, head of the powerful ANC pro-independence association who was at the protest on September 20 and faces up to 17 years in prison, accused prosecutors of "criminalising and penalising a demonstration."
World Travel News Headlines
Khartoum, May 21, 2019 (AFP) - Sudanese protest leaders called on their supporters Tuesday to prepare for a general strike after talks with the country's military rulers stalled on who will lead an agreed three-year transition. Protest leaders had reached agreement with the ruling military council on the other main aspects of the transition. But early on Tuesday, the generals who overthrew veteran president Omar al-Bashir last month baulked at protesters' demands for a civilian head and a civilian majority for an agreed new sovereign council to lead the transition.
"In order to achieve a full victory, we are calling for a huge participation in a general political strike," said the Sudanese Professionals Association, which took the lead in organising the four months of nationwide protests that led to Bashir's ouster. "The strike is our revolutionary duty and the participation in the sit-in ... is a crucial guarantee to achieve the goals of the revolution."
Protest leader Madani Abbas Madani told AFP the preparations for a "general political strike and civil disobedience" were already under way. "Whenever we will decide on applying these plans, we will make an announcement," said Madani, a prominent leader of protest umbrella group the Alliance for Freedom and Change. The two sides launched what had been billed as a final round of talks on the transition late on Sunday.
The military council has faced pressure from Western government and the African Union to agree to a civilian-led transition -- the central demand of the thousands of demonstrators who have spent weeks camped outside army headquarters in Khartoum. When talks broke up early on Tuesday, neither side said when they would resume.
Protest leader Siddiq Yousef told reporters they had been suspended. "The main point of dispute that remains is concerning the share of representatives of the military and the civilians in the council and who will be the head of the new body," the two sides said in a joint statement. The military council has been pushing for its chairman General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan to head the new sovereign council but protest leaders want a civilian.
By John WESSELS with Samir TOUNSI in Kinshasa
Butembo, DR Congo, May 21, 2019 (AFP) - People in Ebola-hit eastern DR Congo are struggling to come to terms with high-security burials that are part of a hard-pressed strategy to roll back the disease. Anyone who dies of the highly infectious haemorrhagic fever has to be buried in carefully-controlled conditions designed to minimise the risk of infection from body fluids. But that means ceremonies are carried out in sanitised conditions, with relatives and friends kept at a distance -- for many, a traumatic break with traditions that demand the body of a loved-one be seen or touched. "We're astonished she's being buried like this," said Denise Kahambu as she watched the specially-prepared burial in Butembo of her 50-year-old cousin, Marie-Rose. "They said she died of Ebola," she said sceptically. First declared last August, the epidemic has now claimed nearly 1,200 lives -- 200 of them in May alone. The outbreak is the second deadliest on record, after an epidemic that killed more than 11,300 people in West Africa in 2014-16.
The burial in Butembo followed strict precautions. A pick-up truck delivered the coffin to the burial site, where a grave had been prepared, as the family stood by at a distance. Gloved Red Cross workers handled the burial, which took place in silence and without a religious ceremony. A family member or loved one was allowed only to place a cross on the tomb, once they too had donned protective gloves. Half a dozen police officers escorted the convoy and remained on guard throughout. On Friday, two burial teams from the treatment centres were attacked by stone-throwing crowds at Butembo and Bunia, a little further north in Ituri province, according to the health ministry. One burial worker was injured.
- Culture shock -
"The custom is that the body of the deceased first returns to the home. And once people have mourned, they have the chance to touch the body for the last time," said Seros Muyisa Kamathe, a guide and interpreter in Beni and Butembo. "Before going to the cemetery, you open the coffin so people can take one last look at the deceased."
