Djibouti 2014 Crime and Safety Report
Travel Health and Safety; Transportation Security; Stolen items; Theft; Burglary; Drug Trafficking; Cargo Security; Religious Violence; Earthquakes; Extreme heat/drought; Floods; Improvised Explosive Device; Disease Outbreak; Fraud
Africa > Djibouti; Africa > Djibouti > Djibouti
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
The Department of State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security rates Djibouti as high for crime. Endemic poverty, widespread unemployment, and an ever-increasing refugee population have led to augmented criminal activity over the past several years.
Most reported incidents are crimes of opportunity for immediate gain, such as pick-pocketing and petty theft. The large number of illegal immigrants and unemployed Djiboutians loitering downtown and in other areas frequented by expatriates allows criminals to roam undetected. People in congested areas, such as the port, market areas, and the city center, are considered at greatest risk for street crime.
Crimes committed at knifepoint, including numerous reports against the household help of Embassy personnel, have been on the rise this past year.
There have been burglaries and attempted burglaries against expatriate residences in proximity to Embassy housing this year and three unlawful entries into one of the Embassy’s residential compounds. Most recently the residence of an Ambassador was robbed by his contract residential guards. Crimes have occurred at residences where windows and doors were not locked.
Criminal activity is exacerbated by the abuse of khat, a legal and socially acceptable drug, that tends to increase aggressiveness among users during the first 30-40 minutes it is consumed.
Overall Road Safety Situation
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Vehicle collisions remain Regional Security Office’s number one safety concern. The number of serious vehicle accidents has steadily grown over the past five years, as the number of vehicles has increased, especially truck traffic between Djibouti and Ethiopia. Road surfaces outside the capital are greatly improved from previous years but are still precarious in many parts of the country.
Driving conditions are hazardous. Hazards include poorly constructed roads, lack of safety rails, poor vehicle conditions and wayward pedestrians and animals. Drivers should be aware of unsafe road surfaces, unskilled drivers, and the presence of non-roadworthy vehicles on urban and rural roads. Many drivers manipulate vehicles while consuming khat, leading to erratic, unpredictable, and unsafe driving conditions. Drivers frequently change lanes into oncoming traffic without looking and expect oncoming vehicles to get out of their way even though they are in violation of standard worldwide recognized traffic rules. It is recommended to obey posted speed limits (where present) and drive defensively. This is especially true at night, as street lighting is limited and frequently non-existent. Pedestrians do not look when crossing the road and frequently walk out into traffic. Animals, such as goats, camels, and stray dogs, often wander into traffic without warning.
Nomads in rural areas sometimes place rocks on the roads to stop vehicles and demand water and/or transportation, providing an opportunity for theft of high-value items from stopped vehicles. Drivers should keep their windows up; doors locked; and be especially vigilant at intersections.
Visitors who are involved in traffic accidents should attempt to exchange insurance information with the other party and summon police assistance if possible. It is inadvisable to make restitution at the scene, especially if livestock or pedestrians are involved. Drivers should also be wary of crowds gathering at the scene of an accident and should depart immediately if they perceive a threat to their safety. The emergency response system is far below Western standards. Embassy personnel have witnessed first-hand that response time for accidents outside the capital city is measured in hours, not minutes. Ambulances are under-equipped, suffer from lack of maintenance, and the training of the ambulance staff is dubious.
As Djibouti is the primary port for goods going into Ethiopia, there are numerous large trucks transporting goods at all hours of the day. These trucks are in various conditions from well-maintained to poorly maintained and operated. The government, with assistance from the European Union, has constructed a paved road linking the towns of Tadjoura and Obock, which has significantly increased the level of safety and ease of travel on the north coast. The primary truck route from Djibouti to Galafi, the main border crossing into Ethiopia, was also recently completed. This highway has reduced the amount of time it takes to travel between the two cities and has significantly improved driving conditions. At the same time, the improved road resulted in increased speeds and the likelihood of serious accidents. It is not uncommon to see truck accidents along this road, and drivers will attempt to pass slow moving trucks on inclines where there is limited visibility of oncoming traffic. This greatly increases the likelihood of head-on collisions.
