How safe is it to visit Indonesia?

Sebastian Liu, Regional Operations Assistant for Asia Pacific at Healix International, comments on the risks involved when visiting Indonesia.

Situation Report

Overall, Indonesia is assessed by Healix to be a MODERATE security risk country due to several security-related factors. Indonesia is south-east Asia’s largest economy, and its capital and most populous city, Jakarta, is a hub for both tourists and business travellers alike. Travellers face a HIGH risk of criminality across Indonesia, with the predominant risk of petty crime being elevated in major urban centres such as Jakarta, Medan, and Surabaya, and in tourist destinations like Bali, Bandung and Yogyakarta.

Indonesia is comprised of approximately 17,500 islands and organised into 33 provinces, leading to difficulties for the government to exercise centralised control over the country. There is a history of separatist movements in Aceh and Papua and, while the violence within these movements has been largely disseminated, divisions remain dormant. Religious tensions have also resulted in sporadic clashes between Christian and Muslim groups in Sulawesi and Maluku province; these islands, including Aceh and Papua, are considered higher risk locations.

Primary risks

Crime

The risk of criminality in Indonesia is HIGH; the prime risk that travellers face is petty crime. These crimes are mostly opportunistic and often involve pickpocketing or bag snatching. Tourists and business travellers are often targeted due to their perceived wealth, and there has been an increase in the number of thefts reported on public transportation. A common form of robbery involves perpetrators on motorcycles who attempt to snatch bags and valuables from pedestrians walking or waiting along the pavement. Disreputable and unlicensed taxi drivers have been known to drive to remote areas and have accomplices rob (usually female) passengers or force them to withdraw cash from ATMs in ‘express kidnappings’.

Violent crime is less common in Indonesia; criminals are less likely to use force and usually do not harm victims, unless resisted. However, a latent risk of armed robbery and burglary persists. In popular tourist locations, including Bali, Lombok, and the Gili islands, incidents of drink spiking have been noted, with the perpetrators often robbing their victims after taking them to their hotel rooms. A number of fatalities and cases of serious illness in these locations have also been attributed to methanol poisoning; the authorities have traced the source of the poisoning to the consumption of counterfeit alcohol and adulterated rice or palm liquor. Disputes at nightclubs, especially in Bali, have escalated into physical confrontations and injuries. Female travellers leaving nightclubs are also at risk of opportunistic violent crime.

The rate of credit card fraud appears to be on the rise as well. Criminals have been known to place a fake telephone number on ATMs and request for the pin numbers of those who call. The caller’s credit card is then retained in the machine. In 2017, the authorities dismantled several crime rings that had installed skimmers in popular tourist locations like Bali.

Unrest

The risk of unrest in Indonesia is considered HIGH, due to the common occurrence of protests and industrial action countrywide. Most large-scale demonstrations take place in Jakarta and are announced in advance by the organisers and the media. These protests are typically triggered by high-profile events; protests were staged throughout late 2016 and early 2017 over the trial of former Jakarta city governor, Basuki Tjahja ‘Ahok Purnama’, in relation to blasphemy charges. These protests were held on a near-weekly basis and, on occasion, escalated into violence.

Most protests tend to remain peaceful, resulting only in travel disruption. The police have generally been effective in maintaining security at such demonstrations, and common sites for protest in Jakarta include the Presidential Palace, major government buildings, and embassies. Notably, protests are often held in front of the US embassy in Jakarta due to developments in the Middle East; in December 2017, about 6,000 demonstrators protested against President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Tens of thousands had planned to protest the move of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May this year but were blocked from the vicinity of the embassy.

Protests are commonly staged in Jakarta by Islamic civil society organisations in relation to political developments. Typically, those organised by the largest Muslim organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), remain peaceful. However, gatherings held by hard-line groups, such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), have a precedent for turning violent.

Natural disasters

The risk of natural disasters in Indonesia is HIGH due to its geographical location. Indonesia is located in the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’, making it highly susceptible to seismic activity and tsunamis. In September, more than 2,000 people were killed when a M7.4 earthquake and tsunami struck Central Sulawesi. In August, a series of earthquakes and tremors near Lombok caused significant damage and hundreds of casualties. Volcanic activity near popular tourist locations has also been known to cause travel disruption; the eruption of Mount Agung led to the cancellation of flights in June, affecting nearly 27,000 travellers in Bali.

Flash flooding and landslides also pose a risk in Indonesia, especially during the rainy season, which tends to run from November until March annually. In October this year, heavy rainfall triggered flash floods and landslides in the provinces of North and West Sumatra, killing at least 27 people. Across Jakarta, drainage infrastructure tends to be sub-standard, further aggravating the risk of flash flooding. The risk of flooding is the highest in Northern Jakarta, low-lying areas and communities around rivers; rivers tend to burst their banks during the rainy season. In February, 11,450 residents were affected by flood waters that reached a height of over two metres in some areas; thousands were evacuated to shelters.

