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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Guinea-Bissau 2019 Crime & Safety Report

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Guinea-Bissau at Level 3: indicating travelers should reconsider Travel country due to crime, elections, and civil unrest. 

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Dakar does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Review OSAC’s Guinea-Bissau-specific webpage for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

There is a considerable risk of crime in Bissau. Criminals target foreigners for crimes of opportunity (e.g. petty theft, pickpocketing, theft from vehicles, minor assaults). In particular, low-level criminal activity occurs in crowded areas (e.g. Bandim Market, the port in central Bissau). Criminals frequently take advantage of foreigners attempting to navigate through crowded markets. According to law enforcement officials, the Mindara and Reno neighborhoods are areas in which to take particular caution. Aggressive vendors, panhandlers, and street criminals target foreigners as they exit the Bissau airport. The risk of being victimized greatly increases at night due to poor security infrastructure and lack of street and building lighting. Visitors are strongly discouraged from walking after dark, especially alone or in isolated areas. Even during daylight hours and in groups, maintain a heightened level of security awareness, particularly in public places, tourist areas, and crowded locations. 

Other Areas of Concern

The armed resistance by the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) against the Senegalese government is the longest running active (albeit low-intensity) separatist conflict in sub-Saharan Africa. MFDC rebels use Guinea-Bissau as a sanctuary. As recently as March 2018, there were shootings and mortars fired near the shared border. Considering the unpredictable nature of MFDC forces, exercise extreme caution when traveling in the northwestern region of Guinea-Bissau along the roads between Mpack, São Domingos, and Varela. Only travel during daylight hours, and monitor the local security situation before travel.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Poor transportation infrastructure presents a significant danger on most roads throughout Guinea-Bissau. Road conditions are extremely poor, and drivers often engage in unsafe behavior. Guinea-Bissau has improved the major transit route between Bissau and the Mpack border crossing to Senegal, but the majority of roadways do not receive regular maintenance.

Traffic conditions in Bissau present numerous challenges. Perpetual construction projects and changing traffic patterns on Avenida dos Combatentes da Liberdade da Patria in central Bissau have led to significant congestion. The erratic, continuous stop-and-go of small transport buses (toca-tocas) and taxis create unpredictable traffic patterns. Drivers are encouraged to exercise extra caution during the rainy season (June-October) due to flooded roadways and an increased number of potholes.

U.S. government personnel may not travel outside of Bissau at night. The lack of lighting and the poor physical condition of the roads make driving at night dangerous and inadvisable. For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s Reports on Driving Overseas: Best Practices and Road Safety in Africa.

Poor road conditions and lack of infrastructure hamper local law enforcement and emergency response.

Public Transportation Conditions

Prearrange transportation and drivers. Due to the unpredictability of the road conditions and lack of public infrastructure, trusted contracted drivers are the most efficient method of travel.

There are several taxi services available. Exercise caution when selecting a taxi; many are in poor condition. Always negotiate the fare before getting into a taxi. Request that the driver use only the main roads, avoiding shortcuts, and insist on not sharing the taxi with others. If the cab stops to pick up someone else, exit the vehicle. Taxis in Bissau serve as a bus service, in which each passenger pays for one seat.

Avoid using the informal bus system (Bus Rapides or toca-tocas). The vehicles are in poor condition and the drivers often disregard road rules.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is minimal risk from terrorism in Bissau. There is an ongoing regional threat of transnational terrorism in West Africa that could spill over into Guinea-Bissau. There are specific security concerns in the poorly policed eastern areas of the country. The instability of the government, porous borders, and lack of law enforcement resources create a vacuum terrorists could seek to exploit as a place of refuge and to support regional logistical operations.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

There is considerable risk from political violence in Bissau. Guinea-Bissau will hold presidential elections in 2019. Although parliamentary elections were peaceful, political tensions continue, and the new government’s viability and functioning remain unproven. The military has largely made good on its publicly announced intention to stay out of political affairs. A legacy of periodic violence and instability means that travelers should monitor the political situation closely.

Civil Unrest

The government recognizes freedom of assembly/association and authorizes public demonstrations. Demonstrations typically begin/end in front of the Presidential Palace in Praça dos Heróis Nacionais or along Avenida de Combatentes. Most demonstrations are non-violent; however, political and government instability prompts violence among demonstrators. Avoid all public demonstrations.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

During the rainy season (June-October), heavy rains cause severe flooding and loss of life.

Critical Infrastructure

The utility infrastructure is underdeveloped and in poor condition. Electricity and water services are irregular in Bissau and largely unavailable throughout the interior. The lack of infrastructure in Bissau contributes to a costly and unstable working environment. The primary sources of electricity are privately owned diesel generators.

Economic Concerns

Counterfeit currency is widely distributed among illicit vendors in tourist areas (e.g. the airport, Bandim Market). Avoid using black-market moneychangers.

Personal Identity Concerns

Same-sex sexual activity is legal. Antidiscrimination laws do not protect individuals based on sexual orientation. Social taboos against homosexuality sometimes restrict freedom to express sexual orientation, but society is relatively tolerant of consensual same-sex conduct.

Drug-related Crimes

Guinea-Bissau is a transit point for narcotics trafficking to Europe from South America. The lack of enforcement capabilities, resources, porous borders, susceptibility to corruption, and the country’s location in relation to Europe, South America, and West Africa provide an opportune environment for traffickers. International drug cartels and other criminal organizations may use the un-policed Bijagos Archipelago off the coast of Bissau, as well as remote airstrips, for trafficking drugs, arms, and persons. Drug traffickers traditionally send bulk shipments of narcotics to Guinea-Bissau, where they are broken up into smaller units that are subsequently smuggled to North Africa and Europe. Traffickers use various methods of transportation, including sea, land, and air, via commercial, cargo, and private airlines.

