August 13, 2008
Since March 1963, the Syrian Arab Republic has been ruled by an authoritarian regime dominated by the Socialist Ba'ath Party.
While the ruling Ba'ath party
Syria has a developing, centrally-planned economy with large public (30%), agricultural (25%), and industrial (20%) sectors.
Tourist facilities are available, but vary in quality depending on price and location.
Read the Department of State Background Note http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3580.htm on Syria for additional information.
A passport and a visa are required.
Visas must be obtained prior to arrival in Syria from a Syrian diplomatic mission located in the traveler’s country of residence, although the Syrian visa policy with respect to American diplomats and citizens is currently under review.
Foreigners who wish to stay 15 days or more in Syria must register with Syrian immigration authorities by their 15th day.
Syrian-American men or American men of Syrian origin, even those born in the United States, may be subject to compulsory military service unless they receive a temporary or permanent exemption from a Syrian diplomatic mission abroad prior to their entry into Syria.
(Please see the section on Special Circumstances below.)
Syria charges a departure tax for all visitors except those on diplomatic passports.
As of July 1, 2008, the tax is 1,500 Syrian Pounds if departing from the airport; 500 Syrian Pounds if departing via one of the land borders.
The Syrian government rigidly enforces restrictions on prior travel to Israel, and does not allow persons with passports bearing Israeli visa or entry/exit stamps to enter the country.
Syrian immigration authorities will not admit travelers with Israeli stamps in their passports, Jordanian entry cachets or cachets from other countries that suggest prior travel to Israel.
Likewise, the absence of entry stamps from a country adjacent to Israel, which the traveler has just visited, will cause Syrian immigration officials to refuse admittance.
Entry into Syria via the land border with Israel is not possible.
American-citizen travelers suspected of having traveled to Israel have been detained for questioning.
Syrian security officials are also sensitive about travel to Iraq.
There have been instances in which Americans, especially those of Arab descent, believed to have traveled to Iraq were detained for questioning at ports of entry/exit.
Americans seeking to travel to Iraq through Syria have also on occasion been turned around and/or detained.
On a number of occasions the border between Iraq and Syria has been closed without notice, stranding Americans on either side of the border.
Children under the age of eighteen whose fathers are Syrian or of Syrian descent must have their fathers' permission to leave Syria, even if the parents are separated or divorced and the mother has been granted full custody by a Syrian court.
Women in Syria are often subject to strict family controls.
On occasion, families of Syrian-American women visiting Syria have attempted to prevent them from leaving the country.
This can be a particular problem for young single women of marriageable age.
Although a woman does not need her husband's explicit consent every time she wishes to leave Syria, a Syrian husband may take legal action to prevent his wife from leaving the country, regardless of her nationality.
Once such legal orders are in place, the U.S. Embassy cannot help American citizens leave Syria.
Visit the Embassy of the Syrian Arab Republic, 2215 Wyoming Ave. NW, Washington, DC
20008, telephone (202) 232-6313 or check the Syrian Embassy's home page at http://www.syrianembassy.us 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: Syria is included on the Department of State's List of State Sponsors of Terrorism.
A number of the terrorist groups that have offices in Syria oppose U.S. policies in the Middle East.
On September 12, 2006, the U.S. Embassy in Damascus was attacked by assailants using improvised explosives, gunfire, and two vehicles laden with explosives.
On February 4, 2006, mobs protesting caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed destroyed the Norwegian and Chilean embassies and severely damaged the Danish and Swedish diplomatic missions.
On April 27, 2004 there was a violent clash in which three people died in an area of Damascus where many foreign citizens reside.
It has never been clear whether the shootout with Syrian security forces involved common criminals or terrorists.
In 1998 and 2000, mobs attacked the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence and the U.S. Embassy, respectively.
In 1997, twenty-two people were killed when a public bus was bombed in downtown Damascus.
All of these attacks serve as reminders that Syria is not immune from political or purely criminal violence.
Americans traveling through the area should remain aware that U.S. interests and citizens might be targeted.
Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance.
Hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched.
Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities.
Additionally, Americans should be aware that conversations on the topics of political, religious and other freedoms are not seen as merely healthy debate in Syria and could lead to arrest.
Note that possession of specific-use electronic devices including GPS, short-wave or handheld radio equipment, or similar devices in Syria is illegal.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings, including the Travel Warning for Syria, 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.
While a few cases of theft, burglary and assault have been reported to the Embassy, crime is generally not a serious problem for travelers in Syria.
It is important to note, however, that Syria is not crime free. Specifically, incidents of credit card and ATM fraud, and physical harassment of women, are on the rise.
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 the local police, please contact the U.S. Embassy for assistance.
The Embassy staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to 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.
The local equivalents for the “911” emergency line in Syria are:
110 for ambulance, 113 for fire and 112 for the police.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Basic medical care and medicines are available in Syria's principal cities, but not necessarily in outlying areas.
Serious illnesses and emergencies may require evacuation to a Western medical facility.
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.
Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to or foreign residents of Syria.
There are no special immunizations required for entry to Syria.
AIDS tests are mandatory for foreigners’ ages 15 to 60 who wish to reside in Syria.
The AIDS test must be conducted in Syria at a facility approved by the Syrian Ministry of Health.
