Personal Travel Risk Highlighted in Qatar

By Francisco Anzola (Doha skyline in the morning) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsLast week the world witnessed an appalling hate crime in Orlando in which over 100 members of the LGBT community were killed and injured.  Unfortunately there is very little that these victims might have done differently to avoid being in the nightclub at the time, no risk assessment would have predicted this outcome.

From a personal travel risk perspective a far more worrying and alarming bit of news came out this week, the case of the Dutch lady who reported being raped to the police in Doha, Qatar and was subsequently arrested under an adultery charge for having sex out of wedlock.  (more details are available here)

We are all bombarded by the marketing of the Middle Eastern airlines and tourist boards who would have us believe that they open up the world for us, in a comfortable and modern way.  They also promote that stopovers or holidays in their hubs are an affordable and luxurious change from our usual holiday destinations.  Add to this the promotion they do for world events, especially for sport such as the 2022 Football World Cup, combined with the ready availability of alcohol for tourists and you might be mistaken for thinking you are going to a destination with similar values to home.  The reality is unfortunately far from this.

The legal system is completely different, based significantly on Sharia law, and the way it is interpreted can often be very biased against women.  Unfortunately this case is not unique in the Gulf states and you should consider reporting crime through your embassy and not directly to the police, especially if of a sexual nature or if you are a member of the LGBT community, for whom there are few rights.

Kissing in public is illegal in the United Arab Emirates and every now and again cases are reported of people being deported for this crime, even married couples.  More worryingly in the same location homosexuality can carry the death sentence and there are long prison sentences for sodomy.  Wherever we travel, it is essential to do some research to establish the environment we will be entering; especially the main cultural, religious and legal differences compared with our home countries.

Another aspect of this case was that her drink was spiked, a crime one may overlook in a country in which the locals are not allowed to drink.  Unfortunately this happens globally and you should never leave drinks unattended; if you do, order fresh drinks rather than take the risk.  It is also inadvisable to ever drink alone, ensure you are with a group of friends or colleagues and keep an eye out for each other.

Business Support

If you are a business traveller and your research shows that you may face increased levels of personal risk at your destination because of who you are, speak to your company about what support they will offer you should you get into a jam.  Their response and support should form a part of the risk assessment they have conducted prior to you being sent there.

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Both these terrible incidents should also remind us that we may face discrimination, hate and intolerance because of our race, gender, sex, ethnicity or a combination of them all, anywhere on the planet.  Always do your research before travel and try to adapt your behaviour to that expected at your destination.  We all have different personal risk profiles and we must factor these into our preparations and travel habits.  Do not readily believe what the advertisers want you to believe, the world is not as flat as they make out.

Our My Travel Wise course advises how individuals prepare for and conduct safe travel by reducing personal risk

Saul Shanagher