Evacuation Tracker: U.S. Foreign Service Posts (Updated March 24, 2020)

SSDO Special Briefing, March 24, 2020

“In an unprecedented move, the department has authorized departure from post for all employees abroad who are considered to be especially medically vulnerable to the consequences of COVID-19.  To date, we’ve also granted ordered departure and authorized voluntary departure to 17 posts and will continue to assess the need to grant more as time progresses. “

QUESTION:  [… ] And then secondly, I’m sure you’ve seen these reports that there are numerous embassies, or at least several embassies, where people are basically clamoring for order departure status, and that they are being discouraged from that.  Can you address that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Oh, no.  All help is appreciated.  On the second part of your question, Matt, so our embassies overseas have their emergency teams meet regularly to discuss the situation at post, and they have a process and procedure in place where they can really evaluate the transportation system, the healthcare system, and not just the status of COVID in the country.  And when they reach a certain point where they feel like, okay, maybe time to request authorized ordered departure, they submit a request to the undersecretary of management, and those are coming in regularly, and the undersecretary reviews them and then makes decisions on what to approve.  At this point, I think one of the biggest issues is the travel restrictions that countries are instituting around the world.

MODERATOR ONE:  If I could just add on to that, those decisions are made against a robust set of criteria and decisions made based to – based on a consistent set of principles, all which are geared towards maximizing the safety for our employees.

Senior State Department Official Special Briefing, March 23, 2020

QUESTION:  And do you have numbers on authorized departures and ordered departures?  How many people have taken you up on it so far?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  We’ll have to take that question and get back to you.  I don’t have those numbers at my fingertips.  I apologize.

Related post:
March 23, 2020: U.S. Foreign Service Posts: Tracking Voluntary Departures and Mandatory Evacuations

U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong and Macau on ‘Voluntary Departure’ Over Covid19 Outbreak

 

On February 11, the State Department issued a Level 2 Exercise Increase Caution for the Hong Kong and Macau. The announcement includes public notice of the voluntary evacuation order of February 10 for the consulate general’s non-emergency staff and and their family members due to the novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China (now officially called covid19).  Excerpt below:

Exercise Increased Caution due to the novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China.  Read the entire Travel Advisory.

A novel (new) coronavirus is causing an outbreak of respiratory illness that began in the city of Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in December 2019. On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization determined the rapidly spreading outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

The Hong Kong government has reported cases of the novel coronavirus in its special administrative region, has upgraded its response level to emergency, its highest response level, and is taking other steps to manage the novel Coronavirus outbreak. On February 8, the Hong Kong government began enforcing a compulsory 14-day quarantine for anyone, regardless of nationality, arriving in Hong Kong who has visited mainland China within a 14-day period. This quarantine does not apply to individuals transiting Hong Kong International Airport and certain exempted groups such as flight crews. However, health screening measures are in place at all of Hong Kong’s borders and the Hong Kong authorities will quarantine individual travelers, including passengers transiting the Hong Kong International Airport, if the Hong Kong authorities determine the traveler to be a health risk. Please refer to the Hong Kong government’s press release for further details.

On January 30, the Hong Kong government temporarily closed certain transportation links and border checkpoints connecting Hong Kong with mainland China and on February 3 suspended ferry services from Macau.

On February 10, 2020 the Department of State allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and their family members due to the novel coronavirus and the impact to Mission personnel as schools and some public facilities have been closed until further notice.

The Department of State has raised the Travel Advisory for mainland China to Level 4: Do Not Travel due to the novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 3 Warning:  Avoid all nonessential travel to China.

Full advisory available here.

 

Authorized/Ordered Departures: U.S. Embassy Burkina Faso

The State Department has previously issued a Level 4 Do Not Travel Advisory for Bolivia on November 12, 2019 (US Embassy Bolivia Now on ‘Ordered Departure’ For Family Members).
On November 26, the State Department issued a Level 4 – Do Not Travel for Burkina Faso.  The Travel Advisory was issued due to terrorism, crime, and kidnapping.  It also included an announcement that the Department ordered the departure of all minor family members of U.S. government employees, and the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and their family members. There are currently 14 countries with Level 4 designations.
Do not travel to Burkina Faso due to terrorism, crime, and kidnapping.