And normally it would be the family and neighbours who would take responsibility for digging the grave -- and deciding where if should be. Ebola experts say denial and resistance were familiar obstacles in the 2014-16 epidemic in the West African states of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The World Health Organization (WHO) has a 12-step protocol for dealing with burials so that handling of the remains is kept to a minimum, but it also emphasises the importance of respect and mourning. "The burial process is very sensitive for the family and the community and can be the source of trouble or even open conflict," it acknowledges. No burial should begin until family agreement has been obtained, and workers should engage with the community "for prayers to dissipate tensions
- Armed escorts -
The burial process is part of the notoriously time-consuming and labour-intensive task of combatting Ebola. And in this troubled region, the challenge has been further complicated by bloody deadly attacks on Ebola treatment centres by local militias. Suspicion, political infighting in the capital Kinshasa and militia violence provide a fertile breeding ground for the virus. Sometimes local people cover the graves overnight as a sign of their opposition, the ministry said. In Butembo, health workers need an armed escort when they go looking for cases of Ebola in some neighbourhoods, an AFP photographer noted during one outing Saturday evening.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, at the opening of the organisation's annual assembly on Monday, described the outbreak as "one of the most complex health emergencies any of us have ever faced." "Unless we unite to end this outbreak we run the risk it will become more widespread and more expansive and more aggressive," he said. "We are not just fighting a virus," Tedros insisted. "We're fighting insecurity. We're fighting violence. We're fighting misinformation... and we're fighting the politicisation of an outbreak." On the plus side, health officials are keen to emphasise some important gains. More than 118,000 have been vaccinated against the virus, and no cases have been recorded in neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda.
Milan, May 20, 2019 (AFP) - Alitalia has scrapped around half its flights scheduled for Tuesday after a call to strike by Italian pilots, cabin crew and ground staff. The industrial action by employees of Alitalia, Blue Air and Blue Panorama was confirmed Monday over the future of the sector and specifically that of the troubled national carrier. Alitalia has cancelled around half its flights on Tuesday, as well as some late Monday and early Wednesday. The company said it hoped to get 60 percent of passengers to their destination.
Unions lamented "on the one hand, a rising number of passengers and flights, and on the other a proliferation of bankruptcies", a statement said. They are worried about Alitalia's future and want their jobs protected. The Italian government earlier this month extended to June 15 a deadline for the state railway to submit a concrete takeover offer, following a request from Alitalia's administrators for more time. Italy's state railway Ferrovie dello Stato (FS) floated a bid to buy Alitalia at the end of October, but it does not want to hold more than 30 percent in the airline. The railway has been discussing a potential partnership with Atlanta-based Delta airlines, which is interested in a 15-percent stake.
Giza, Egypt, May 19, 2019 (AFP) - A bomb blast hit a tourist bus near Egypt's famed Giza pyramids on Sunday, wounding some of them, including South Africans, in the latest blow to the country's tourism industry. The roadside bomb went off as the bus was being driven in Giza, also causing injuries to Egyptians in a nearby car, medical and security sources said. Security and medical sources in Egypt said 17 people were injured, without giving a breakdown of their nationalities. No deaths were reported. South Africa said in a statement that the "bus explosion" injured three of its 28 citizens who were part of the tourist group. They would remain in hospital while the rest would return home on Monday, said the statement from the department of international relations. "A device exploded and smashed the windows of a bus carrying 25 people from South Africa and a private car carrying four Egyptians," the security source said.
Video footage captured by AFP showed the bus and car with broken windows on the side of the road. According to the security source, the wounded were being treated for scratches caused by the broken glass. Sunday's incident comes after three Vietnamese holidaymakers and their Egyptian guide were killed when a roadside bomb hit their bus as it travelled near the Giza pyramids outside Cairo in December. It also comes just little more than a month before the African Cup of Nations hosted by Egypt is to kick off. Egypt has been battling an insurgency that surged especially in the turbulent North Sinai region following the 2013 military ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who was replaced by former army general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. In February 2018, the army launched a nationwide operation against militants, focusing mainly on the North Sinai region.
- Tourism recovery -
Some 650 militants and around 45 soldiers have been killed since the start of the offensive, according to separate statements by the armed forces. Since first being elected in 2014, Sisi has presented himself as a bulwark against terrorism, promising stability and increased security. Recently, the country's vital tourism industry has started to slowly rebound after suffering strong blows due to deadly attacks targeting tourists following the turmoil of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak. Figures by the official statistics agency showed that tourist arrivals reached 8.3 million in 2017, compared with 5.3 million the previous year. Authorities have gone at great lengths to lure tourists back, touting a series of archaeological finds and a new museum next to the pyramids, as well as enhanced security at airports and around ancient sites. But that figure was still far short of the record influx of 2010 when more than 14 million visitors flocked to see the country's sites.
