On March 26, the State Department updated its Iraq Travel Advisory, a Level 4 Do Not Travel to Iraq “due to terrorism, kidnapping, armed conflict, the Global Health Advisory, and Mission Iraq’s limited capacity to provide support to U.S. citizens.”
The updated advisory announced the mandatory departure of designated U.S. government employees from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center (BDSC), and the U.S. Consulate General in Erbil on March 25 “due to security conditions and restricted travel options as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
U.S. citizens in Iraq are at high risk for violence and kidnapping. Numerous terrorist and insurgent groups are active in Iraq and regularly attack both Iraqi security forces and civilians. Anti-U.S. sectarian militias threaten U.S. citizens and Western companies throughout Iraq. Attacks by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) occur in many areas of the country, including Baghdad.
On March 25, 2020, the Department of State ordered the departure of designated U.S. government employees from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the Baghdad Diplomatic support Center, and the U.S. Consulate General in Erbil due to security conditions and restricted travel options as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. On December 31, 2019, the Embassy suspended public consular services, until further notice, as a result of damage done by Iranian-backed terrorist attacks on the Embassy compound. U.S. Consulate General Erbil remains open and continues to provide consular services. On October 18, 2018, the Department of State ordered the suspension of operations at the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah. That institution has not reopened. Due to security concerns, U.S. Embassy personnel in Baghdad have been instructed not to use Baghdad International Airport.
U.S. citizens should not travel through Iraq to Syria to engage in armed conflict, where they would face extreme personal risks (kidnapping, injury, or death) and legal risks (arrest, fines, and expulsion). The Kurdistan Regional Government stated that it will impose prison sentences of up to ten years on individuals who illegally cross the border. Additionally, fighting on behalf of, or supporting designated terrorist organizations, is a crime that can result in penalties, including prison time and large fines in the United States.
Read in full here.
In between Netflix binges, take some time to read our 7⃣th SitRep on COVID-19 in #Iraq 🇮🇶.
— OCHA Iraq (@OCHAIraq) March 24, 2020
— RFI English (@RFI_En) March 26, 2020
Following the COVID-19 outbreak, there has been a reduction for training from the Iraqi Security Forces and a pause in the Coalition and NATO training missions in Iraq. The Ministry of Defence has decided to redeploy some of its personnel back to the UK. https://t.co/3F7S3GC4ZN pic.twitter.com/ZOyrPVta7q
— British Army (@BritishArmy) March 19, 2020
On March 26, the State Department issued a new Travel Advisory for Indonesia, a Level 4 Do Not Travel advisory “due to the Global Health Advisory and Embassy Jakarta’s limited capacity to provide support to U.S. citizens.
It also announced the mandatory evacuation of all family members under 21 for US Mission Indonesia, including the US mission to ASEAN:
On March 25, the Department of State allowed for the Ordered Departure of all eligible family members (EFMs) under age 21 from Embassy Jakarta, Consulates Medan and Surabaya, and the U.S. Mission to ASEAN.
Commercial flight options may become limited, as well as decreased medical evacuation options from Indonesia. Indonesia’s health system has limited capacity to test for the virus causing COVID-19. Travelers should consider these factors and their health before traveling to Indonesia and follow the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines for the prevention of coronavirus if they decide to travel.
Read the full advisory here.
Post’s March 20 Health Alert notes : “We understand that Indonesia’s health system has limited capacity to test for COVID-19 and to manage treatment of persons with COVID-19.[…] The government of Indonesia has implemented enhanced screening and quarantine measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice. As of March 20, 2020, Indonesia has suspended entry for foreigners using visa exemption and visa on arrival.
Post’s March 17 Health Alert said, “The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Consulate General in Surabaya, and Consular Agency in Bali have implemented social distancing measures but remain open for Consular Services.” On March 20, it said, “The U.S. Mission in Indonesia has suspended routine consular services.”
⚠ Alert: U.S. Embassy Employees’ family members under 21 years are ordered to depart Indonesia.
More information here >> https://t.co/mz4vufPtiD
— U.S. Embassy Jakarta (@usembassyjkt) March 26, 2020
.@StateDept authorized the departure of U.S. personnel & family from any diplomatic/consular post at higher risk of a poor outcome if exposed to #COVID19 or who have requested departure based on a commensurate justification, incl. U.S. Mission to Indonesia & @USMission2ASEAN pic.twitter.com/d1COJYRXKL
— U.S. Embassy Jakarta (@usembassyjkt) March 20, 2020
Updated 3/28/2020, 8:20 pm PDT | US Embassy Bangui’s Health Alert dated March 26, 2020 says “On March 18, the Department of State ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. personnel in Bangui.”
We learned last week that the US Embassy in Bangui, Central African Republic “just went on ordered departure.” Apparently this was less about Covid19 and more about a flare-up of violence in the country. To-date, neither the State Department nor the US Embassy has made an announcement about this post’s evacuation status.
On March 20, US Embassy Bangui released the following statement about reduced staffing:
The U.S. Embassy in Bangui announces that it is reducing its staffing in response to increasing travel restrictions, limited health infrastructure and potential disruption of supply chains for essential goods in the Central African Republic.
We call your attention to the State Department’s Global Travel Advisory issued March 19, 2020
The State Department has issued a global travel advisory advising all U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19. In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period. U.S. citizens who live abroad should avoid all international travel. Many countries are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and implementing travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines, closing borders, and prohibiting non-citizens from entry with little advance notice. Airlines have cancelled many international flights and several cruise operators have suspended operations or cancelled trips. If you choose to travel internationally, your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite timeframe.