Due to government instability and organized transnational criminal organizations, U.S. businesses should conduct thorough due diligence checks on business partners and investments. International businesses and financiers have expressed concern that drug traffickers can compromise their companies or partners by taking advantage of their legitimate businesses to access shipping resources.

Police Response

The international community is assisting Guinea-Bissau with developing judicial and law enforcement capabilities, but corruption continues to exist at all levels of government. Guinea-Bissau ranked 172nd out of 180 countries in Transparency International's 2018 Corruption Perception Index (CPI). Police and emergency personnel lack resources to respond to crime and emergency situations effectively. Even if the police do respond to an incident, they usually lack the training and experience to conduct a proper investigation.

Police may expel, arrest, or temporarily detain persons violating Bissau-Guinean laws, even unknowingly. All foreign visitors should carry identification (certified copies of passport and/or residence permit). As a rule, the police do not distinguish between original documents and photocopies. Foreigners must present documentation to law enforcement officials if requested.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Guinea-Bissau has not signed the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, nor does the U.S. have an agreement with the government requiring notification of the U.S. Embassy of arrests of U.S. citizens. U.S. citizen victims of bribery or crime, and those detained or arrested should use whatever means of communication available to alert the U.S. Embassy in Dakar or the Bissau Liaison Office of their situation.

Crime Victim Assistance

U.S. victims of crime or an emergency incident should contact the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, Senegal. The following Bissau-Guinean emergency numbers are in place for specific emergencies:

Police (Public Order Police) – 117

Fire – 118

Do not depend on these numbers to be in service or result in any assistance.

Police/Security Agencies

The Public Order Police (POP), part of the Interior Ministry, has primary responsibility for responding to emergency incidents and enforcing traffic laws. The Judicial Police within the Justice Ministry is responsible for major investigations (e.g. terrorism, drug trafficking). These two entities have been at odds, and have fought and killed opposing agency officers.

Medical Emergencies

Expect little to no medical services, even in Bissau. The health care system lacks sufficient pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, and medical professionals. Hospitals do not meet Western standards. Private medical clinics or general hospitals may help stabilize serious medical problems while awaiting medical evacuation (medevac).

Carry a supply of any needed prescription medicines, along with copies of the prescriptions, including the generic name for the medicines, and a supply of preferred over-the-counter medications. For more information, refer to OSAC’s Report, Traveling with Medications.

Ambulance Services (Medical Emergencies) – 113

Contact Information for Recommended Hospitals/Clinics

Hospital São Jose de Bor: (245) 955-181-718

Surgical capability, urgent care, ventilator capability, best medical facility in the country. Open to the public, cash on delivery.

Clínica Madrugada: (245) 966-912-342

Constructed in 2016, has surgical capability, inpatient and outpatient with an urgency room. Limited staffing, no ambulance service.

Available Air Ambulance Services:

There are no private air ambulance services in Guinea-Bissau; arrange medevac through neighboring countries:

S.O.S. Air Ambulance: www.internationalsos.com

London, England: + 44 (0)20 8762 8008

Geneva, Switzerland: + 41 22 785 6464

Pretoria, South Africa: + 27 (11) 541 1300

Dakar, Senegal: +221-33 889-1515 or sosmeddk@sentoo.sn

M.R.I. Air Ambulance

Gaborone, Botswana: +267 3901601

Insurance Guidance

Strongly consider purchasing medevac insurance prior to visiting Guinea-Bissau.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Malaria, cholera, hepatitis, and other tropical diseases are risks to travelers in Guinea-Bissau.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Guinea-Bissau.

OSAC Country Council Information

There is no formal OSAC Country Council in Bissau; however, interested organizations are welcome to join the Dakar Country Council to discuss regional security concerns. The Dakar Country Council also covers U.S. private sector interests in Guinea-Bissau. Please contact OSAC’s Africa team for more information.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

The U.S. Liaison Office in Bissau (BLO) employs local personnel. The BLO can provide limited services to U.S. citizens in an emergency, but provides no consular services.

U.S. Bissau Liaison Office: Edifício SITEC, Rua José Carlos Schwarz, 245, Bairro d’Ajuda, Bissau

Tel: +1 202 536-5898

Hours of Operation: 0800-1730, Monday-Friday

Virtual Post Presence: https://gw.usmission.gov

Coordinate all security and consular services through the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, Senegal.

U.S. Embassy Dakar, Senegal: Route des Almadies, Dakar, Senegal

Embassy Contact Numbers

After-hours calls should go to U.S. Embassy Dakar

Embassy Operator (+221) 33-879-4000

Emergency After-hours telephone/Marine Post One: (+221) 33-879-4000/4444

Hours of Operation: 0800-1700 Monday-Thursday; 0800-1300 Friday

Embassy Dakar: https://sn.usembassy.gov/

Consular coverage for multi-post countries: The U.S. Embassy in Dakar, Senegal is accredited for all diplomatic and security concerns.

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling in Guinea-Bissau should register in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP is a free service that helps the U.S. Embassy disseminate information about safety conditions and contact travelers in an emergency.

Additional Resource: Guinea-Bissau Country Information Sheet

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