Country Summary: Terrorist groups continue plotting attacks in Burkina Faso. Terrorists may conduct attacks anywhere with little or no warning. Targets could include hotels, restaurants, police stations, customs offices, areas at or near mining sites, places of worship, military posts, and schools.

Kidnapping and hostage taking is a threat throughout the country.  On May 10, 2019 a hostage rescue operation freed four international hostages that had been kidnapped in Burkina Faso and in neighboring Benin.

The Government of Burkina Faso has maintained a state of emergency in the entire East and Sahel regions, the provinces of Kossi and Sourou in the Boucle de Mouhoun region, the province of Kenedougou in the Hauts Bassins region, the province of Loroum in the North region, and the province of Koulpelogo in the Center-East region.

The U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens throughout most of the country, as U.S. government personnel are restricted from travelling to regions outside the capitol due to security concerns. The U.S. Embassy prohibits U.S. government personnel from personal travel to the Karpala, Balkiui and Rayongo (also known as Dayongo) neighborhoods of Ouagadougou’s Arrondissement 11 due to the potential for security operations.

On November 26, 2019, the Department ordered the departure of all minor family members of U.S. government employees, and the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and their family members.

The US Embassy in Ouagadougou also posted this on its website:

Consistent with our primary responsibility to protect American citizens and consistent with the assessment that the security situation in Burkina Faso has reached a point where it is not appropriate for children to remain as part of the Embassy community at this time, the U.S. Embassy ordered the departure of U.S. mission family members under the age 21.  The U.S. Embassy remains open for all services including full diplomatic engagement and consular services, including the full range of services for American citizens.  There is no specific threat that prompted this decision, rather this reconfiguration of the U.S. Embassy staffing profile will enable refocused operations to assist Burkina Faso in its struggle against violent extremist organizations.

 

US Embassy Bahamas on ‘Ordered Departure’ For Non-Emergency Staff/Family Members #HurricaneDorian

 

On August 30, 2019, the State Department issued a Travel Advisory for The Bahamas urging caution due to Hurricane Dorian. It also announced the “ordered departure” of non-emergency personnel and family members from the island on August 29. Embassy Nassau announced on Twitter that the mandatory departure of affected personnel and family members are done via commercial flights and ferries.

Freeport, Grand Bahama – Level 3: Reconsider Travel

Exercise increased caution in Freeport, Grand Bahama due to Hurricane Dorian.

On August 29, The Department of State ordered non-emergency personnel and family members of U.S. government employees to depart Freeport, Grand Bahama in The Bahamas in advance of Hurricane Dorian.

If you decide to travel to The Bahamas:

      • Exercise caution in the area known as “Over the Hill” (south of Shirley Street) and the Fish Fry at Arawak Cay in Nassau, especially at night.
      • Do not answer your door at your hotel/residence unless you know who it is.
      • Do not physically resist any robbery attempt.
      • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
      • Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.
      • Review the Crime and Safety Report for The Bahamas.
      • U.S. citizens who travel abroad should always have a contingency plan for emergency and medical situations. Review the Traveler’s Checklist.

The Bahamas – Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution

Exercise increased caution in the Bahamas due to crime. Some areas have increased risk. Read the entire Travel Advisory.

Violent crime, such as burglaries, armed robberies, and sexual assault, occurs even during the day and in tourist areas. Although the family islands are not crime-free, the vast majority of crime occurs on New Providence and Grand Bahama islands. U.S. government personnel are not permitted to visit the area known by many visitors as the Sand Trap area in Nassau due to crime. Activities involving commercial recreational watercraft, including water tours, are not consistently regulated. Watercrafts are often not maintained, and many companies do not have safety certifications to operate in The Bahamas. Jet-ski operators have been known to commit sexual assaults against tourists. As a result, U.S. government personnel are not permitted to use jet-ski rentals on New Providence and Paradise Islands.