U.S. Embassy in Bangui does not provide visa or citizen services to U.S. citizens in CAR. U.S. citizens in need of assistance there are advised to contact the U.S. Embassy in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
Note that the Central African Republic is on a Level 4 Do Not Travel Advisory “due to crime, civil unrest, and kidnapping” as of December 12, 2019. The Travel Advisory has not been updated to indicate its evacuation status as of this writing.
A source at a neighboring post is similarly perplexed as they know from colleagues in Bangui that the embassy has gone on ordered departure despite the lack of public announcement. We were asked if it is possible to have an internal ordered departure and Foggy Bottom knows it but it’s not ‘official’?
These days anything is possible, it seems, but we don’t know how that works without running afoul of 7 FAM 050 No Double Standard Policy. “Generally, if the Department shares information with the official U.S. community, it should also make the same or similar information available to the non-official U.S. community if the underlying threat applies to both official and non-official U.S. citizens/nationals.”
7 FAM 053(f) includes a reminder: “Remember that if post concludes it should warn, or has warned, its personnel or any U.S. Government employees beyond those with a strict need-to-know, whether permanently stationed or on temporary duty abroad, about a security threat, post should share that same information with the non-official U.S. community under the “No Double Standard” policy (see 7 FAM 052).
On March 18, the State Department issued new Level 3 Reconsider Travel Advisories for Micronesia and Tajikistan, and a Level 4 Travel Advisory for Mongolia. It also announced the voluntary departure order for two posts for non-emergency staffers and family members and a mandatory departure order for one post for all non-essential personnel. Voluntary or “authorized departure” means employees and family members have the option to remain at post. An “ordered departure” is a mandatory order to leave post (see more below).
On March 11, 2020, the Department of State allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. Government employees and all eligible family members from US Embassy Kolonia, in Micronesia “due to stringent travel restrictions that affect commercial flights.”
On March 12, the Department ordered the departure of all nonessential personnel from“due to travel, transport, and other restrictions related to Mongolia’s response to the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19.”
On March 13, 2020, the State Department allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency personnel and family members of U.S. government employees from US Embassy Dushanbe due to “declining commercial flight availability and travel screening procedures implemented by the Government of Tajikistan.”
Reconsider Travel to the Federated States of Micronesia due to the Global Health Advisory and Embassy Kolonia’s limited capacity to provide support to U.S. citizens.
On March 11, 2020, the Department of State allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. Government employees and all eligible family members due to stringent travel restrictions that affect commercial flights.
As of March 18, 2020, there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), but the country’s health system has limited capacity for handling an outbreak. A recent reduction in commercial flights and difficulty in arranging medevac flights may make it difficult or impossible to seek medical evacuation. Travelers should consider these factors and their health before traveling to the FSM and follow the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines for the prevention of coronavirus if they decide to travel.
Do Not Travel to Mongolia due to the Global Health Advisory and Mongolia’s suspension of all international travel in response to the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 in neighboring countries.
On March 10, 2020, Mongolia suspended travel to and from foreign locations until at least March 28. Virtually all commercial flights, passenger rail, and auto traffic into and out of Mongolia are suspended during this time period. Domestic air and rail travel will also be suspended from March 10 until at least March 16. For the most up-to-date information regarding COVID-19-related issues affecting travelers in Mongolia please see the U.S Embassy in Mongolia’s COVID-19 Information page.
On February 25, 2020, the Department of State allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and all family members. On March 12, the Department ordered the departure of all nonessential personnel due to travel, transport, and other restrictions related to Mongolia’s response to the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19.
Reconsider travel to Tajikistan due to the Global Health Advisory and measures implemented by the Government of Tajikistan in response to COVID-19.
On March 13, 2020, the State Department allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency personnel and family members of U.S. government employees due to declining commercial flight availability and travel screening procedures implemented by the Government of Tajikistan.
Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice. Visit the U.S. Embassy Dushanbe website for additional information on these new measures.
Medical protocols in Tajikistan are not consistent with U.S. standards. Consider declining any medical testing unrelated to COVID-19.
Due to the possibility of quarantine of unknown length, carry additional supplies of necessary medication in carry-on luggage. Contact the U.S. Embassy if you are subject to quarantine or prior to undergoing any invasive medical testing or procedures.
Meanwhile we got a question in our inbox about Lebanon (a Level 3 Reconsider Travel country per Lebanon Travel Advisory issued on October 21, 2019):
“Beirut airport just closed and that means no way out due to geography. Why are they not on OD? Who is in charge at State?”
Per 3 FAM 3770, “authorized departure” is an evacuation procedure, short of ordered departure, by which post employees and/or eligible family members are permitted to leave post in advance of normal rotation when U.S. national interests or imminent threat to life requires it. Departure is requested by the chief of mission (COM) and approved by the Under Secretary for Management (M).
An “ordered departure” is an evacuation procedure by which the number of U.S. government employees, eligible family members, or both, at a Foreign Service post is reduced. Ordered departure is mandatory and may be initiated by the chief of mission or the Secretary of State.
And its a wrap – The Beirut Rafic Hariri international airport is closed, as it seems,flights are halted and all cancelled as seen on the screen. Last week we had no idea that things were headed this way, and now I think: will life ever be normal again? #Lebanon #Covid_19 pic.twitter.com/oJqAG7EEOM
— Luna Safwan – لونا صفوان (@LunaSafwan) March 18, 2020
— Al Jazeera News (@AJENews) March 17, 2020
Ambassador Shea met with the LAF commander, discussing COVID-19 response & noting the US remains committed to strengthening LAF’s capacity as the sole legitimate arm defense of the Government of Lebanon to secure Lebanon’s borders, defend its sovereignty & preserve its stability https://t.co/mZmfOI76MC
— U.S. Embassy Beirut (@usembassybeirut) March 17, 2020