A residence permit will not be issued until the absence of the HIV virus has been determined.
Foreigners wishing to marry Syrian nationals in Syria must also be tested for HIV.
Syria usually will not give visas or residency permits to students wishing to study religion or Arabic in private religious institutions.
Please verify this information with the Embassy of Syria at http://www.syrianembassy.us/ before you travel.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: 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 Syria is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Driving in Syria is hazardous and requires great caution.
Although drivers generally follow traffic signs and signals, they often maneuver aggressively and show little regard for vehicles traveling behind or to the sides of them.
Lane markings are usually ignored.
Vehicles within Syrian traffic circles must give way to entering traffic, unlike in the United States.
At night, it is very hard to see pedestrians, who often walk into traffic with little warning.
Outside major cities it is common to find pedestrians, animals and vehicles without lights on the roads at night.
Pedestrians must also exercise caution.
Parked cars, deteriorating pavement, and guard posts obstruct sidewalks, often forcing pedestrians to walk in the street.
Vehicles often do not stop for pedestrians, and regularly run red lights or “jump” the green light well before it changes.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
For specific information concerning Syrian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Syrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. at 2215 Wyoming Avenue NW, Washington, DC
20008, tel. 202-232-6313.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
Sanctions resulting from the passage of the Syria Accountability Act prohibit aircraft of any air carrier owned or controlled by the Syrian government to take off from or land in the United States.
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Syria, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Syria's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
The U.S. Embassy in Damascus has advised its employees to avoid travel on Syrian Arab Airlines (Syrian Air or SAA) whenever possible due to concerns regarding the airline's ability to maintain its airplanes.
SAA has, on its own initiative, grounded individual aircraft with significant maintenance or service issues; however, concerns persist that some planes still being flown may lack certain safety equipment or may have undergone repairs that have not been reviewed by the manufacturer.
Syrian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Syria of items such as weapons, narcotics, alcohol, tobacco, cheese, fruits, pharmaceuticals, modems, cosmetics, and some electrical appliances.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Syria in Washington, D.C. for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Please see our Customs Information.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times so that, if questioned by local officials, they will have proof of identity and U.S. citizenship readily available.
Although Syria is a signatory to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, Syrian officials generally do not notify the American Embassy when American citizens are arrested. When the American Embassy learns of arrests of Americans and requests consular access, individual police officials have, on their own initiative, responded promptly and allowed consular officers to visit the prisoners.
However, security officials have also in the past denied Embassy requests for consular access, especially in the case of dual citizens.
Foreign currencies can be exchanged for Syrian pounds only at government-approved exchange centers and licensed private banks.
Syrian pounds cannot be changed back into foreign currency.
Very few places in Syria accept credit cards.
Foreigners visiting Syria are required to pay hotel bills in US dollars or Euros.
Travelers’ checks are not accepted for payment in Syria, and banks will not cash them unless the traveler has an account at the bank in question.
There are no US-based banks operating in Syria.
There are six private banks operating in Syria, with branches and ATMs in most major cities.
These ATMs usually honor major debit/credit systems.
Funds may be transferred into Syria through Western Union.
Wiring of funds through private banks is possible only if the traveler already holds an account with the bank in Syria;, transferring funds through the Commercial Bank of Syria is not possible due to U.S. sanctions.
Syrian-American and Palestinian-American men who have never served in the Syrian military and who are planning to visit Syria are strongly urged to check with the Syrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. prior to traveling concerning compulsory military service. American men over the age of 18, even those who have never resided in or visited Syria, whose fathers are of Syrian descent, are required to complete military service or pay to be exempted.
Possession of a U.S. passport does not absolve the bearer of this obligation.
The fee for exemption from military service ranges from $5,000 to $15,000 USD, depending upon circumstances, for Syrian-American and Palestinian-American men who live abroad.
In January 2005 the Syrian government reduced mandatory military service from 30 months to 24 months.
It also announced that Syrians born outside of Syria and residing abroad until the age of 18 have the option of being exempted from their service by paying $2,000 USD.
Those born in Syria who left the country before reaching the age of 11, and have resided abroad for more than 15 years can be exempted by paying $5,000 USD.
Contact the Syrian Embassy in Washington, DC, for more information (See Entry/Exit Requirements section above).
President Bush signed an executive order on May 11, 2004, implementing sanctions in accordance with the Syria Accountability Act.
These sanctions prohibit the export to Syria of products of the United States other than food or medicine, and prohibit any commercial aircraft owned or controlled by the Syrian government from taking off from or landing in the United States.
Under the authority provided in Section 5(b) of the Act, the President has determined that it is in the national security interest of the United States to waive the application of these sanctions in certain cases and for certain products, as specified in the Department of Commerce's General Order No. 2.
For additional information about implementation of the Syria Accountability Act, consult the Department of Commerce web site at (http://www.bis.doc.gov/).
Since 1979, the United States has designated Syria a State Sponsor of Terrorism due to its support for groups such as Hizbollah and Palestinian terrorist groups.
The Terrorism List Government Sanctions Regulations prohibit U.S. persons from receiving unlicensed donations from the Syrian government.
Additionally, U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in financial transactions which a U.S. person knows or has reasonable cause to believe pose a risk of furthering terrorists' acts in the United States.