Read the Safety and Security section on the country information page.

NOAA’s Public Advisory issued at 5PM EDT Sat Aug 31 2019 notes that hurricane conditions are expected in the hurricane warning area across the northwestern Bahamas by Sunday, with tropical storm winds beginning tonight. It also warns of life-threatening storm surge that will raise water levels by as much as 10 to 15 feet above normal tide levels in areas of onshore winds the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama Island. Near the coast, the surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves. Further, rainfall may cause life-threatening flash floods.

 

 

US Embassy Haiti Now on Mandatory Evacuation For All Non-Emergency Staff and Family Members

Posted: 7:06 pm PST
Updated: 8:23 pm PST

 

After about a week of protests in Haiti, the State Department issued a mandatory and voluntary departure orders for some family members of non-emergency staff at the US Embassy in Haiti. See U.S. Embassy Haiti Now on Mandatory Evacuation For Diplomatic Family Members Under the Age of 18, “Authorized Departure” Also On.

On February 14, the US Embassy issued a Security Alert noting about “reports of armed men in the area near U.S. Embassy personnel housing compounds.” Post instructed embassy personnel “to remain indoors.”

We understand that post had requested the full “ordered departure” for non-emergency staff within the last 24 hours.  An official statement on the status of non-emergency personnel in country has now gone out. The mandatory evacuation is for all non-essential staff, and for all family members. As of this writing, the Haiti Travel Advisory is still dated February 12, and has not been updated to reflect the updated “ordered departure” status for non-essential personnel.

Updated: When we look at travel.state.gov again at 8:23 pm PST, the February 14 updated Level 4 Do Not Travel Advisory for Haiti  is up. The Advisory notes the crime and civil unrest in the country, the mandatory evacuation of non-emergency staff and family members, and the U.S. government’s  limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Haiti.

U.S. Mission Somalia on Ordered Departure of “Non-Essential” U.S. Citizen Employees

Posted: 12:26 am ET
Updated: 1:09 pm ET
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We understand that the State Department did not/did not put US Mission Somalia on ordered departure. This explains the absence of a new Travel Warning. Our understanding is that the post directive was for embassy U.S. citizen employees to depart, and not all American citizens. It looks like the U.S. Ambassador to Somalia is based in Kenya, so we don’t even know how many U.S. and local embassy staffers are actually in Mogadishu. When we asked US Mission Somalia whether there is an updated Travel Warning, we were directed to its security message of November 4 with a link to the January 11, 2017 Travel Warning, which specifically notes that “There is no U.S. embassy presence in Somalia.” The most recent Travel Warning for Somalia is actually dated August 3, 2017 which similarly notes the absence of U.S. embassy presence in Somalia. So who were actually directed to depart? Can post “direct” the departure of just embassy employees without triggering an update in Travel Warning? Wouldn’t that run afoul of the “no double standard” policy? Is this a case of folks just not knowing what they’re doing? Other missions in the past have restricted travels of staff members from various parts of their host countries citing “no-go” or red zones where employees are not allowed to go. But U.S. Mission Somalia uses the words “direct” implying a directive and “non-essential” which is usually used in reference to evacuations.

In May this year, we blogged that the @StateDept Plans to Build a “Somalia Interim Facility” in Mogadishu For $85-$125M. Also see D/SecState Blinken Swears in Stephen Schwartz, First U.S.Ambassador to Somalia in 25 Years.

On November 4, U.S. Mission Somalia announced that it has directed “its non-essential (sic) U.S. citizen employees” to depart Mogadishu until further notice due to specific threat information against U.S. personnel on the Mogadishu International Airport. The order came a day after AFRICOM announced that it conducted air strikes against ISIS in northeastern Somalia.

