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It may be necessary to think about how the area that you will be visiting is governed and how the work that you are doing fits within local law. Authorities in charge should serve to protect you when you are away, however it is also worth checking whether any of the following information is applicable to the location you will be studying or working in.   

Authorities are individuals, or groups, who have some form of power or control over other people or a geographic area. In international travel, there can be both legitimate and illegitimate authorities. For example, governments of nation-states exercise recognised, legitimate control over a territory. This authority might be exercised at different levels and through different means – such as federal, state or provincial, or local – or through the military or law enforcement. Other authorities might also exercise control but this is could be extemporaneous authority – like a neighbourhood watch group, or illegitimate or unlawful authority – such as other armed groups, inter-state terrorist organisations or local criminal groups.

When we refer to ‘authorities’ we are therefore referring to those who exercise control over any area in which you are travelling whether that be a legitimate authority or a de-facto authority. All authorities can affect your safety and security and you should take sensible precautions to avoid danger.

Some common threats/hazards related to authorities are:

  • Bribery – giving or receiving something to influence another’s behaviour
  • Corruption – fraudulent conduct by those in power
  • Extortion – the act of securing money, or favours, through criminal means such as threats, or actions of intimidation, violence or blackmail
  • Detention – being held in custody by an authority and/or
  • Arrest – being seized by a legal authority and taken into custody

To know whether authorities will have any influence on your travel you need to know who they are so a list of different authorities you might come into contact with will help you remember, research and describe them. Some places to start looking are:

  • Transparency International an international NGO, does a yearly ranking of organisations against corruption criteria
  • Know the laws in the country you’re travelling to – related to what you’re doing or who you are
  • Make sure to look at the UK Foreign Travel Advice ‘Laws and Customs’ Pages
Hazard Description and Personal Vulnerabilities
  • Please describe whether there is any authority in the areas in which you intend to travel known to be corrupt and what type of behaviour they most frequently use (bribery by police officers).
  • Is there anything about you personally (religion, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, etc.) or your work (type of research, people you’re interviewing/hiring/working with, areas you’re going into) which could make you a target for abuse by authorities?
  • Are you aware of anything personally which could make it attractive for those in authority in a place to blackmail or extort you?
  • Are you working in or travelling through areas where there are a lot of checkpoints?
  • Have you been arrested or detained in the areas you are travelling to previously?
Control Measures (actions to reduce risk level)
  • Know your legal rights in the country to which you are travelling.
  • Ensure that you can explain your work (either yourself or through careful explanation to an interpreter) clearly and simply within the laws of the country you are visiting.
  • Avoid paying bribes – use negotiation and discussion first. Spending some more time talking to someone asking for a bribe and explaining why you can’t/won’t pay could end up with the person just waiving you away/through.
  • HOWEVER, NEVER put your life or safety at risk to avoid paying someone. At some point, bribery is coercive robbery and if there is a risk that the situation is/could become violent treat it like a robbery and pay the authority to get safely away.
  • If bribery could become violent, carry small amounts of cash in one, or more wallets, so the bribe can be a minimal amount.
  • Report requests and incidences of bribery to your Department as these influence your security and the security of others.
  • Have the contact details of who you would contact if detained or arrested.
  • If detained by legitimate authorities remain calm and cooperative. Manning checkpoints and borders can be boring work and you might be detained simply because you’re more interesting than anything else that has happened. Answer questions put to you honestly – know your story and don’t deviate from it.
  • If detained by an illegitimate authority (e.g. armed militia) try to discern who they are, as well as their allegiances and motivations for the detention. Share only as much as necessary and avoid information which could be counter to their motivations.
  • During any detention request the opportunity to let others know where you are. If you are detained by a legitimate authority that might be a legal right but it might not be offered unless requested.
  • During any detention request that your basic needs be met. You should receive food, water, sleep and be able to use toilet facilities.
  • If you are arrested, ask to speak to a representative of your embassy.