Safety and Security
In Bangladesh, a common method for political parties and other organizations to articulate their political demands is by calling for a hartal, or general strike. Hartals, whose purpose is to disrupt or shut down services either locally or throughout the country, can turn violent if the population, or political groups, enforce the shutdown. Even demonstrations that are meant to be peaceful can become violent and unpredictable.
Current sources of political and social unrest include: displeasure over verdicts from Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal, labor disputes, and preparations for national elections scheduled for early 2014. These demonstrations have led to frequent violent clashes between police and protesters, resulting in deaths, injuries and property damage. In various areas of the country demonstrators have blocked highways and roads to all traffic and have damaged rail tracks and trains. Participants have thrown rocks, debris, and homemade low-yield explosives. Security forces have used tear gas, non-lethal crowd control measures, and firearms against demonstrators. Protests have centered in major metropolitan areas, including Dhaka, Sylhet, and Chittagong, but have also taken place throughout the country, including rural areas.
The U.S. Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid all demonstrations in Bangladesh. A foreigner could become caught in the middle of these conflicts. There have been no direct attacks on U.S. citizens or indications of targeting of foreigners; however, in isolated instances, Westerners and U.S. citizens have been caught in the middle of clashes and demonstrations or stranded when highways have been blocked. U.S. citizens are urged to remain alert to local security developments and to be vigilant regarding their personal security by knowing the locations of police and fire stations, hospitals, and other places to relocate to feel secure. U.S. citizens should also carry identification and, if moving about alone, a cell phone or radio or other means of communication that works in Bangladesh. Be alert and aware of your surroundings and pay attention to local news reports. U.S. citizens in Bangladesh are encouraged to make common sense plans to deal with security situations, and to investigate alternate means of communication in country, evacuation insurance, and alternative destinations both within and outside the country in case of emergency. If you are concerned for your security you should exercise personal responsibility, remove yourself from the situation and relocate to an area where you feel secure.
While the diplomatic enclave—which includes the areas of Banani, Baridhara, and Gulshan—in Dhaka is generally safe, political violence can take place within this area. U.S. citizens should contact the American Citizens Services section before attempting to come to the U.S. Embassy. Visitors to Bangladesh should check U.S. Embassy Dhaka’s website for updated information on the current political and security situation. During times of nationwide demonstrations and hartals, US Embassy personnel and their family members are restricted to staying in the diplomatic enclave in Dhaka. When traveling outside of Dhaka, they are restricted to staying in their hotel or other safe accommodations.
The U.S. Embassy also recommends that in times of demonstrations, national strikes, or elections, U.S. citizens avoid Roads 79 and 86 in the Gulshan-2 area of Dhaka. One of the major national political party’s headquarters is located on Road 86, while the party leader’s residence is on Road 79. Large unscheduled events occur frequently and usually spill out on to these roads, making them impassable and potentially dangerous.
In addition, Noya Paltan area in Dhaka, Baitul Mukarram Mosque (National Mosque), Muktangan (bordered by Baitul Mukarram Mosque to the east, the General Post Office (GPO) to the south, the Secretariat to the West, and Topkhana Road to the North), and Topkhana-Motijheel Road should be avoided because of numerous political rallies at these locations.
U.S. citizens are advised against traveling to the Khagrachari, Rangamati, and Bandarban Hill Tracts districts (collectively known as the Chittagong Hill Tracts) due to kidnappings and other security incidents. Foreigners traveling in the Chittagong Hill Tracts are required to register with local authorities. The U.S. Embassy recommends against travel to these areas. Additionally, the U.S. Embassy has received reports of incidents of kidnapping, arms, and narcotics smuggling and clashes between local Bangladeshis and Rohingya refugees in areas near refugee camps in the Teknaf, Kutupalong, and Ukhia areas of the Cox’s Bazaar district. Individuals who choose to visit these districts are urged to exercise extreme caution.
The fire department is accessible by dialing 199 if in Dhaka and (88) (02) 199 if outside of Dhaka. The fire department can also be reached by mobile phone from anywhere in Bangladesh by dialing (88) 01713-038181, (88) 01713-038182 or (88) 01730-336699. Improper storage of chemical accelerants, improperly installed electrical systems, lack of fire escapes, burglar bars on windows preventing escape, and hours-long fire department response make fires common in Bangladesh and extremely dangerous. One fire in June 2010 in Dhaka led to the deaths of over 120 individuals. In case of fire leave the area immediately.