How can you stay safe at protests?

Protests and strikes are a fact of life around the world. From peaceful marches to more disruptive demonstrations, they’re a way for communities to affect change when other means don’t work, or to voice their discontent with the local government, businesses, or other authorities.

Protests are a fact of life around the world. From peaceful marches to more disruptive demonstrations, they’re a way for communities to affect change when other means don’t work, or to voice their discontent with the local government, businesses, or other authorities.

Anger over growing social inequality and the cost of living, a lack of faith in governments and institutions and increasingly polarized politics, together with a rise in activism and environmental concerns, are the main factors expected to fuel ongoing incidences of strikes, riots and civil commotion around the world.

The ongoing cost-of-living crisis: Although inflation is now thought to have peaked in many countries the after-effects continue to take their toll. Just over half of the protests globally in 2022 were triggered by economic issues, and public confidence in the financial future is shaky. Further protest activity is likely and although mostly peaceful, it can turn violent.

Distrust of governments and institutions: Governments thought to be corrupt or perceived to have been in power for too long can bring people out onto the streets. Economic grievances about food, fuel, pay, or pensions can expand from issues-led demonstrations to wider anti-government movements. In 2022 and early 2023 protests ignited over the rights of women and minorities in Iran, fuel prices in Kazakhstan, economic failures in Sri Lanka, abortion rights in the US, and Covid restrictions in China. Europe continues to be hit by multiple strikes over pay and working conditions, and unrest like the pension reforms across France is increasingly common. Political instability in Peru, Brazil and Argentina has also resulted in widespread and violent protests.

Increasing polarization: Political divisions are stoking tensions around the world undermining social cohesion and escalating conflict. Polarized opinions can become particularly entrenched on social media and in some countries, such polarization is turning violent. Recent years have seen a big shift to the left and the right in many countries with few liberal democracies maintaining a balance where political parties compete for the centre ground.

A rise in activism: In recent years, movements that have been significantly galvanized by social media include the ¬global Occupy movement against economic inequality, the Black Lives Matter protests highlighting racial inequality, the #MeToo movement against sexual abuse and harassment, and the Stop the Steal campaign, which falsely claimed electoral fraud in the election of US president Joe Biden.

Climate and environmental concerns: Where governments are seen to row back on climate-change progress, such as fracking or reopening coal mines as a solution to reliance on Russian gas, there could be unrest. Environmental protestors made colourful headlines in 2022 – such as activists pouring soup on a Van Gogh painting or glueing themselves to roads. Climate change demonstrations tend not to be violent, but they can be disruptive, particularly if they affect transport infrastructure.

Unfortunately, demonstrations and unrest can severely disrupt your travel plans or put your safety at risk. When it comes to deciding whether or not to continue with a trip to a place in the midst of unrest, sometimes the decision is clear. The airport may be shut down, flights may be cancelled, or Governments may issue the highest level of Travel Advisory for that country, which is Level 4: Do Not Travel. Sometimes, however, things are not that cut and dry. When countries are listed at Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution it can be harder to decide whether to proceed with your travel plans.

• Know what’s covered by insurance
Most travel insurance doesn’t include coverage for civil unrest, along with terrorism or acts of war. Generally, the only way you’ll be covered by insurance if is you purchased a “Cancel for Any Reason” coverage, which comes at a premium price. Another option is to turn to your credit card – Certain cards include travel protections.

• Register with your embassy
Citizens can register with their relevant embassies and register for email and text alerts regarding protests and other disruptions in the area they’re travelling. However, it’s sometimes not as fast or detailed as local news in distributing important info. In most cases, embassies will tell you to shelter in place until the disruptions have passed. If your flight is cancelled or you get stuck for longer than anticipated, they can offer some financial assistance, but often will only act in extreme circumstances.

• Follow local news for ground truth
News published by foreign publications is often not as detailed or current as that published by local news outlets that know the area and have more staff on the ground. Oftentimes stories from global press paint the whole country as a no-go zone, even when the unrest is limited to a small area. To find authentic, more detailed information, look to local publications. Search across social media platforms for trending stories across your current location.

• Be flexible, as things can change minute to minute
Protests can move around to different areas of the city, roads that were open can suddenly close, and even peaceful protests can become dangerous quickly. As much as possible, book refundable accommodations, tours, and transport so you can adjust as the situation changes. Most hotels offer free cancellation for up to 24 hours, but policies can vary.

• Bring cash and stock up on supplies
During the unrest, banks may close, ATMs may run out of money, and stores may have limited goods. Bring cash, and if things get dicey, make sure you have access to basics like water and food. An extra battery pack for your phone is also a good idea in case of power outages. In the event that you do need to make a quick getaway or walk a long distance due to transport strikes, you don’t want to be bogged down with multiple large suitcases – keep a “bug-out” bag of essential kit to leave with quickly.

• Avoid active protests
If you run into a protest or large gathering of people, stay on the edges of the crowd (towards the back, if the group is marching) and don’t draw attention to yourself. Walk – don’t run – away from the crowd or go into a building. If there’s a protest around your accommodation, stay inside away from windows and shelter in place. Obey any curfews the government institutes restricting the hours citizens can be on the street. Violating the curfew can not only put you in danger, but it could also get you arrested. If you need to travel across the city or move between cities, do so in daylight. Early morning is often best as people who were protesting late into the night are still sleeping.

• Know how to get help
Find out the local numbers for emergency services and check to see where the nearest hospitals and police stations are located. Know the nearest embassy location and keep their phone number handy. In these situations, staying at a hotel offers some built-in security and onsite help.

How can we help?
The key to managing situations like these is prioritizing your safety. Risk management businesses like ours help travellers manage their personal safety abroad – taking steps to mitigate any dangers and the impacts they have. As the Travel Risk management process becomes more complex, utilising third-party specialists helps provides clarity and a professional perspective. Experienced teams can identify specific and changing needs unique to individuals and offer bespoke risk management and assistance solutions to meet these needs.

One such solution is the Locate application, an incident management platform designed to provide rapid response to emergency situations and clear communication between users and their emergency contacts. Users can be sent real-time updates on unfolding situations within their locations, and ensure they are kept informed and up-to-date as situations unfold. High-risk areas or places to avoid can be identified and highlighted, with automatic warnings upon entry. Finally, each user can be requested to ‘check-in’ marking individuals as safe – providing clarity and reassurance for key contacts at home.

To learn more about our Locate Global, or our locate application, you can schedule a demo with one of our team here.

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