Madagascar has experienced a dramatic spike not only in the number of crimes, but also in their severity and type. To put this into perspective, Madagascar remains, by and large, safer than many other African countries and even certain U.S. cities.
Over the last three years, there has been a surge in armed attacks. The number of reported incidents has increased steadily since 2009, and by mid-2013, the U.S. Embassy noted reports of more home invasions. The majority of reported crimes targeted Malagasies and did not involve foreigners.
Carjackings, though infrequent in cities, are known to occur. There have been many reports of thieves reaching into stopped vehicles, opening unlocked doors, or sometimes breaking the windows to steal cell phones, purses, and even jewelry from their victims. Keeping windows rolled up and doors locked will minimize these types of situations.
In addition, armed bandit attacks on vehicles carrying goods and people—specifically taxi-bes (which operate within urban centers) and taxi-brousses (which travel to outlying regions) —have increased drastically since 2009 and now occur regularly. Groups of armed bandits often position themselves on the national routes after dark to ambush vehicles. Others have involved armed criminals who stage a “breakdown” that blocks the roadway, forcing the victimized driver to slow down, and hence become more vulnerable. Additionally, sometimes local villagers design a “trap” of sand, a tree log, or some other substance or condition that makes the only viable road impassible. Local villagers then “assist” the stranded vehicle and expect monetary compensation. Although the interim government has taken steps to increase checkpoints to deter banditry, the U.S. Embassy prohibits personnel from traveling at night outside of Antananarivo or the other major cities, due to these attacks and the lack of security force coverage outside of city limits. All U.S. citizens are advised to avoid unknown taxis, especially if alone or at night.
Another major concerns for visitors, especially those in Antananarivo, are crimes of opportunity, such as pick-pocketing, purse snatching, and residential and vehicular theft. Although some of these crimes are non-confrontational, incidents involving violence by assailants do occur and are rising, particularly when the victim resists and when several persons confront the victim. The U.S. Embassy has received reports of physical attacks against foreigners, including U.S. citizens, particularly in coastal tourist areas. A number of these attacks resulted in serious injuries and, in rare cases, fatalities. Criminal elements in Antananarivo and throughout Madagascar are becoming bolder when selecting their victims, and are also committing more crimes in areas that are considered to be “safe:” those that are generally well-lit and well-traveled by pedestrians and vehicles.
Criminal gangs comprised of felons, ex-military, and police are known to commit home invasions and kidnappings, sometimes targeting foreigners. In April 2013, a Western businessman working in Antananarivo was kidnapped at gunpoint and held for four days before being released for ransom. Organized gangs of bandits are known to patrol areas where foreigners, who are perceived to be wealthy, tend to congregate. Crimes such as burglary and robbery also occur in areas outside the capital, and the threat of confrontational and violent crime in rural and isolated areas continues to rise. Coastal cities like Toamasina and Mahajunga have experienced a particularly significant rise in crime over the last year, and violent assaults on foreign travelers in high-traffic tourist areas, like Nosy Be, the Ankerana and Montagne d’Ambre National Parks adjacent to Diego, and the area surrounding Tolagnaro (Ft. Dauphin), have also been reported.
To reduce the risk of being victimized, travel in groups and avoid wearing expensive jewelry or carrying costly electronic items (iPods, digital cameras, or high-end cell phones) with you in public. Valuable items should never be left in an unattended vehicle or at a hotel (unless locked in the hotel safe). Walking at night, whether alone or in a group, is not considered safe in urban areas, including in the vicinity of Western-standard hotels, restaurants, and night clubs in Antananarivo. Visitors are strongly discouraged from traveling outside of cities after dark, due to banditry, lack of lighting, poor road conditions, and lack of security assets. While traveling in vehicles, remember to lock your doors and keep your windows rolled up at all times.
In major cities, the National Police are charged with maintaining peace and security. Outside of major cities, the Gendarmerie is primarily responsible for these duties. Due to a lack of resources and equipment, police and gendarmerie responses to victims of crime are often limited, slow, or nonexistent. Though not exclusively targeted at foreigners, popular discontent with the ability of authorities to maintain law and order has resulted in a number of incidents of violent vigilantism and summary mob justice. As recently as October 2013, two French nationals accused of being pedophiles or organ traffickers in Nosy Be were burned alive by an angry crowd. A third suspect, a Malagasy national held by police, was seized and also killed. Similar incidents of mob justice have occurred throughout the country, including Diego, Toamasina, and Tolagnaro (Ft. Dauphin).
U.S. citizens visiting Madagascar should not expect to experience any hostility or aggression solely because of their citizenship.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Bootlegs are illegal in the United States, and their purchase may also violate local Malagasy laws.
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