Will The COVID-19 Pandemic Lead To More Kidnappings Overseas?

The COVID-19 pandemic poses unprecedented challenges to fragile states' internal political and economic conditions. It is expected to trigger a spike in kidnap for ransom activity in countries where that crime is already common.

 

In some cases, the pandemic is being used as a smokescreen for ongoing and increasing geopolitical friction in countries such as Nigeria, Libya, Yemen, Venezuela, and Mexico. Increased unrest due to a disruption in the flow of humanitarian aid, peace operations, and diplomacy as a result of travel restrictions may exacerbate the threat.

 

In other areas of the world, the frequency of kidnap for ransom is likely to increase in regions and countries where the crime is largely opportunistic, as in South America, or in areas of the world in which large segments of the working class fail to find alternative income, such as in sub-Saharan Africa.

 

Finally, expect an increase in areas where militant groups will use the pandemic as a distractor for their political agenda, such as in Yemen, Syria and in the Sahel region of Africa. "COVID-19: Impact on Kidnap for Ransom Activity" www.securitymagazine.com (Apr. 13, 2020).

Commentary

The countries and cities that will be affected the most by an increase in kidnapping for ransom remains to be seen. Regions that will be hardest hit are those that already have a history of an unstable security environment, high levels of criminality, and systemic corruption.

A prudent employer doing business in such areas should take steps to maximize employee safety and minimize the disruption to their business that can occur in the event the employees are victims of a crime, or even if they are in an accident.

 

Register with the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Enrollees will receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in their destination country. STEP allows the U.S. Embassy to contact you in an emergency, whether that arises from a natural disaster, civil unrest, or a family emergency.

 

In very high-risk parts of the world, hiring a personal security officer should be strongly considered. If your organization regularly does business in a part of the world with a high risk of kidnapping, the leaders should consider the purchase of kidnapping and ransom insurance for key personnel.

 

In the meantime, do not assume you are immune from being kidnapped because you are not wealthy. The most frequent kidnapping targets are middle-class executives and their families.

Do not publicize travel plans and details. That can be a challenge in an era of over-sharing, especially in social media such as Facebook and Twitter, but increasingly, kidnappers monitor social media.

 

Consider some other options such as kidnapping prevention/response training. Many executive protection companies offer training courses for executives or key corporate personnel. Experts say what happens in the first few minutes of a kidnapping attempt can make the difference between a good outcome (for you) and tragedy. Kidnappings rarely succeed if the victim runs away or reacts in an unexpected way. Nevertheless, most people would not know what to do. Training employees how to handle themselves in these situations should be a corporate priority.

 

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