For additional information about the Terrorism List Government Sanctions Regulations, consult the terrorism brochure on the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) home page on the Internet at http://www.treas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/ or via OFAC's info-by-fax service at (202) 622-0077.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: 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 Syrian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Syria are strict and convicted offenders can expect prison sentences and heavy fines.
Penalties for possession of even small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use are severe in Syria.
Persons convicted in Syria for growing, processing, or smuggling drugs face the death penalty, which may be reduced to a minimum of 20 years’ imprisonment.
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 Syria are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Syria.
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 2 Al-Mansour St., Abu Roumaneh, Damascus.
The international mailing address is PO Box 29, Damascus.
Mail may also be sent via the U.S. Postal Service to: American Embassy Damascus, Department of State, Washington, DC
Telephone numbers are (963) (11) 3391-4444, fax number is (963)(11) 3391-3999, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The government workweek in Syria is Sunday through Thursday; the private sector generally works Saturday through Thursday.
The U.S. Embassy is open Sunday through Thursday.
Additional information may be found on the Embassy web site at http://damascus.usembassy.gov
This replaces the Country Specific Information dated November 20, 2007 to update the sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Special Circumstances, and Registration/Embassy Location.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
By Nazeer al-Khatib with Hashem Osseiran in Beirut
Maaret al-Numan, Syria, May 22, 2019 (AFP) - Syrian government air strikes killed 18 civilians, including a dozen people at a busy market, as fierce fighting raged for the jihadist-held northwest, a war monitor said on Wednesday. Regime forces battled to repel a jihadist counteroffensive around the town of Kafr Nabuda that has left 70 combatants dead in 24 hours, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance, led by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, controls a large part of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces. The jihadist-dominated region is nominally protected by a buffer zone deal, but the government and its ally Russia have escalated their bombardment in recent weeks, seizing several towns on its southern flank. At least 12 people were killed and another 18 wounded when regime warplanes hit the jihadist-held Idlib province town of Maarat al-Numan around midnight (2100 GMT) on Tuesday, the Observatory said.
The market was crowded with people out and about after breaking the daytime fast observed by Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan. The bombardment blew in the facades of surrounding buildings, and ripped through the flimsy frames and canvas of stalls in the market square, an AFP photographer reported. The bodies of market-goers were torn apart. "Residents are still scared," stallholder Khaled Ahmad told AFP. Three more civilians were killed on Wednesday by air strikes in the nearby town of Saraqib, the Observatory said. Two others were killed in strikes on the town of Maaret Hermeh, it added. Another civilian was killed in air raids on the town of Jisr al-Shughur, the monitor said. The Britain-based Observatory relies on a network of sources inside Syria and says it determines whose planes carried out strikes according to type, location, flight patterns and munitions.
- 'Worst fears'-
The strikes came as heavy clashes raged in neighbouring Hama province after the jihadists launched a counterattack on Tuesday. Fresh fighting on Wednesday took the death toll to 70 -- 36 regime forces and militia and 34 jihadists, the Observatory said. It said the jihadists had recaptured most of Kafr Nabuda from government forces, who had taken control of the town on May 8. State news agency SANA on Wednesday however said the army repelled a jihadist attack in the area, killing dozens of insurgents.
Russia and rebel ally Turkey inked the buffer zone deal in September to avert a government offensive on the region and protect its three million residents. But President Bashar al-Assad's government upped its bombardment of the region after HTS took control in January. Russia too has stepped up its air strikes in recent weeks. The Observatory says nearly 200 civilians have been killed in the flare-up since April 30. The United Nations said Wednesday that Idlib's civilian population once again faced the threat of an all-out offensive. "A full military incursion threatens to trigger a humanitarian catastrophe for over 3 million civilians caught in the crossfire, as well as overwhelm our ability to respond," said David Swanson, a spokesman for the UN humanitarian office. Swanson said more than 200,000 people have been displaced by the upsurge of violence since April 28. A total of 20 health facilities have been hit by the escalation -- 19 of which remain out of service, Swanson said. Collectively they served at least 200,000 people, he added.
- 'Break the status quo' -
The September deal was never fully implemented as jihadists refused to withdraw from a planned buffer zone around the Idlib region. But it ushered in a relative drop in violence until earlier this year, with Turkish troops deploying to observation points around the region. The Syrian government has accused Turkey of failing to secure implementation of the truce deal by the jihadists. But Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar accused the Syrian regime late Tuesday of threatening the ceasefire deal. "The regime is doing all that it can to break the status quo including using barrel bombs, land and air offensives," Akar told reporters. "Turkish armed forces will not take a step back from wherever they may be", he however added. Earlier, the US State Department said it was assessing indications that the government had used chemical weapons on Sunday during its offensive in Idlib. HTS accused government forces of launching a chlorine gas attack on its fighters in the northern mountains of Latakia. But the Observatory said Wednesday it had "no proof at all of the attack".
7 May 2019, Cairo, Egypt: The World Health Organization (WHO) strongly condemns continuing attacks on health facilities in north-western Syria. Since 29 April, in just nine days, twelve health structures have been hit.
On 5 May, three facilities were struck in one day alone, including two major hospitals that provide secondary healthcare in the area. One of the structures, a surgical unit, was supported by WHO. Three health care workers lost their lives as a result of these attacks. There are now no functioning hospitals in northern Hama, and emergency care is provided by only three surgical units supported by WHO. Close to 300,000 civilians are affected.
