The US Department of State has introduced a new risk indicator for 35 countries, including Bangladesh, to communicate more clearly to American citizens the “risk of kidnapping and hostage taking” by criminal and terrorist actors around the world.
“The new “K” indicator is part of our ongoing commitment to provide clear and comprehensive travel safety information to US citizens so they can make informed travel decisions,” it said in a statement issued from Washington on April 9.
In response to an email from The Daily Star about the statement, a US embassy spokesperson in Dhaka yesterday said, “The travel advisory for Bangladesh has not changed. The update to the travel advisory on April 9 introduced a new format for presenting information on the risk of kidnapping.
“The travel advisory for Bangladesh had already mentioned this risk, and the updated format does not reflect a change in our assessment.”
Contacted, Bangladesh State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahrial Alam said, “It is an internal affair of the United States to introduce any indicator or advisories for its citizens.
“But we are mindful of the safety and security of all in our country … We also take support from our friendly countries and cooperate with them on security issues.”
He further said Bangladeshi law enforcement agencies are capable of ensuring security of all foreign nationals living in the country.
The US travel advisories apply up to four standard levels of advice, describe the risks, and suggest clear actions US citizens should take to help ensure their safety.
The US issues an overall travel advisory level for a country, but levels of advice may vary for specific locations or areas within a country.
The US travel advisory, updated on April 9, said Bangladesh's status remains unchanged at level-2, which advises US citizens to “exercise increased caution” and be aware of heightened risks to safety and security during travel.
But the Department of State issued level-3 for Dhaka and Southeast Bangladesh, including the Chittagong Hill Tracts “due to crime, terrorism and kidnapping”, asking US citizens to reconsider travel to these places.
According to the Department of State, level-1 is the lowest advisory category for safety and security risk, while level-4 is the highest advisory level due to greater likelihood of life-threatening risks.
The travel advisories are based on established risk indicators such as crime, terrorism, civil unrest, natural disasters, health, and other potential risks.
The Department issues travel advisories for every country in the world.
The list of countries, considered a risk for US citizens of kidnapping or hostage taking, includes Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Mali, Mexico, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Russian Federation, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine (in Russian-controlled eastern Ukraine), Venezuela, and Yemen.
“The US Department of State has no greater responsibility than the safety and welfare of Americans overseas,” read the Department's statement.
The Bureau of Consular Affairs works closely with the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs and the entire US interagency to serve and protect Americans overseas and to prevent and resolve cases of kidnapping and hostage taking, it mentioned.
“We will continue to update our public information as part of our ongoing commitment to serve US citizens as they travel abroad.”
Talking to The Daily Star, several former and serving diplomats said the US announcement is unilateral, and it could have talked to Bangladesh authorities about their requirement or steps needed to be taken before putting Bangladesh in such a category.
The diplomats suggest that Bangladesh set up a specific department to monitor travel alerts and other advisories issued by the foreign countries so that it can keep the government informed of every development and make recommendations.