– This is a guest post by Max, a travel writer at Globelink Travel Insurance –
The word “voluntourism” was recently coined to give a name to one of the fastest-growing niches in the travel industry today. Well-intentioned, starry-eyed and enthusiastic, young volunteers on their gap years, middle-aged professionals, and even early retirees usually spend their new-found downtime to spread a little love by volunteering in another country.
However, there is a dark side to this endeavour. Many volunteers go to foreign communities without the proper education and briefing on the real issues and naively think that just by showing up, cuddling a few children, and doing a few chores will create lasting change. There are many social and economic implications to voluntourism, but this article is concerned with the actual physical danger that volunteers are faced with.
So is volunteering abroad for a good cause worth the travel risk? There are places around the world that, despite of the protection of worldwide travel insurance, are not ideal places to visit because it would be too risky to go. If you are interested to volunteer abroad, here is a list of some countries that have been proven to be dangerous for volunteers, or even for other foreign visitors.
British nationals are advised by the government to leave Syria now, and the UK has suspended all services of the embassy in Damascus, so a British national will have no evacuation aid at the moment. Despite the need for volunteers especially working with children and displaced families, Syria is hostile to the United Kingdom, and they are known to kidnap and murder even humanitarian aid group volunteers.
There are numerous news items since the late 2000s that back up the dangers of volunteering in Afghanistan. Way back in 2007, 23 young Koreans were kidnapped while doing volunteer work in an orphanage there. There are prevalent travel warnings from most European countries banning all kinds of travel to that region. News of assassinations, suicide bombings, kidnappings, and terrorist attacks still persist in the country, so despite its natural beauty and a real need to spread joy in certain areas, it is far too dangerous for foreigners to volunteer in Afghanistan.
The current situation in Iraq is still dangerous for tourists and volunteers. Although the atmosphere is unlike the war zone that it was five years ago, foreign visitors to the country, especially those coming from Europe and North America, are still susceptible to dangers such as kidnappings and bombings. The security situation in the country is uncertain, and coalition forces including the UK, the US, and other countries still carry out airstrikes in northern and western Iraq. There are six provinces in Iraq that have been named by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as most dangerous for UK citizens to visit.
This West African country has Peace Corps sites open for volunteers. In fact, there are organizations there that offer week to month-long volunteer programs. However, the terrorist group Boko Haram is extending its threat to the northern part of the Cameroon. The group is especially dangerous because it aims to eradicate Western influence and is known to kidnap and sell women into the sex trade.
There is never-ending violence in Somalia, with tribal conflict and violent disputes erupting in the country. The civil war has divided the country into several dozen warring groups, and it has become so violent that the Somali president fled to Kenya. The United Nations has announced that Somalia is in desperate need of food aid and the country is suffering from severe drought. However, despite the need for help, most Western countries are banning their citizens from going to the country. The British embassy has closed down in Mogadishu, and the FCO advice against all travel.
There is a UN-backed government in Tripoli following the death of autocratic Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Despite the attempt to restore stability and security to Libya and the host of volunteer opportunities to the former war-torn country, there are still a number of areas where there is intense fighting. It is dangerous for volunteers to go to Libya at this time. There is also a high threat of terrorist attacks, and well-armed extremist forces are known to kidnap and kill foreign nationals.
There are many organizations in Uganda that are looking for foreign volunteers to help build wells in communities, and do other social volunteer work. Travelling and volunteering in Uganda, especially in the northern part of the country, is dangerous. In November 2016, there were a series of violent clashes in western Uganda. Although there is no clear indication that foreign nationals are being targeted, the situation remains unstable and risky.
If you are interested in volunteering abroad, instead of asking, “what are the most dangerous countries for volunteering?” maybe a good thing to ask yourself is “what are some volunteer opportunities around the world that are safe?” There are actually many safe countries with a stable political climate in Asia and Africa that need volunteers.