Although reliable statistics are difficult or impossible to obtain, violent crime is a serious threat in many areas of Papua
New Guinea (PNG). The visitor to PNG can minimize the potential to become a victim of crime by taking appropriate precautions,
for example, by taking part in organized tours run by reliable and experienced operators. This primer provides basic guidance
for those who will be visiting PNG for a short period. Persons who plan to stay in PNG for more than a week or two should
get in touch with the Embassy or long-time residents for additional guidance.
UNIFYING ELEMENTS COUNTERBALANCED BY SOCIAL STRAINS
Papua New Guinea, although politically one nation, is divided into over 800 separate societies with unique languages. English
is the official language, but Pidgin English (Tok Pisin) is an increasingly important alternative. These unifying elements,
however, are counter-balanced by growing social strains as residents of formerly isolated communities come into contact with
each other. The absence or weakening of traditional village social controls is a major contributor to both urban and rural
INCOMPLETE TRANSITION FROM SUBSISTENCE AGRICULTURE
PNG''s incomplete and halting transition from a subsistence agriculture economy to one offering a broader range of jobs is
the second significant contributor to crime. High wages, relative to neighboring Asian nations; the difficulty in obtaining
skilled labor; inadequate infrastructure; and high utility and security costs have combined to limit industrial development,
and hence non-agricultural employment. PNG is addressing these difficulties with the help of substantial foreign economic
POLICE FORCE HAS A LONG WAY TO GO
Finally, Papua New Guinea, unlike the United States, does not have a tradition of strong local police authorities. PNG instead
has 4800-strong national police charged with enforcing the law in a country of four million people. The Royal Papua New Guinea
Constabulary faces daunting obstacles in trying to gain the cooperation of PNG communities, which frequently prefer to deal
with criminals by themselves. The Constabulary also faces resource constraints and difficulties in imposing internal discipline.
Consequently, police are thin on the ground and response time to a request for help, for example, may be measured in hours,
"RASKOLS" POSE THREAT
The lack of jobs and difficulty of policing urban areas encouraged the development of "rascal gangs" in the 1980''s in Port
Moresby and other urban centers. These gangs continue to pose a serious threat to Port Moresby residents, principally those
who do not take adequate precautions. Random or opportunistic crime is also common, however. The situation is not unreservedly
bleak. Public disorder in Port Moresby, for example, rarely occurs. It is ordinarily safe to travel on main routes in Port
Moresby during the day.
PRECAUTIONS TO FOLLOW WHILE IN PNG
The Embassy has compiled the following guidelines for visitors to PNG. This comprehensive guide includes many measures that
visitors to virtually any country would find useful. Furthermore, not all the potential mishaps mentioned occur commonly.
Most visitors stay close to their sponsors or colleagues, who understand how to avoid getting into trouble. This guide will
be particularly useful to those who find themselves on their own, whether by design or accident. We believe much apprehension
about visiting PNG is heightened by its exotic reputation. Most visitors to PNG can expect to have a safe and productive stay,
providing they use common sense and follow the precautions suggested below. However, the Embassy emphasizes strongly that
there is no guarantee of personal safety, even for those who follow every precaution. While it is possible to minimize your
chances of becoming a victim of crime in PNG, it is never possible to eliminate the risk entirely.
There are several universal ways to stay out of trouble: do not increase your vulnerability by drinking heavily or staying
out after midnight; do not patronize disreputable bars; do not proposition women; do not visit squatter settlements or other
economically distressed areas; do not display money or valuables; and do not verbally abuse, cheat or tempt PNG citizens.
Wear modest clothes, jewelry and watches so as not to draw attention to yourself. Limit your conversations with members of
the opposite sex to choice persons you know or have business with.
