US Embassy Mali Goes on Authorized Departure for Non-Emergency Staff and Family Members

On April 3, the State Department issued a Travel Warning for Mali warning US citizens against travel to Mali and announced the authorized departure of non-emergency personnel and all eligible family members of U.S. Embassy personnel. It also advised U.S. citizens currently living in Mali to temporarily depart the country in light of the current security situation. Excerpt below:

April 3, 2012
The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to Mali at this time because of current political instability in the country, an active rebellion in the north, and continuing threats of attacks and kidnappings of Westerners in the north of the country. The Department of State has authorized the departure of non-emergency personnel and all eligible family members of U.S. Embassy personnel. Malian mutineers have refused to return to their barracks, and rival rebel factions are battling each other for control in areas they have seized in the north. The situation in the country remains fluid and unpredictable. The U.S. Department of State urges U.S. citizens in Mali to consider their own personal security and contingency plans, including the option of temporarily departing Mali.  This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning for Mali dated March 26, 2012, to update information on current events in Mali.
Senou International Airport in Bamako is currently open for business; however, the availability of flights in the future is unpredictable and depends on the overall security situation. U.S. citizens currently living in Mali are advised to temporarily depart the country in light of the current security situation. Persons wishing to depart the country should check with commercial airlines for the airport’s operational status and flight and seat availability before traveling to the airport.

U.S. citizens should note that the U.S. Embassy in Bamako has designated northern regions of Mali as “restricted without prior authorization” for purposes of travel by U.S. government employees, contractors, grantees, and their dependents. Prior to traveling to these areas, U.S. government employees in Mali are required to have the written approval of the U.S. Ambassador to Mali. This designation is based on an active Tuareg rebellion, the presence of Al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Maghreb (AQIM), as well as banditry in the region. These restrictions are in effect for the regions of Kidal, Gao, and Timbuktu, where separatist rebels now appear to have control.

Read the full Travel Warning here.

Crystal, FS blogger of Traveling at the Speed of Life writes her goodbye to Bamako as she heads back to the U.S. with five kids, minus FS dad who is left in Bamako.

Chelsea, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali blogs about her evacuation in Good Golly Miss Mali: Peace Corps and More:

It’s muggy and hot and we’re exhausted—we’re tired of being frustrated, we’re tired of crying, tired of saying goodbye. And this is only the beginning. We haven’t even met up with our fellow PCVs yet.  Last night we had the talk that we never thought we’d have. After forty years of uninterrupted service to the people of Mali, Peace Corps is evacuating. It’s surreal. We keep saying, “I can’t believe this is actually happening,” as if it were some freak accident or Armageddon or a zombie apocalypse or something.
The worst part about all of this is that I have to leave Scout behind (Peace Corps does not allow PCVs to evacuate pets.). Honestly, leaving her has been the largest source of my tears over the past week. […] I left her with my old site mate’s homologue, an amazing man named Abdoullaye whom I know will take care of her.  I really hope I get to see her again someday, if anything just to rub her belly one more time and let her know that I didn’t forget about her.

Map of Mali
(Source: FCO)

On April 6, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office announced the temporary suspension of all in country services in Mali, including consular services and the withdrawal of its staff from its Embassy in Bamako. A Foreign Office spokesperson said:

“Given the unstable and unpredictable situation in Mali and the continuing lack of constitutional rule, the UK has decided to temporarily withdraw its staff from its Embassy in Bamako and temporarily suspend all in country services immediately, including consular assistance. Consular assistance will continue to be provided to British nationals from our Embassy in Dakar but the UK’s ability to help British nationals who chose to remain in Mali may become limited. We have recommended since 4 April that British nationals should leave Mali as soon as possible by commercial means.”

Meanwhile, Ansar Dine, an Islamist group which also joined the fight against Malian government forces has reportedly kidnapped seven Algerian Consulate staff in the city of Gao, according to Al Jazeera citing witnesses and the Algerian foreign ministry.

On April 6, Al Jazeera reported that following a coup by army officers in the capital Bamako and advances by Tuareg fighters in the northern towns, the Tuareg rebels have proclaimed the “independence of Azawad.” They have declared the city of Gao as the capital of their new country.

The law of unintended consequences now at play.

Domani Spero

First Person: Weird Damascus and Those Karachi Marines in Bath Towels

Amy Tachco is a 36-year-old Foreign Service Officer (FSO) originally from Southern California and Central Ohio who joined the Foreign Service over ten years ago. She was featured this past week in Gadling’s A Traveler In The Foreign Service, in a Q&A with Dave Seminara, a former FSO and apparently her A-100 classmate.

Below are a couple of interesting tidbits from the Q&A. The first one is about “weird” Damascus when she was asked about leaving Syria as the US Embassy was evacuated:

No one wanted to get out of Dodge?

“No. Syria’s a beautiful place. I knew for probably six weeks or so before we were finally evacuated out that the decision was coming. But strangely enough, when it came, I felt like my whole universe just crashed. I cried big time because I felt like I was abandoning the people.”

The local staff and your friends there?

“Them but also the opposition. I was responsible for dealing with the Syrian opposition. On my last day there, I sat with one of the leaders in his office for about 2 hours and two weeks later the regime raided their office and arrested them all. It wasn’t because we left, I don’t think, but there was definitely that feeling. That’s why I asked to be sent to Istanbul, so I could continue doing my job from there. When you work in a country where people are fighting for their lives, you get emotionally involved.”

Were you concerned for your safety in Syria?

“The violence wasn’t in the middle of Damascus. The thing that was weird about Damascus is that you could walk the streets and see people drinking coffee and smoking nargiles in the cafés. Bizarre knowing that three kilometers away people were getting shot.

I took the Ambassador to a few meetings where we were sort of assaulted by regime thugs. On one occasion, we went into a meeting with a member of the opposition and a big group of regime loyalists started chanting at us and they followed us in and were banging on the door. And I got hit with a tomato.”

Did it splatter all over you?

“It didn’t and I was wearing a red dress anyways. They were trying to pelt us though. We ended up getting trapped in the building for more than two hours. We had to call our RSO’s (Regional Security Officers) to get us out of there in some armored cars. They got attacked with rocks and concrete through their windows.”

Then this one about working at the US Consulate in Karachi after it was bombed.

Pacific Ocean (Nov. 8, 2005) – U.S. Mari...

Pacific Ocean (Nov. 8, 2005) – U.S. Marines assigned to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit perform physical training on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu (LHA 5). Peleliu is underway off the coast of Southern California for an Expeditionary Strike Group exercise. U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 2nd Class Zack Baddorf (RELEASED) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What was it like to arrive at post in the wake of that incident?

“We had a Marine expeditionary unit in the consular section. They had their guns pointed out the upstairs windows to keep people from entering the big hole in the wall. There was a bathroom with a shower right next to my office, so these Marines would come by my office just draped in their bath towels. They had been on a ship for the last six months, so they liked to stop by my office to say hi on the way back from their showers. They hadn’t seen women in a really long time.”

Active link added above. Read the whole thing here.