Foreign travel advice

Niger

Sahel Region

There’s a very real threat of kidnap to westerners in the Sahel and surrounding region. The Sahel region includes Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. The kidnap threat extends to other countries including Algeria, Cameroon, Libya and Nigeria. There is a continuing threat of kidnap following the military intervention in Mali which began in January 2013. Further attacks are highly likely.

There are several hostages still being held in the Sahel and surrounding region, some of whom have been held for more than 5 years. Victims in the region have included construction workers, NGO workers, tourists and diplomats of various nationalities, primarily European. Some hostages have been killed, including British nationals.

The long-standing policy of the British government is not to make substantive concessions to hostage takers. The British government considers that paying ransoms and releasing prisoners increases the risk of further hostage-taking and finances terrorist activity. The Terrorism Act (2000) also makes payments to terrorists illegal.

Who are the terrorists?

The terrorist threat in the Sahel and surrounding region comes from a number of groups, including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQ-M) and Al Murabitun, a merger of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) and Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s group. These terrorist groups aspire to establish Islamic law in the region and to attack Western interests.

The groups carry out kidnappings of Westerners for financial gain, prisoner exchange and to exert political pressure on governments. Kidnapping for ransom is AQ-M’s primary source of finance.

AQ-M and regional Islamist groups operate in the border areas of northern Mali, Niger and Algeria. They have proven capability of travelling long distances to carry out attacks, including in Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. Criminal gangs also carry out kidnappings for terrorist groups in return for financial payment.

Since 2013 terrorist groups in the region have also kidnapped westerners in Cameroon and Nigeria. The main terrorist threat in the region comes from Boko Haram and Ansaru. Boko Haram is an Islamist extremist group in Nigeria that has been proscribed by the UK as a terrorist organisation.They pledged allegiance to Islamic State in March 2015.

Boko Haram regularly mounts attacks in northern Nigeria. Most attacks occur in the north east, particularly in Borno and Yobe states where Boko Haram has its operating base. There have, however, been a large number of attacks in other Nigerian states and further attacks could occur anywhere.

Ansaru is an Islamist terrorist organisation based in northern Nigeria, and is proscribed by the UK.

Ansaru have carried out a number of kidnap attacks in Nigeria. Boko Haram have taken hostages from neighbouring Cameroon and are consistently kidnapping local nationals and Cameroonians.

Working in the region

If you do choose to work in an area where the FCO advise against travel due to the high threat of kidnapping, you will need a high level of security. Make sure you:

  • ask your employer about their security arrangements and make sure they’re able to provide you with an adequate level of security for the threat from terrorism and kidnapping
  • follow your employer’s local security guidelines
  • maintain a high level of vigilance at all times
  • keep others informed of your travel plans
  • vary your routines and routes
  • consider pre-deployment training on travelling under close protection
  • regularly consult the FCO’s travel advice and sign up for email alerts

Rally racing

If you’re taking part in a cross-country rally that travels through the Sahel and surrounding region, you should be aware of the high risk of kidnapping in parts of the region.

One of the most famous rallies in the region, the Paris-Dakar Rally, now takes place in South America due to the threat of kidnap in the Sahel region.

If you do choose to take part in a rally that travels through areas where the FCO advise against travel, make sure you:

  • regularly consult our travel advice for all countries you will be going through
  • take particular care in remote regions and border areas where there’s a higher threat of kidnap
  • don’t share your route publicly as this could make you more vulnerable to attacks
  • satisfy yourself with your individual security arrangements
  • maintain a high level of vigilance at all times
  • have adequate insurance cover; medical evacuation from a remote location could cost you thousands of pounds if you’re not covered

You should also be aware that the ability of the FCO to provide consular assistance in some countries in the region is limited.