ARRIVAL IN COUNTRY
Persons arriving at the Port Moresby Jackson''s International Airport should arrange, if possible, to be met, particularly
if their flight arrives at night. Proceed directly to the parking lot, load your luggage and depart without lingering. If
no one meets you, it is possible to take a courtesy bus to the Gateway, Islander Travelodge or Port Moresby Travelodge Hotels
and contact your sponsor from there. The terminal itself is not a danger zone, but thefts and assaults have occurred in the
terminal parking lot. If picking up a rental vehicle, obtain a street map and review it in the office before leaving. Do not
travel by car outside Port Moresby at night, even on major highways. If you encounter a roadblock which does not appear to
be manned by uniformed police, or notice a disturbance on the road ahead, turn around immediately, if possible, and use an
alternative route. Police vehicles are sky-blue with red insignia.
Do not leave cash or high-value belongings in hotel rooms. Do not leave room keys on hotel counters when going out; drop them
in the slot, if provided, or hand them to a clerk. Lock sliding glass doors or windows when going out. Ask if a metal pipe
or bar is available to place in the track to block efforts to pry open the window or door. Persons with limited experience
in developing nations who plan to travel extensively within PNG should consider doing so with a knowledgeable PNG citizen
or expatriate companion whenever possible.
AVOID BOTH ISOLATED AREAS AND URBAN CROWDS
Up-scale restaurants and stores usually have their own security guards. It is still advisable, however, to remain watchful
when entering or leaving. Ask the staff to assign someone to escort you to your car if you feel uncomfortable (particularly
at night). Hold onto your pocketbook when in a supermarket. Avoid carrying a purse or briefcase in public. Given continued
reports of assaults and thefts against persons who visit outdoor markets, the Embassy advises against shopping in those facilities.
Do not leave anything of even minor value in sight within a parked car.
Most expatriates avoid using public motor vehicles (PMVs) or taxis to get around, relying instead on their sponsor or a rental
vehicle for transport. Visitors should inquire of colleagues or hotel employees before undertaking trips to unfamiliar neighborhoods.
Carjackings, rock-throwing and attempts to stop cars occur occasionally. Keep an eye on persons in the vicinity of your vehicle
at all times, particularly when stopped at intersections or crosswalks. When driving, try to stay near the center lanes when
possible. Always try to leave sufficient maneuver room between your car and the cars to your sides and in front of you, especially
when stopping in traffic. If you are stuck in traffic and your car is singled out for attack, you will need that maneuver
room to get away. Keep your car in top mechanical condition at all times. If you know you are having mechanical problems that
could result in a breakdown, don''t drive your vehicle. Find a replacement or make alternative transportation arrangements
and have your car repaired right away.
Check your rear-view mirror regularly to ensure you are not being followed. If you are, do not return to your residence. Proceed
instead to an area where the persons following you are unlikely to accost you, such as the front of a hotel or a police station;
get out; and seek assistance. Keep your windows rolled up and doors locked at all times. Never wait in your vehicle on a street
or in a parking lot.
When arriving at a destination, check to be sure you have not been followed before leaving the vehicle. To minimize the chance
of being trapped by a car pulling up behind you, do not pull into a driveway (i.e., place your car perpendicular to the street)
until the gate has been opened. Be prepared to drive away if you notice persons approaching your vehicle. Plan before you
start your trip where you will go to seek assistance if a car attempts to block you or if you are prevented from reaching
SPECIAL PRECAUTIONS WHEN ENTERING AND LEAVING CARS
A brand-new car is prized by criminals planning to commit a crime (white cars with tinted windows are particularly valued).
Given that hijack attempts are most successful when one''s attention is diverted you must be particularly watchful when entering
or leaving your vehicle. Most hotels and private residences in Port Moresby have secure parking lots, i.e., fenced areas entered
through gates opened by remote control or security guards. Try to avoid parking outside secure areas at night. When leaving
a private residence or building at night, say your farewells and take out your car key while still inside. Do not hold extended
conversations in an area visible from the street. Walk directly to your vehicle, enter and leave immediately.
