Travel warn­ings ig­nored

Dis­ap­pear­ance of Cana­dian in africa high­lights risk of ig­nor­ing travel warn­ings

North Bay Nugget - - NATIONAL NEWS - Giuseppe Valiante

Mon­treal — tarek Loubani says he knew it was risky pro­vid­ing med­i­cal care to pro­test­ers at the bor­der be­tween the gaza Strip and is­rael in May 2018. he trav­elled to the ter­ri­tory any­way, and he was shot by an is­raeli sniper through both legs.

Five years ear­lier, he and fel­low Cana­dian John greyson spent seven weeks in an egyp­tian prison after be­ing ar­rested and ar­bi­trar­ily de­tained while try­ing to en­ter gaza.

Loubani, a Lon­don, ont. physi­cian, said this week that Cana­di­ans who want to do hu­man­i­tar­ian work first need to ask whether the help they can of­fer is worth the risk of trav­el­ling to zones des­ig­nated as dan­ger­ous by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

that ques­tion is be­ing raised in the case of Cana­dian edith Blais and her ital­ian friend Luca tac­chetto, who have not been heard from since dec. 15, when they ar­rived in Burk­ina Faso fol­low­ing a road trip that be­gan in italy. Blais’ sis­ter, Melanie Berg­eron Blais, said Wed­nes­day she has not re­ceived any news about her sis­ter’s where­abouts and added that the fam­ily is no longer giv­ing in­ter­views.

Blais and tac­chetto set off in his car on nov. 20 from the north­ern ital­ian town of Vigonza, out­side Padua. they made their way to France, Spain, Mo­rocco, Mau­ri­ta­nia and Mali be­fore ar­riv­ing in the city of Bobo-dioulasso in Burk­ina Faso’s south­west. they were en route to neigh­bour­ing togo to vol­un­teer with an or­ga­ni­za­tion work­ing to re­for­est and help build a vil­lage.

tac­chetto’s fa­ther, nun­zio tac­chetto, the for­mer mayor of Vigonza, told the Cana­dian Press that his son, a trained ar­chi­tect, wanted to use his skills to help peo­ple in togo.

“it was his first trip to africa,” tac­chetto said from italy. “he wanted to col­lab­o­rate on the con­struc­tion of the vil­lage.”

tac­chetto said his son, who had just turned 30 be­fore his de­par­ture, had a love of peo­ple. “his idea was that ev­ery­one around the world was in­ter­est­ing, that every cul­ture was in­ter­est­ing. and he wanted to be close to peo­ple, to see them in their own sur­round­ings.”

the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment had is­sued se­ri­ous warn­ings about Mau­ri­ta­nia, Mali and Burk­ina Faso. the global af­fairs Canada web­site says trav­ellers should “avoid all travel” — the most se­vere warn­ing — to Mali and “avoid all non-es­sen­tial travel” to Burk­ina Faso and Mau­ri­ta­nia, mostly due to ter­ror­ism and ban­ditry con­cerns. For togo, con­sid­ered a safer african coun­try, Canada says vis­i­tors should “ex­er­cise a high de­gree of cau­tion” — the same warn­ing it gives for France and the united King­dom.

Loubani said in an in­ter­view he doesn’t know ei­ther of the miss­ing peo­ple. “But i would be very sur­prised if (Blais) told her mom: ‘hey, i’m go­ing to togo, and i haven’t looked it up, and i don’t know any­thing about it.’ She prob­a­bly thought about it and cal­cu­lated the risks.”

young peo­ple from pros­per­ous western coun­tries should con­sider hu­man­i­tar­ian work around the world, Loubani said, as long as they un­der­stand the risks. “i think my ad­vice to young peo­ple who are think­ing of work­ing in dan­ger­ous places is: the world needs you. only you will change the sit­u­a­tion that ex­ists in other parts of the world — in col­lab­o­ra­tion with lo­cals and sup­port­ing lo­cal strug­gles.”

Chris Mathers, a for­mer RCMP of­fi­cer whose com­pany pro­vides train­ing to fed­eral gov­ern­ment agen­cies on an­a­lyz­ing se­cu­rity risks while abroad, said ot­tawa is­sues travel warn­ings for a rea­son. trav­ellers to coun­tries un­der se­ri­ous warn­ings need to be con­stantly vig­i­lant about whether they are be­ing watched by cor­rupt po­lice and mil­i­tary or by kid­nap­pers look­ing for ran­som.

if Blais and tac­chetto wanted to travel to togo — a rel­a­tively safe place on the con­ti­nent — they should have flown into the coun­try and made prior con­tact with peo­ple they trusted to take care of them. a road trip through Mau­ri­ta­nia, Mali and Burk­ina Faso was not smart, he said in an in­ter­view.

“When i say they are fool­ish, i am be­ing po­lite,” Mathers said. “i’ve been to Mali. there is no rule of law — noth­ing. if i don’t like you, i shoot you. these places are law­less.”

Loubani said he un­der­stands there are “adren­a­line junkies out there,” but very few peo­ple travel to dan­ger­ous places just for the thrill. al­most ev­ery­one, he said, “whether it’s mis­guided or earnest, has some greater pur­pose that they are go­ing there for.”

de­spite get­ting shot in both legs, Loubani doesn’t re­gret his work in gaza — and he is cur­rently con­sid­er­ing an­other trip to do sim­i­lar work in an even more dan­ger­ous global hot spot that he prefers not to iden­tify.

to live is to take risks, Loubani said, adding that just walk­ing out the door of your home car­ries its share of dan­ger.

“it’s the same thing for hu­man­i­tar­ian work,” he said. “you are al­ways in­cur­ring a risk, and you have to con­vince your­self that your risk is worth­while to ac­com­plish some­thing for other peo­ple, so that they can have the life you want to have.”


Luca Tac­chetto and Edith Blais are seen in this un­dated hand­out photo from the Face­book page Edith Blais et Luca Tac­chetto:dis­pari­tion au Burk­ina Faso.

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