“These attacks against health facilities and other civilian infrastructure are a grave and totally unacceptable development,” said Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Region. “International humanitarian law safeguards civilians, even in the most violent of conflicts. And according to the Geneva Convention, health facilities and civilians – especially the most vulnerable – must be protected. Parties to the conflict in northern Hama and in Idleb are flagrantly disregarding those rules; and it is women, children, the elderly and other vulnerable groups who are suffering as a result.”
The health facilities that were hit in northern Hama and southern Idleb provided a total of 30,000 consultations, 860 hospital admissions and 700 surgeries per month to a highly vulnerable population.
“We are also deeply concerned about the people who have had to flee their homes and now have no access to basic health services. Over 150,000 people were displaced from northern Hama and southern Idleb in between 29 April and 4 May, doubling the total number of people displaced in the area in the last three months. Saving their lives is our main priority and this requires further strengthening available health services. What is of particular concern is the increasing risk for infectious disease outbreaks due to overcrowding in temporary settlements,” Dr Al-Mandhari added.
WHO continues – with health partners – to ensure the provision of key primary and secondary healthcare and has released emergency health supplies for almost 92,200 treatment courses, including for surgical and trauma care, secondary healthcare, and primary healthcare.
As the conflict in north-western Syria intensifies, WHO reminds all parties to the conflict that attacks on health facilities are a blatant violation of international humanitarian law. Health facilities must never be attacked or damaged, and health workers should be allowed to provide medical treatment and services to all people in need wherever they are.
Beirut, April 2, 2019 (AFP) - More than 40,000 displaced people in north-western Syria have seen their camps flooded by heavy rains in the past three days, a United Nations spokesman said Tuesday. Around 14 camps were affected in the north-western province of Idlib, David Swanson of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told AFP.
The Idlib region, controlled by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, is home to more than 3 million people -- more than half of them displaced by the country's eight-year war. Civil defence workers known as the White Helmets have been working to save people and their scant belongings from the rising muddy waters. "For the second day in a row, White Helmets... continue to respond to the catastrophic situation in the northern Syria camps," they said on Twitter late Monday.
One video posted by the group on Sunday showed brown water cascading out of a flooded tent. In another published the same day, civil defence workers clung on to a rope as they waded through a brown torrent above knee level. The downpour has affected tens of thousands of civilians, displaced persons, crops and livestock in Idlib, as well as in the Aleppo and Hasakeh provinces since Saturday, Swanson said.
In Aleppo province, tents were destroyed in several camps for the displaced and a hospital in the countryside had to shut down due to the flooding. Syria's war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since starting in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests. Tens of thousands of displaced Syrians in the north of the country depend on handouts from humanitarian aid groups, including food, blankets and heating fuel for the winter months.
Thursday 7th March 2019
6 March 2019 - Um Hassan, from rural Aleppo, was collecting truffles in the countryside to sell in local markets. At the end of a long day of backbreaking work in harsh winter conditions, she and her children climbed into a crowded lorry to begin their journey home. Half-way through their trip, the lorry drove over an unexploded mine. Um Hassan’s 10-year old daughter Lolo was killed instantly and two of her other children were seriously injured.
Lolo was one of six people killed in the explosion. Another 15 people were rushed to the WHO-supported University Hospital in Aleppo. Um Hassan’s husband was frantic with worry when his family did not return home. He had no way of getting in touch with his wife and she was unable to get in touch with him. Like many people living in poverty in rural areas of Syria, the family has no mobile phone or landline.
“This is such a tragic event,” said Elizabeth Hoff, WHO Representative in Syria. “Although the security situation in the north has improved recently, tens of thousands of landmines and other unexploded devices continue to pose a severe threat to millions of innocent people. WHO is working to strengthen trauma care and emergency services in Aleppo and other northern governorates, but the underlying problem remains. Sustained efforts must be made to clear mines and other hazards from former conflict areas. Until then, people like Um Hassan and her family will be at risk of similar incidents.”
For Um Hassan and many others like her, there is no choice but to continue working every day, despite the risks. “Life is difficult and we have to keep working in our fields, no matter how hard,“ said Um Hassan. “Our survival depends on it.”
World Travel News Headlines
By Julie Pacorel
Marseille, June 26, 2019 (AFP) - France's second city and key tourist hub Marseille has enforced temporary swimming bans on several beaches amid pollution concerns, disappointing locals and tourists hoping to take a dip as temperatures soar. Seven of the city's 21 beaches have raised a purple flag -- which means no bathing -- since the start of the month, on days when hygiene inspections revealed high levels of faecal matter. Marseille is a tourist hotspot, attracting five million visitors per year thanks to its Mediterranean coastline and sun-kissed climate.
But the city, France's largest port, struggles with pollution from industry and shipping. "It's mostly caused by sanitation problems, but there are also increasing numbers of boats spewing out their grey and black waste before they enter the port," said Sarah Hatimi, head of the water quality programme at Surfrider Foundation Europe environmental group. Swimming bans are nothing new in Marseille. Last year, authorities enforced 153 bans amid fears of a pollution spike after heavy rainfall. "This year, we can't say it's because of the rain," Monique Daubet, local councillor responsible for public health, said, adding that spillages from swimming pools and "lots of animal faeces" are part of the problem. But the city is "proactive", she said, going "even further" than weekly water inspections imposed by a European law to "pay for our own analysis to protect swimmers".