Tegucigalpa, May 19, 2019 (AFP) - Four Canadians and an American pilot died Saturday when their small plane plunged into the sea off the Honduran island of Roatan where they were vacationing, firefighters said. The plane crashed near the town of Dixon Cove, a few minutes after taking off from the island's airport, rescuers said. The dead were identified as Bradley Post, Bailey Sony, Tomy Dubler and pilot Patrick Forseth.
The other Canadian pilot, Anthony Dubler, briefly survived the crash but died at the Roatan hospital of his injuries. The causes of the crash and the registration information for the aircraft were not immediately available. It occurred as the tourists were headed toward the city of Trujillo, about 77 kilometres (48 miles) from Roatan.
London, May 17, 2019 (AFP) - London warned British-Iranian dual nationals against all travel to Iran on Friday due to Tehran's "continued arbitrary detention and mistreatment" of such citizens. The move comes as Britain continues to try to secure the release from jail of dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Tehran has also recently sentenced an Iranian British Council employee, Aras Amiri, to 10 years in prison on charges of spying. In a statement, the Foreign Office said British-Iranian dual nationals faced an "unacceptably higher risk of arbitrary detention and mistreatment" than nationals of other countries. "The security forces may be suspicious of people with British connections, including those with links to institutions based in the UK, or which receive public funds from, or have perceived links to, the British government," the statement said. British-Iranian mother Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested by Iranian authorities in 2016 as she was leaving Tehran.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was put on trial and is now serving a five-year jail sentence for allegedly trying to topple the Iranian government. "Dual nationals face an intolerable risk of mistreatment if they visit Iran," Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said. "Despite the UK providing repeated opportunities to resolve this issue, the Iranian regime's conduct has worsened. "Having exhausted all other options, I must now advise all British-Iranian dual nationals against travelling to Iran. "The dangers they face include arbitrary detention and lack of access to basic legal rights, as we have seen in the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been separated from her family since 2016." The Iranian government does not recognise dual nationality, meaning the Foreign Office's ability to provide consular support is limited. Hunt added: "Regrettably, I must also offer a message of caution to Iranian nationals resident in the UK -- but who return to visit family and friends -- especially where the Iranian government may perceive them to have personal links to UK institutions or the British government."
Nairobi, May 17, 2019 (AFP) - Flooding in Tanzania has killed five people and forced about 2,500 to flee their homes after a week of torrential rain in the country's south, an official said Friday. Schools have closed in Kyela, a district on the border of Lake Malawi, and families fled to shelters after losing everything in the rising waters. "The damage from these floods is enormous," Salome Magambo, the district's administrative secretary, told AFP. "Since the beginning of the week we have reported five people killed and 2,570 homeless, some of whom are staying with friends or in schools and churches."
Food and medical services have been extended to those stranded, she added. Farming land in the district known for its rice production has also been inundated, destroying crops and raising fears of food shortages in coming months. In April 2018 at least 14 people were killed in torrential rains and flooding in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's economic capital.
Washington, May 16, 2019 (AFP) - The Church of Scientology said Thursday all the passengers from a cruise ship that was quarantined over a measles case had been cleared to leave. "All passengers and crew (100%) of the Freewinds have been fully cleared of any possible risk of being infected by the measles or infecting others," the organization said in a statement. "All passengers and crew are free to come and go as they wish," a spokesman added to AFP.
The infected individual was a member of the crew who, according to the Church, had fully recovered and was given a clean bill of health a week ago. She had been earlier confined on the ship. The ship, which is based in Willemstad on the island of Curacao in the Dutch West Indies, was quarantined after its arrival in Saint Lucia on April 30. It remained there for two days before returning to Willemstad on May 4 where local authorities ordered a fresh quarantine to give them time to confirm the passengers were either immunized or had no risk of contracting the virus.