The directive for personnel  to go on authorized or ordered departure has to come from the State Department. Also U.S. Mission-Somalia’s original tweet says it directs “all non-essential U.S. citizen employees”; note that the corrected one says it directs “its non-essential U.S. citizen employees.” Who does that exclude? Everyone not under Chief of Mission authority? But all agencies fall under COM authority with the exception of those under the authority of combatant commanders, or has that changed?

We don’t know how many State Department U.S. citizen employees are actually in Mogadishu but the solicitation back in May to pre-qualify firms for design-build construction services for the construction of a Somalia Interim Facility in Mogadishu referred to a “20- acre site located on the Mogadishu International Airport (MIA) Compound” with “currently” three firms working on the compound: Bancroft Global Development, RA International, and SKA Group.

As far as we can tell, no updated Travel Warning had been released reflecting the departure of “non-essential” employees from Somalia.  And folks, if you keep calling evacuated employees “non-essential”, we’re going to start wondering what were they doing there in the first place if they were not essential.

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EU Evac From Burundi On, a Fresh Round of Ordered Departure For US Embassy Bujumbura?

Posted: 2:10 pm EDT
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On May 15, 2015, the US Embassy in Bujumbura, Burundi went on Ordered Departure status (see New #Burundi Travel Warning, Non-Emergency US Embassy Staff & Family Members Now on Ordered Departure).

On November 3, 2015, the State Department updated its Travel Warning for Burundi, informing U.S. citizens that it has terminated the Ordered Departure status, allowing eligible family members and non-emergency personnel who departed Burundi to return. The Department continues to warn U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Burundi and recommends U.S. citizens avoid non-essential travel.  The terrorist organization al-Shabaab, based in Somalia, has threatened to conduct terror attacks in Burundi.  It may also target U.S. interests in Burundi.

Just several days after the lifting of the Ordered Departure status, africaleader.com is reporting that Belgium and the European Union are warning of escalating violence in the country.  The EU has now reportedly withdrawn its non-essential personnel and families from violence-hit Burundi.

Note that the initial cable ordering a post evacuation declares the evacuation for a specified period of time (normally 30 days). At the end of that period, the State Department, working with post, reviews the evacuation status to determine whether it should be continued, whether employees should be reassigned, or whether to terminate the evacuation. If the evacuation is not terminated, the status must continue to be reviewed every 30 days up to 180 days. Today is exactly 180 days from the date Bujumbura was declared on Ordered Departure, and 12 days after the termination of its evac status, but by law, an evacuation cannot last longer than 180 days. If things in Burundi get worse, the newly returned non-emegerency personnel and family members may be subjected to a fresh round of evacuation order.

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US Embassy Nepal Now on Authorized Departure For Non-Emergency Staff and Dependents

Posted: 2:30 am EDT
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We’ve anticipated the evacuation of the family members of Embassy Kathmandu staff following the devastating Nepal earthquake of April 25.  On May 1st, the State Department issued a new Nepal Travel Warning and announced the May 2nd “authorized departure” not just of embassy family members but also of its non-emergency personnel. See part of the announcement below:

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Nepal and recommends that they defer non-essential travel there following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake on April 25.  On May 2, 2015, the Department of State approved authorized departure for non-emergency U.S. government personnel and dependents.  The U.S. Department of State also recommends that U.S. citizens in Nepal exercise caution when traveling in or planning departure from the country.  The possibility for aftershocks of significant magnitude persists.  Infrastructure is fragile and access to basic resources, including healthcare, could be limited.  Cell phone and internet service are intermittent. In Kathmandu and elsewhere, some buildings are collapsed and some roads are impassable, making transportation difficult.  Some areas of the city are crowded with displaced persons.  Kathmandu and Lukla airports have been re-opened since the earthquake.  However, the airports may close temporarily without notice due to aftershocks or inclement weather.  We encourage travelers to contact their airlines to confirm flight availability before departing for the airport.

Read the full Travel Warning here.

USAID supported DART teams have been on the move and just rescued a man from a building in Gongabu. Photo from US Embassy Nepal/FB

USAID supported DART teams have been on the move and just rescued a man from a building in Gongabu. Photo from US Embassy Nepal/FB

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