Every morning, inspectors take water samples from each of the city's beaches to test for E. coli and enterococci bacteria, which indicate human or animal defecation. A laboratory can reveal test results the same morning, whereas the previous weekly tests "arrived far too late, two or three days later," Daubet said. Despite efforts, Marseille authorities aren't hopeful they can secure a "blue flag" stamp of approval for beach hygiene. "Our water quality doesn't meet the criteria, which includes, for example, keeping bins at least 100 metres away from the beach". "Nobody is forcing us to do this," she said. "Rather than complaining, people should be grateful we're closing the beaches!"
By Elizabeth Vuvu
Kokopo, Papua New Guinea, June 26, 2019 (AFP) - Papua New Guinea's volatile Ulawun volcano -- designated one of the world's most hazardous -- erupted Wednesday, spewing lava high in the air and sending residents fleeing. A pilot for Niugini Helicopters flying near the crater witnessed a column of lava spurting vertically into the equatorial sky, along with ash that has been belching since early morning. Ulawun, on the remote Bismarck Archipelago chain, is listed as one of 16 "Decade Volcanoes" targeted for research because they pose a significant risk of large, violent eruptions. Witnesses said lava had cut off the main highway in north of the island. "The volcanic activity at Mt Ulawun began at 7:00 am this morning after slight rumbling and light emission," Leo Porikura, an official with the West New Britain Disaster Office, told AFP earlier. "The Rabaul Volcano Observatory has declared a stage one alert warning of a possible eruption."
Witnesses had reported ash spewing out of the 2,334 metre (7,657 foot) summit, sending trails spanning high overhead. "The sky has turned black," said Kingsly Quou, manager of the nearby Mavo Estates palm plantation. Quou said that villagers living at the base of the volcano had already been evacuated and he and his colleagues were gathering their belongings. Japanese satellite imagery and sources on the ground had shown sulphur dioxide and now volcanic ash drifting from the crater. Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said the ash reached more than 13 kilometres (44,000 feet) into the air. The bureau's Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre issued a "red" warning to airlines, indicating the eruption was imminent, although there is not believed to be an immediate threat for flight routes. Thousands of people live in the shadow of Ulawun, despite it being one of the most active volcanoes in the country.
Porikura said people living in the vicinity of the volcano had been instructed to move away to safer areas and a disaster team had been dispatched. "The disaster team will liaise with the local community, local businesses and local level government authorities to prepare for a possible eruption," he said. "Three crucial priority areas being addressed include transport plan, care centre preparations and getting the communities in the high-risk areas to prepare for an evacuation," Porikura said. The nearby Rabaul Volcano Observatory said emissions from the volcano were getting darker, indicating a higher ash content -- which can cause breathing problems, eye irritation and skin irritation because of the high acid content. A team of experts had visited earlier this month and reported the volcano was "quiet" adding "there is no indication of any change in its state of unrest." The ash emissions had been proceeded by an increase in seismic activity, Porikura said.
San José, June 26, 2019 (AFP) - A 6.2 magnitude earthquake hit the Panama-Costa Rica border around midnight on Tuesday, the US Geological Survey said, revising earlier warnings of "significant damage", as the tremor cut power supplies near the epicentre. The quake struck at a depth of 26 kilometres (16 miles), about two kilometres from the nearest town of Progreso in Panama, USGS said, updating a previous alert that estimated the depth at 10 kilometres.
There were no immediate reports of casualties, and USGS said "the impact should be relatively localized", reversing an earlier advisory that "past events with this alert level have required a regional or national level response." "Estimated economic losses are less than 1 percent of GDP of Panama," the website said. According to the National Seismological Network (RSN) in Costa Rica, the quake struck at 0523 GMT Wednesday (11.23 pm Tuesday) with its epicentre located 11 kilometres east of the Panamanian border town of Puerto Armuelles.
The tremor was felt in Costa Rica's capital San Jose and in many parts of the Central American country, according to initial reports, but the national tsunami warning system said there was no risk of a tsunami. Villagers in the south of Costa Rica fled their homes, fearing aftershocks. Two houses in the region were damaged by the quake, said Alexander Solis, president of the country's National Emergency Commission.
Costa Rica's President Carlos Alvarado said there were power cuts in several communities in the southwest of the country, near the epicentre. In November 2017 a 6.5-magnitude quake on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica caused buildings to sway in San Jose and contributed to the deaths of two people who had heart attacks. Further north, two months earlier a 7.1-magnitude earthquake killed more than 300 people in Mexico.
By Béatrice DEBUT
eMalahleni, South Africa, June 26, 2019 (AFP) - Tumelo has again lost several days at school because of sickness. "My eyes are burning. Sometimes I can't breathe," she coughs. "The doc said there is nothing we can do," says her mother Nono Ledwaba. "We need to take her out of eMalahleni. When she goes to her grandma in Mafikeng, the symptoms disappear."