Bamako, May 16, 2019 (AFP) - Heavy floods claimed 15 lives Thursday in the Malian capital Bamako along with serious property damage, authorities said. A statement said the flooding claimed a "provisional toll" of 15 dead and two injured. "Teams are in place to rescue the distressed people," the government said, calling on residents to be "prudent" in the face of the disaster. Flooding is common in Mali, located in the semi-desert Sahel region.
By Ashraf KHAN
Rato Dero, Pakistan, May 16, 2019 (AFP) - Parents nervously watch as their children wait to be tested for HIV in a village in southern Pakistan, where hundreds of people have been allegedly infected by a doctor using a contaminated syringe. Dispatched to keep order, police scan the anxious crowd as families hustle into one of five different screening rooms set up in the last month in the village of Wasayo, on the outskirts of Larkana in Sindh province.
Health officials say more than 400 people, many of them children, have tested HIV positive in recent weeks as experts warn of a surge in infection rates across Pakistan, due to the use of unsanitary equipment and rampant malpractice -- often at the hands of quack doctors. Anger and fear continue to swell in the desperately poor village hit hard by the epidemic, which authorities say could be linked to either gross negligence or malicious intent by a local paediatrician. "They are coming by the dozens," says a doctor at the makeshift clinic, beset by a lack of equipment and personnel to treat the surging number of patients.
Mukhtar Pervez waits anxiously to have her daughter tested, worrying a recent fever may be linked to the outbreak. For others, their worst fears have already become a reality. Nisar Ahmed arrived at the clinic in a furious search for medicine after his one-year-old daughter tested positive three days earlier. "I curse [the doctor] who has caused all these children to be infected," he says angrily. Nearby Imam Zadi accompanies five of her children to be examined after her grandson tested positive. "The entire family is so upset," she tells AFP. Others worry their children's futures have been irreparably harmed after contracting HIV, especially in a country whose masses of rural poor have little understanding of the disease or access to treatment. "Who is she going to play with? And when she's grown up, who would want to marry her?" asks a tearful mother from a nearby village, who asked not to named, of her four-year-old daughter who just tested positive.
Pakistan was long considered a low prevalence country for HIV, but the disease is expanding at an alarming rate, particularly among intravenous drug users and sex workers. With about 20,000 new HIV infections reported in 2017 alone, Pakistan currently has the second fastest growing HIV rates across Asia, according to the UN. Pakistan's surging population also suffers the additional burden of having insufficient access to quality healthcare following decades of under-investment by the state, leaving impoverished, rural communities especially vulnerable to unqualified medical practitioners. "According to some government reports, around 600,000 quack doctors are operating across the country and around 270,000 are practicing in the province of Sindh," said UNAIDS in a statement.
Provincial health officials have also noted that patients are at particular risk of contracting diseases or viruses at these clinics, where injections are often pushed as a primary treatment option. "For the sake of saving money, these quacks will inject multiple patients with a single syringe. This could be the main cause of the spread of HIV cases," said Sikandar Memon, provincial programme manager of the Sindh Aids Control Programme.
The large number of unqualified doctors along with the "reuse of syringes, unsafe blood transfusions, and other unsafe medical practices" have all led to the spike in HIV cases in recent years, explains Bushra Jamil, an expert on infectious diseases at the Aga Khan University in Karachi. "Rampant medical malpractices without any effective checks and balances are causing repeated outbreaks in Pakistan," said Jamil. Authorities investigating the outbreak in Sindh say the accused doctor has also tested positive for HIV.
From a ramshackle jail cell in the nearby city of Ratodero, he denied the charges and accusations he knowingly injected his patients with the virus, while complaining of being incarcerated with common criminals. But for the parents of the newly diagnosed, the ongoing investigation means little if they are unable to secure access to better information and the necessary drugs that can help stave off the deadly AIDS virus. "We are helpless. I have other children and I am afraid they might catch the disease," says another mother whose daughter recently tested positive for HIV. "[Please] send some medicine for our children so that they can be cured. If not, all of our children will die, right?"