The U.S. State Department has issued a Travel Advisory for Papua New Guinea, rating the country a Level 2 on its new four-tier rating system of travel safety, citing crime, civil unrest, and the aftermath of a recent earthquake as the reasons for doing so. Level 2 says to "exercise increased caution" and urges travelers to be aware of heightened safety and security risks.
According to the State Department's advisory, violent crimes like gang-rape, carjacking, home invasions, kidnappings, and armed robberies, are common, and tensions between communal or clan groups may result in violence in the country.
The new Travel Advisory has labeled the Southern Highlands Province and Hela Province as “Level 4 – Do Not Travel” areas due to civil unrest. Recent government protests and tribal fighting in this area have caused destruction to government buildings and public infrastructure. The U.S. Embassy has banned travel to these two regions for all Embassy employees until further notice.
Peter O'Neill, the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, declared a nine-month state of emergency in the Southern Highlands in response to several days of politically-motivated riots. CNN reported that protestors took to the streets in Mendi, the capital of the Southern Highlands, following a court ruling that upheld the election of the regional governor William Powi, amid accusations of vote rigging. Runner-up Joseph Kobol was the one who brought the court challenge that disputed the results of the election.
On June 14 in Mendi, protestors supporting Kobol lit an Air Niugini Dash 8 aircraft on fire at the Mendi Airport and burned down court buildings, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The Guardian reports that protests escalated as a group of 300 to 400 people, armed with machetes, machine guns and high-powered rifles, marched on Mendi calling for the resignation of prime minister O’Neill.
Meanwhile, in the Hela Province, the Australian Broadcasting Company reported that landowners set fire to equipment and blocked roads in Angore, an area leading to the PNG LNG (liquefied natural gas) project operated by ExxonMobil. The landowners are protesting the non-payment of royalties and other grants from the $19 billion project by the Papua New Guinea government.
The U.S. State Department’s Travel Advisory also labeled the Panguna mine in Bougainville a “Level 3 – Reconsider Travel” area due to civil unrest. The Autonomous Government of Bougainville has designated areas near the mine as "no go zones" due to the risk of violence, and the U.S. Travel Advisory claims that Bougainville police lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents.
The Highlands Region was given a Level 3 status as well due to a recent earthquake that damaged infrastructure and disrupted local services.
The advisory warned that the U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens outside of major population centers and in the southern part of Bougainville, Porgera Mine area, Lae, Mt. Hagen, Southern Highlands, and Hela Province as U.S. government employees must obtain special authorization before traveling to those areas.
The State Department advised that if travelers decide to go to Papua New Guinea, they should:
- Avoid using local taxis or buses, known as public motor vehicles or PMVs.
- Travel with guides from a reputable tour company, particularly if you plan to hike.
- Avoid walking or driving at night.
- 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 Papua New Guinea.
- U.S. citizens who travel abroad should always have a contingency plan for emergency situations.