While French citizens can cross 173 borders without even applying for a visa, that does not make all regions of the world good holiday destinations. Patrick Picque and Laurent Lassimouillas, two French tourists, were on safari in Benin, in an area “not recommended” by the Quai d’Orsay, when they were kidnapped on May 1.
The French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, judged that the two travelers had taken “major risks” by carrying out their safari in this region in the north of the country, along the border with Burkina Faso. Their release, which resulted in the death of two French soldiers on Saturday, raises questions about tourists’ risk-taking and how the Quai d’Orsay classifies “risk areas” in different countries.
Where are the “red zones” not recommended for travellers?
On its website, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintains an up-to-date map of the world of vigilance zones for travellers.
Four colors make it possible to distinguish the different levels of vigilance: in green for “normal” vigilance, in yellow for “limited” vigilance (petty crime, controlled health risks, etc.), in orange for a “not recommended” zone (except for imperative reasons of a professional, family or other nature) and in red for a “formally not recommended” zone where travel is “proscribed”.
The main areas classified as “red” are located in Africa. There are a good part of the countries of the Sahel: Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, Sudan… But also Libya and part of Algeria and Egypt.
Were the tourists in a dangerous zone?
Benin, long spared from terrorism, was a haven of peace in West Africa, where armed groups proliferate. But the jihadist threat from the Sahel hovers more and more over the countries bordering the South.
Pendjari Park, where the two ex-hostages were on safari, had been placed in the red zone since December 10, but only along the border. The rest of the park was classified in orange, including the area of ”Pendjari Lodge” where the French were staying. The lodge was only placed in the red zone after the abduction.
But even if it is only an orange zone, this means that it is “not recommended except for imperative reasons”, underlined Eric Chevallier, director of the Crisis and Support Center at the Quai d’Orsay. “But tourism is not one of them,” he recalls.
How is the Quai d’Orsay map drawn up?
To draw up this map, the crisis and support center of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs relies on information collected on site by embassies and consulates. However, classification in the red zone does not entail any prohibition. Tourists can still get there on their own and local guides can organize game drives there.
On the other hand, French travel agencies “do not organize trips to red zones, nor to orange zones”, informs Jean-Pierre Mas, the representative of French travel agencies. If they did, they would not be subject to penalties, but they do have an obligation to inform travelers of the risks involved and remain responsible for what could happen to them.
Should we trust the Quai d’Orsay menu?
According to Jean-Pierre Mas, the map of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is “very well done”. “The work of the Quai d’Orsay crisis unit is more surgical and more meticulous than before,” he underlines, comparing with “the era of the Arab Spring, of Daesh, about five years ago , when they had painted all of Egypt red.
“Spending more areas in red is not a solution. We must be more vigilant in monitoring the news, the evolution of situations, to detect the areas where the danger, indeed, is important, ”he judges, while Jean-Yves Le Drian said to himself in favor of a “stricter regulation”.
According to him, to travel safely, you have to be well informed and not just rely on travel sites. “Today, we mainly look for information on TripAdvisor and we base ourselves on a few positive opinions dating from a few years or a few months ago”, he warns.
For his part, Jean-François Rial, CEO of Voyageurs du Monde, believes that the opinions of the Quai d’Orsay are “often good”, “but they are not infallible and no one can blame them”. “We are in a society that refuses the hazard, the risk, and always wants to find a responsible”, he analyzes.
Geos, a French company specializing in risk management and which supports companies in their projects in “sensitive areas”, also considers the Quai d’Orsay map as a “reference”. “There is a diplomatic component that comes into play, but the criteria that we take into account are almost the same,” says Alexis Marez, responsible for updating Geos’ security risk map.
These maps are a “first indicator”, but according to him, as soon as one travels to more isolated areas, further from the big cities, they are less precise. “This is why we are doing substantive work on our side, with news monitoring, on social networks, in specialized magazines and thanks to our local networks, to find out about these areas”, explains Alexis Marez.
The first piece of advice before going on vacation is therefore to consult the country profiles regularly updated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but also to find out more about your destination and the country’s geopolitical news.