The 14-year-old lives in house number 3094 of eMpumelelweni township in eMalahleni, part of the Highveld region turned over to mines and power plants that, according to activists, are killing local people. Her neighbour in 3095, Lifa Pelican, has similar symptoms, which badly set back his schooling. At 25, he never moves without his inhaler, even inside his chilly home with rough-hewn walls. "If I don't have it with me, sometimes I can't breathe. Sometimes I feel I am going to die," he says. "These mines get a lot of money and we suffer. There's solar power. We don't need to use these coal plants." Green energy such as solar and wind power account for less than two percent of electricity production in South Africa, while coal still provides 86 percent.
Lifa's breathing troubles began after he moved to eMalahleni, at the mercy of gritty coal dust and thick whitish smoke of electricity power stations burning fuel day and night. Relief comes when he visits his father in Nelspruit, about 200 kilometres (125 miles) away, trips that feel like a new lease on life. "I don't use the inhaler." Tumelo's own troubles began when the family moved to eMalahleni in 2007, when she was a toddler. The trips to Mafikeng are literally a breath of fresh air -- her grandmother's home is 400 kms from the mines. "The only solution is to close down the plants, but will this happen?" Ledwaba asks. eMalahleni, which means "the place of coal", is among the worst places in the world for pollution by nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide, according to Greenpeace.
- 'Deadly pollution levels' -
South Africa, like many developing countries, has placed a heavy bet on coal for its development -- a fuel that is plentiful, cheap and locally-sourced. But campaign groups say health and climate costs are high. Two environmental non-governmental organisations, groundWork and Vukani, say they have identified the top culprits. They include 12 coal-burning power stations run by state-owned Eskom along with a plant for liquefying coal and an oil refinery. Pollution from these sites was responsible for between 305 and 650 premature deaths in 2016, say the two NGOs. They have initiated a suit against the government for "violation of the constitutional right to clean air" -- a legal first in South Africa, the leading industrial power on the continent.
The NGOs contend that the government has failed to reduce deadly pollution levels in the area, just an hour and a half's drive from Johannesburg. "It has evolved into a public health crisis," says Tim Lloyd, lawyer for groundWork and Vukani. "The cost of the air pollution to our economy each year is around 35 billion rand (1.8 billion euros, $2 billion)." In response to the accusations, an environment ministry spokesman told AFP that SO2 (sulphur dioxide) emissions have "shown improvements across all the five monitoring stations" in the worst-affected region of the Highveld. Criticism by environmental groups "fails to recognise these improvements', the ministry stated, declining to give further details about the data. "The reality is that the desired improvements will not happen over a short period of time," it said. Eskom admitted the area's pollution problem "requires urgent attention", adding that domestic coal burning, traffic and mining dust were also to blame.
- 'The life of my kids' -
"When people from other provinces come, they start getting sick with respiratory issues," says Alexis Mashifane, a doctor with a busy practice in Middelberg, 30 kms from eMalahleni. "When they leave this area, some of them get better." But many have no choice, saying they are stuck in the toxic region for economic reasons. "I wish to move away because this place is not right," says Mbali Mathebula, a single mother who is raising a small daughter and a baby girl, both suffering from asthma. "I don't have money to buy a house".
In Mathebula's home at the foot of the Schonland coal mine, five-year-old Princess plays with the useless mask given to her mother at hospital. Mathebula, a supermarket employee, could not afford a 70-euro ($80) oxygen machine to attach to the mask. If a child has an asthma attack in the night, Mathebula says she has to wait until the morning and then go to hospital. "Sometimes I don't have money to go there. I must borrow." Her neighbour Cebile Faith Mkhwanazi has to cope with her three-year-old daughter's asthma attacks. "I'm thinking of taking them to my mother," she adds, broken-hearted. "So that they stay there forever for their health."
By Clare BYRNE
Paris, June 25, 2019 (AFP) - As Europe sizzled Tuesday at the start of a heatwave tipped to break records, drivers on Germany's famously speedy motorways were ordered to slow down and fans at the women's World Cup were showered in health warnings.
Meteorologists blamed a blast of torrid air from the Sahara for the unusually early summer heatwave, which could send thermometers above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in some places on Thursday and Friday. Experts say such heatwaves early in the summer are likely to be more frequent as the planet heats up -- a phenomenon that scientists have shown to be driven by human use of fossil fuels.
In Germany, where forecasters have warned a June record of 38.5 degrees could be smashed, speed restrictions were placed on some stretches of "autobahns" as the unusually warm weather raised the risks of "blow-ups" -- the hot tarmac breaking up and shredding tyres. A forest fire was raging north of Cottbus, the second-largest city in Brandenburg state, in an area that was just recovering from a fire in 2018. It was deemed especially dangerous due to the risk of unexploded ammunition left in the area, which is home to a military training facility.
- 'Hell is coming' -
In Spain, TV weather presenter Silvia Laplana riffed on the doom-filled catchphrase "Winter is coming" from the blockbuster series Game of Thrones to describe what lay in store for the country. "El infierno (hell) is coming," she tweeted alongside a weather map which showed most of the country coloured scarlet later in the week. "Of course it's hot in summer but when you have a heatwave that is so extensive and intense, during which records are forecast to be beaten, it's NOT normal," she tweeted. Temperatures are expected to be particularly sweltering in the northeast of Spain, with a stifling 45 degrees expected Friday in the city of Girona, and 44 degrees in Zaragoza at the weekend. Five northern provinces were placed on an orange high alert for a heatwave on Wednesday, with another five to be added by the weekend.