CRIME SITUATION OUTSIDE PORT MORESBY
The level of crime outside Port Moresby varies greatly. Persons who have been invited to visit villages receive a warm welcome.
The town of Rabaul, as well as Manus Island, has lower crime rates than Port Moresby. Many visitors enjoy their stay in Madang,
a major diving destination on PNG''s north coast. Boat trips or other visits to communities along the nearby Sepik River,
one of PNG''s major cultural and environmental attractions, also can be arranged with limited risk of crime, although it is
always safest to patronize long-established tour operators. Tour group visits are common to the PNG highlands. Tour operators
work out arrangements with local residents, who assume responsibility for protecting their guests. Visitors to these communities
nonetheless should safeguard their valuables with the same care they would exercise in other tourist resorts.
SPECIAL PRECAUTIONS FOR INDIVIDUAL TRAVEL TO THE HIGHLANDS
Individual travelers to the PNG highlands need to exercise substantially greater caution than those taking part in organized
tours. The Highlands provinces -- Enga, Chimbu, and Eastern, Southern and Western Highlands -- can be volatile. Political
disputes, inter-clan fights and sudden altercations (for example, at sporting events) occur frequently. Criminals have been
known to set up roadblocks on segments of the Highlands highway, which runs from Lae to Mt. Hagen, Mendi and Tari. Visitors
should inquire locally concerning security before driving between towns. An extensive secondary airline network provides frequent
service within the Highlands.
SPECIAL PRECAUTIONS AGAINST SEXUAL ASSAULT
The risk of sexual assault in PNG depends directly on the extent to which a visitor follows the precautions suggested above.
However, as mentioned before, it is at most possible to minimize this risk, not eliminate it entirely. There is no guarantee
of safety, even for visitors who follow all the recommended precautions. Sexual assaults are primarily crimes of opportunity.
PNG women rarely wear shorts, pants or mini-skirts; therefore, female visitors are advised not to wear revealing clothing
in public. Due to the risk of roadblocks, avoid traveling outside of Port Moresby, even on paved highways, at night. Never
travel in PMVs, whether in urban or rural areas. Travel outside urban areas with knowledgeable colleagues or with local leaders
or officials. Visitors to PNG are at maximum vulnerability when entering or leaving cars; therefore, women should pay to their
surroundings when deciding whether to park in a non-secured area. It is usually safe to visit businesses in daytime. If your
sponsoring organization has a radio network, request a portable radio so as to be able to summon help in case of an accident
or breakdown. Female visitors are advised to avoid revealing swimsuits, sundress, or similar apparel.
DRIVE CAREFULLY TO AVOID RETALIATION FOLLOWING AN ACCIDENT
Visitors should do their best to avoid getting into an accident in PNG. Slow down when passing persons on a road. Driving
carefully is important because many PNG citizens respond emotionally and violently to a serious incident or an injury involving
relatives or fellow villagers. Such reactions can endanger the life of the person perceived to have inflicted the loss, whether
or not a court would find that person legally responsible. Drive defensively at all times, but particularly in the afternoons
and evenings of "pay Fridays," when the likelihood of encountering inebriated drivers or pedestrians is greatest. Killing
a dog or pig is almost certain to trigger a demand for monetary compensation, so exercise caution when driving through rural
areas. Finally, it is unwise to provoke PNG drivers by cutting them off or gesturing rudely.
Short-term visitors who take the precautions outlined above are likely to find their stay in Papua New Guinea interesting,
enjoyable and rewarding. The vast majority of PNG citizens are friendly, live peacefully and are eager to learn about life
in other countries. Attention to personal security will enhance your confidence in undertaking personal and professional contacts,
leading in turn, to a deeper understanding of Papua New Guinea and its people. Unfortunately, crime is a serious problem in
Papua New Guinea, perhaps even more for Papua New Guineans than for visitors. The Embassy emphasizes that there is no way
to guarantee personal safety during a visit to PNG, only to minimize the chances of becoming a victim.
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