Additional risks

While Indonesia is the third largest democracy in the world, the rule of law is weak. The country experiences endemic corruption and bribery, especially in the legal and judicial system. Indonesia is ranked 96th out of 180 countries according to the 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index. Police officers have been known to accept payments for traffic violations, and there have also been reports of extortion perpetrated by police officers in popular tourist locations like Bali; in 2015, a group of Australian tourists were threatened with charges of indecency if they did not pay A$25,000 in bribes to the local police officers.

Business travellers are more likely to encounter public officials who demand facilitation payments and gifts for the expedition of customs procedures, and for tax administration, contract procurement and the securing of construction permits from the government. Corruption is also prevalent in the natural resources industry; more than 10,000 mining licenses were issued after a 2009 law that delegated responsibility to local governments.

Healix advice

Refrain from using public transportation in Indonesia: Petty crime is prevalent across public transportation options. Driving standards and levels of vehicle maintenance are also poor. Navigate the city with pre-arranged drivers or with metered taxis arranged through your hotels. Reputable taxi companies include the Bluebird Group and Express; these companies vet their drivers and travellers should distinguish their vehicles from their competitors who have very similar brand logos. You should also avoid using unlicensed taxi drivers due to safety concerns. Inter-island travel by boat or ferry can be dangerous; vessels are often overcrowded, and safety standards vary among providers. Ensure that any watercraft you board has adequate safety equipment and life jackets.

Maintain a low profile and avoid overt displays of wealth: Those displaying jewellery, designer bags, cameras and mobile phones are more likely to be targeted by petty criminals. Leave non-essential valuables in your hotel safe, or avoid bringing them into the country at all. If you are carrying valuables, keep them close on your possession and not in exposed pockets. Keep your bags and valuables facing away from traffic during pedestrian travel. You should also remain aware of your surroundings and, where possible, avoid non-essential pedestrian travel after dark. In the event of a robbery, never resist because the attacker is liable to be armed; remain compliant and avoid aggravating the attacker.

Seek itinerary specific advice: Informing your security provider of your itinerary will allow us to advise you on any prevailing security risks and whether you should be considering more robust security measures in place, particularly if travel is planned to higher-risk locations, such as Papua. Itinerary-specific information also allows your provider to highlight any localised risks, such as particular crime hotspots in the vicinity of your accommodation and meeting site, or a heightened risk of unrest coinciding with the dates of travel owing to a planned protest involving high-profile events or the anniversary of a controversial event.

How Healix can help employers with their duty of care

Employers should ensure that they have a detailed understanding of Indonesia’s business environment, and account for the likelihood of staff encountering corruption, especially if staff members are travelling to engage in discussion for the procurement of contracts or permits in the construction and natural resource industries. Staff should also be briefed on the company’s anti-bribery policies, and practical advice should be shared on how to act in the event of a public official attempting to solicit a bribe.

Employees should adhere to security advice given to them and ask for an up-to-date briefing on security risks before they travel to the country. Employers can outsource this task to an organisation like Healix, who have dedicated intelligence and operational teams monitoring developments around the world. Healix can provide many consultancy services, including personal security and destination awareness training, and scalable ground support services should employees be required to travel to higher risk areas in Indonesia.

What are the health risks in Indonesia?

Contributed by Dr. Simon Worrell, Head of Medical Communications, Healix International.

Like many countries in the region, the best healthcare is only found in the largest of Indonesia’s cities – but that healthcare often has significant short-fallings. Should a serious medical emergency befall you, these facilities will be able to stabilise you initially but an air ambulance evacuation is likely to be required for complex cases. Singapore and its excellent hospitals, is the destination of choice for most in this situation. Of course, the vast majority of travellers to Indonesia will not be so unlucky as to require expert medical attention, but care should be taken with the local diseases that crop up on an annual basis.

The mosquito-borne illnesses are particularly important. Zika is still a risk in the area and the recent realisation that the virus can not only cause foetal abnormalities in the womb, but can also result in disabilities following a seemingly normal child at birth, has only added weight to its importance. Pregnant women are advised to not travel to Indonesia until after the delivery of their child. In fact, for both men and women who are planning a baby, it is vital that mosquito bites are avoided to ensure that the virus is not present at conception or later (the guidelines are best read directly from the CDC website). Wearing long sleeves, trousers, using air conditioning when possible and spraying regularly with a DEET-containing insect repellent, remain crucial steps to avoid being bitten whilst in tropical countries. Such precautions will also reduce the risk of diseases such as dengue fever and the exotically named chikungunya: both at best will produce a very unpleasant flu-like illness, ruining holidays and short business trips. As for malaria, the risk depends on which islands you will visit in Indonesia. Some visitors will definitely need to take antimalarials during their stay to avoid malaria’s very serious complications to which those from cooler climates are particularly prone.

All these issues should be discussed with a travel medicine professional before leaving home. The issue of receiving a rabies vaccination should also be mentioned. Just a decade ago, the small holiday island of Bali was subject to an outbreak of rabies during which sadly 130 people died, and an astonishing 130,000 individuals required emergency rabies vaccinations following bites and scratches from the local dogs. Whatever the outcome of your decision to have the rabies vaccination, it is important to avoid close contact with dogs and monkeys, however endearing, in Indonesia. The slightest contact may result in a scratch that will require immediate hospital attention, fear, and worry; especially if it concerns a child. Best avoided.

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