- 'Overdoing' the warnings? -
Authorities were also taking no chances in France, where a heatwave in August 2003 was blamed for 15,000 deaths, many of them elderly people who were left to fend for themselves. In a highly unusual move, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer on Monday postponed national school exams to next week. Paris authorities have banned older models of diesel and petrol cars from Paris on Wednesday, fearing a build-up of pollution. Health Minister Agnes Buzyn denied the government was being excessively vigilant. "For all those who know (the risks), obviously it's too much, but if I can avoid unnecessary deaths, I will continue to communicate about prevention," Buzyn told LCI television, referring to the warnings on radio, TV and public transport.
The Red Cross meanwhile urged people to check on vulnerable neighbours, relatives and friends, saying the "coming days will be challenging for a lot of people, but especially older people, young children, and people with underlying illnesses or limited mobility." Players and spectators at the women's football World Cup taking place in cities around France were also being inundated with messages about keeping hydrated. In a rare gesture by FIFA on Monday evening, fans were allowed to bring their own bottles of water into the Paris stadium where Sweden took on Canada. Phil Neville, the England coach, was sanguine about the impact of the weather on the tournament, however. "There's no excuse, the players are ready for it."
Meanwhile, French beekeepers and farming groups said they were bracing for a "catastrophic" honey harvest this year after frost damage in winter, an unusually rainy spring, and, now, unusually high temperatures. "In the hives, there is nothing to eat, beekeepers are having to feed them with syrup because they risk dying from hunger," added the union, which represents many small farms in honey-producing regions. In the Baltic region of northeast Europe, crowds have flocked to lakes and rivers to cool down, leading to a spike in drownings. Twenty-seven people were reporte to have drowned so far in Lithuania where the temperature soared to an unusual high of 35.7 degrees Celsius.
The Hague, June 25, 2019 (AFP) - Dutch health authorities said Tuesday they are dealing with a measles outbreak in a devout Protestant fishing village where vaccination rates are among the lowest in the country. Nine children and one adult have been diagnosed with the disease in the village of Urk, part of the so-called "Bible Belt" in the northern Netherlands, the Flevoland province health service said.
The health service said it was "actively monitoring the situation" and examining whether it was necessary to vaccinate or administer antibodies to people who have been in contact with the infected patients. "In 2013 and previously, the disease occurred more often on Urk. Many people on Urk have experienced this disease and that means that a natural defence has built up," it said. Only 61.1 percent of people are vaccinated against measles in Urk, one of the lowest rates in the Netherlands, where the national average is 92.9 percent, according to the National Public Health and Environment Institute.
Urk is regarded as one of the most devout of the villages in the "Bible Belt" of conservative Protestant communities running from Zeeland in the south of the Netherlands across the country to the north west. Ninety-four percent of people in Urk regularly go to church, according to the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics, compared to one in six of all Dutch people.
Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf said that in this devout community of Urk people believe that life and death are in God's hands, and so vaccinations are not permitted. Urk is considered a "closed' community because of its fisheries culture and Protestant orthodox religion," a European Commission report from 2010 said.
The UN warned in April of a global resurgence of measles -- a highly contagious viral infection that can prove fatal -- amid a growing "anti-vax" movement worldwide. The WHO says cases of the once all-but-eradicated disease surged 300 percent in 2018 across the globe. The anti-vax phenomenon has adherents across Western countries but especially in the United States, where it has been fuelled by the spread on social media of claims that the jab could cause autism, which medical officials have found are baseless.
Source: I Am Expat [edited]
Normally, the tropical tick species _Hyalomma [marginatum_] only arrives in Germany with the 1st wave of migratory birds. However, experts believe that this year  the disease-carrying giant ticks have spent the winter here for the 1st time ever. The tropical tick species _Hyalomma_ is not native to Germany and was detected in the federal republic for the 1st time in 2017. The ticks only began to appear in large numbers last year , when a total of 19 specimens were found in 8 of Germany's federal states.
This year , however, discoveries of the ticks were reported unusually early, leading researchers at the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart and the Munich Institute for Microbiology to conclude that the newly-arrived tropical tick species overwintered in Germany for the 1st time this year . Over the past few days, 6 of the spidery ticks have been discovered in Germany: 5 on a horse farm in the Lower Rhine and one on a horse in Lower Saxony. "After the 1st evidence of this year , we must assume that these animals can winter in Germany," said Ute Mackenstedt, a parasitologist at the University of Hohenheim.
Accordingly, the ticks are "a significant step further towards establishing themselves here." The _Hyalomma_ tick is native to the dry and semi-arid areas of Africa, Asia, and southern Europe. It is distinctive for its long, spidery, striped legs and large body, and can grow up to 2 centimetres [about 0.8 in] in length, 2-3 times larger than their closest European relatives. Usually, the adult _Hyalomma_ ticks stick to sucking the blood of large animals, but they have been known to transfer themselves to human hosts too.
The major factor that distinguishes them from Germany's native tick population is the fact that they are able to actively sense, track, and hunt their warm-blooded hosts over dozens of meters. _Hyalomma_ ticks are also considered a major carrier of a dangerous virus that can cause Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever -- the most widespread viral disease carried by ticks. Currently, there is no vaccine for this, and 10 to 40 percent of cases are fatal.
However, at the moment there is no cause for alarm: none of the tick specimens that were discovered last year  were found to be carrying infectious agents. The size of the ticks means that they are also easier for humans to detect and remove. Moreover, the early appearance of the ticks does not necessarily mean that they have already become native to [established in] Germany. For a significant population to develop, males and females would have to find each other. That can be a tall order when the population is still relatively small. Even if they did find each other, the unhatched larvae would have to rely on an animal host, such as a bird or hare, to develop. [Byline: Aby Carter]
[Although there may not be immediate concern about _Hyalomma marginatum_ ticks posing a human or animal health danger in Germany, if they have truly become established there and their numbers increase, there is a risk of transmission of pathogens such as Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, as occurred in Spain, or spotted fever rickettsia such as _Rickettsia aeschlimannii_ that has been found in these ticks in Germany.
The only documented _Hyalomma_ spp. tick in Germany was found on a human in the southern part of the country (Lake Constance area) in May 2006, but the possibility of tick transportation from Spain was not ruled out (1,2). The authors state that it is reasonable to suggest that the _Hyalomma_ spp. ticks that were examined had been transported by the birds from Africa.
The fact that a randomly caught bird was infested with _R. aeschlimannii_Â-infected ticks is suggestive of the intensive stream of new pathogens transported through Europe by migrating birds
1. Rumer L, Graser E, Hillebrand T, et al. _Rickettsia aeschlimannii_ in _Hyalomma marginatum_ ticks, Germany [letter]. Emerg Infect Dis. 2011; 17(2): 325-6; <https://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid1702.100308>.
2. Kampen H, Poltz W, Hartelt K, et al. Detection of a questing _Hyalomma marginatum marginatum_ adult female (Acari, Ixodidae) in southern Germany. Exp Appl Acarol. 2007; 43(3): 227-31 <https://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10493-007-9113-y>.
A map of the known distribution of _Hyalomma marginatum_ as of 2018 can be accessed at
An image of _Hyalomma marginatum_ can be accessed at the source URL above. - ProMED Mod.TY]
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Germany:
Mogadishu, 25 June 2019 - Health authorities rolled out a polio campaign yesterday in Puntland and Somaliland to vaccinate more than 940 000 children under 5 years of age to stop an ongoing outbreak of a strain of poliovirus.
The campaign runs from 24 to 27 June 2019, with support from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). It targets all children in 12 districts in Somaliland and 9 districts in Puntland.
By the numbers:
- 945,480 children to be vaccinated
- 3160 vaccinators knocking on doors
- 677 team supervisors taking part
- 1558 social mobilizers sharing messages on vaccination and children’s health
- 15 children have been infected with the polioviruses so far, since outbreaks began
“It’s vital that parents ensure their children receive this vaccine because it builds immunity against a specific strain of poliovirus circulating in the country. I call upon all caregivers in the areas being covered in this campaign to please ensure children are at home and accept the oral polio vaccine when it is offered. Oral polio vaccines are stored and administered safely, and can save children from paralysis and permanent disability,” said Dr Mamunur Rahman Malik, WHO Representative for Somalia.
“The only way to protect children from all polioviruses is to ensure they receive multiple doses of polio vaccine, through campaigns and health facilities where possible,” said Werner Schultink, UNICEF Somalia Representative. “Caregivers need to ensure children receive this vaccine when it is available.”
Somalia’s polio programme has conducted 14 immunization campaigns, including 5 nationwide campaigns, since December 2017 to stop further spread of the outbreaks. Despite these efforts, not all Somalia’s children are being vaccinated, which has resulted in the polioviruses spreading across the country and spilling over to Ethiopia. To address this, polio teams from Somalia and Ethiopia conducted a joint planning workshop in Hargeisa last week, and are coordinating immunization activities along their shared border and in high-risk areas in each country during this round in order to prevent cross-border transmission and spill over.
Concurrent to the polio campaign, polio health workers have also been working to vaccinate more than 650 000 people aged one year and above against cholera in high-risk districts of Somalia.
Kinshasa, June 24, 2019 (AFP) - More than 1,500 people have died in a nearly 10-month-old outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the health ministry said Monday. As of Sunday, 1,506 people have died out of 2,239 recorded cases, it said. Earlier this month, the virus claimed two lives in neighbouring Uganda among a family who had travelled to the DRC. Nearly 141,000 people have been vaccinated in the affected eastern DRC provinces of Ituri and North Kivu, the epicentre of the outbreak.
Ebola spreads among humans through close contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of an infected person, or objects contaminated by such fluids. The current outbreak in the DRC is the worst on record after an epidemic that struck mainly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone between 2014-2016, killing more than 11,300 people. Chronic violence and militia activity in Ituri and North Kivu as well as hostility to medical teams among locals have hampered the response.
On Monday, a crowd of people opposed to the burial of two Ebola victims in the Beni area burnt the vehicle of a health team, local police chief Colonel Safari Kazingufu told AFP. He said a member of the medical team had been injured in the attack and taken to hospital. The United Nations in May nominated an emergency coordinator to deal with the crisis. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) said this month the outbreak currently did not represent a global threat.