Criminals have shown a willingness to break into vehicles to gain access to high-value items, such as electronics.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
A former French colony, Djibouti hosts several thousand French troops as well as the only U.S. military base in Africa. Djibouti lies at the crossroads between the Middle East and the Horn of Africa and hosts a substantial population of refugees from throughout the region. The governments of China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Japan, Kuwait, Libya, Qatar, Russia, Somalia, Somaliland, South Sudan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian Authority, the United States, the European Union, and Yemen all maintain diplomatic representation in Djibouti.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
Djibouti's proximity to a number of conflict-torn states and the government's limited capacity to monitor border controls raises concern over illegal immigration and the possibility of cross-border terrorism.
Large scale planned demonstrations are rare. Both the Djiboutian National Police and the Gendarmerie have effective riot control squads and take proactive steps to stage personnel in areas of potential unrest. Demonstrations mostly have been peaceful; however, participants will often block the roads with rocks and burning tires and engage in indiscriminate rock throwing.
In March 2013 following Djibouti’s legislative elections, there were a number of protests. They were relatively small and did not block any of the major traffic arteries in the city. There were no reports of large scale property damage.
In June through August of 2013, Djiboutian contract workers at Camp Lemonnier protested against the potential loss of jobs during the implementation of a new Base Operating Support Contract. Overall, the protest was peaceful, and no attempt was made to block or impede access to Camp Lemonnier by protestors.
Religious or Ethnic Violence
Approximately 60 percent of Djiboutians are ethnic Somalis, most of the rest are of Afar descent along with a small minority of Yemeni origin. Relations between Djibouti's predominantly Somali and Afar ethnic groups remain a sensitive issue. Since the May 2001 signing of a final peace accord, many former rebels have been integrated into the National Police and Defense Forces; however, opposition and rebel groups remain and have carried out attacks against government entities, mostly in remote location.
Djibouti is in Seismic Zone 4 (Very High). Recent noticeable earthquakes -- as high as 3.9 and 4.4 on the Richter Scale in 2012 -- drew the Embassy to request a seismic team assessment of all government-owned and leased properties occupied by U.S. government personnel in Djibouti.
Power outages and spikes are common and hit the lower income population more frequently and more often, especially during hot summer months.
Although hot conditions prevail year-round, brief periods of moderate to heavy rains can cause severe flooding of roads and homes. Since rains flow into the sea, flooding is exacerbated during high tide. In recent years, flooding has led to several fatalities especially when an unpredicted rain event leads to flash flooding in the city.
Regional Travel Concerns and Restricted Travel Areas/Zones
An unsolved border dispute with Eritrea has led to restrictions on travel to many areas in the north. There have been several incidents of land-mine explosions reported in more remote areas of the northern border region. The most recent of these affected a Djiboutian Military vehicle in November 2012. Travelers are advised to check with authorities before venturing into these areas. In many instances, approval from the government of Djibouti is required to travel north of the city of Obock.
A significant percentage of Djiboutian males are under the influence of khat on a daily basis. Khat is a leafy green plant that is typically chewed. Khat is generally distributed in the afternoon through sales kiosks set up across the city. The drug's effects may escalate what would otherwise be a casual interaction (such as a bumped elbow) into a confrontation. Drivers should also be aware that a large number of drivers and pedestrians will be under the influence of khat and should be especially alert when driving between the hours of 3-5PM.
All police entities are more professional than in most surrounding countries and are commonly viewed as having legitimate authority. The majority of the population complies with police orders. The Gendarmerie are viewed as a more highly trained and specialized force and are much more respected among the local population.
Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime
Visitors requiring police assistance are advised to appear in person at the commissariat of police, located across from the general post office on the Boulevard de la République. The central police telephone numbers are 253-21-35-2761 and 253-21-35-2343 or you can simply dial 17 from a local phone in Djibouti city. Police will speak Somali and often French but usually have little or no English capability. Contact the Embassy if you need assistance to speak with police.
Various Police/Security Agencies
There are three law enforcement entities: the Djiboutian National Police, the National Gendarmerie, and the Djiboutian Coast Guard. All three suffer from a lack of resources; i.e. sufficient transportation and communications equipment, that directly affect their response capabilities.
Private security guards for residences and facilities can be hired through various security companies.
Contact Information for Recommended Local Hospitals and Clinics
Local medical facilities do not generally offer the standard of care available in more developed countries, although there are several French doctors who cater to the expatriate community. Visitors with medical problems are advised to contact the French military hospital, Bouffard (Le Groupement médico-chirurgical Bouffard) at 253-21-35-2435 or 253-21-35-1351 ext.4086 (ext. 297 for emergencies). Ambulance services are also run out of Bouffard Hospital at 253-21-35-1351 ext 9333.
Prior to admittance, patients have to make a deposit 20,000 Djiboutian Francs ($122.00) at intake.
CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
Falciparum-type malaria (chloroquine-resistant) is present; and the State Department recommends anti-malarial prophylaxis.
HIV/AIDS exists, especially along the Djibouti-Ethiopia transport corridor. Approximately three percent of Djiboutians are infected with HIV/AIDS.
For vaccine and health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/djibouti.
Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Several scams have been reported to the Embassy in recent years.
One involves locals approaching Americans and falsely claiming to work for the U.S. military base or as local employees of the U.S. Embassy. They claim to have car problems and ask either to be driven somewhere or to borrow money. Such individuals are most likely not associated with the U.S. Embassy/military but use the association to exploit unsuspecting Americans.
Another scam involves someone who waits behind your vehicle as you back out of a parking space and purposely runs into or drives their bicycle/motorcycle into the back of your vehicle. The impact and noise frightens most people who look back to see what happened. Upon seeing someone lying on the ground and writhing in pain, most assume that this person was in their blind spot and that they have hit and hurt them with their vehicle. Most of these scammers will ask for money for medical bills, etc. This is a scam and if you believe that this has happened to you, get the local police involved immediately and explain to them that you believe it to be a scam.
Areas to be Avoided
Additional caution should be exercised in congested areas such as the central market, the city center, and the downtown neighborhoods (referred to as “Quartiers” locally, especially after dark. Visitors should avoid isolated areas, particularly along the urban coastline.
Best Situational Awareness Practices
Visitors should remain vigilant at all times and maintain high security awareness while on the streets. Panhandlers and street children target foreigners for petty theft by creating distractions.
It is strongly advised not to give money to people who wash your cars without permission or who watch your car while parked. Americans are generally the only people who give money and this leads to further targeting. Americans are also strongly discouraged from giving money to peddlers and street children as this can easily lead to being swarmed by additional individuals who can become aggressive.
Djibouti is a tolerant Islamic country, but visitors should dress conservatively and observe local customs.
Burglars generally lack the sophistication required to overcome robust residential security measures, such as substantial doors, grillwork, and static guards.
Individuals should not leave high-value items visible in a car.
Visitors are advised to avoid political gatherings and large crowds.
U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information
Embassy Address and Hours of Operation
The Embassy is located in the Haramous neighborhood of Djibouti at Lot 350B. Business hours are 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Sunday through Thursday.
Americans are welcome to visit the Consular section any time during business hours.
Embassy Contact Numbers
Main telephone: (253) 21-45-3000
Post One can be contacted 24 hours a day in case of an emergency via the main number. The Embassy also has a duty officer on call 24 hours a day.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to register with the Embassy by either appearing in person at the Consular section or registering on-line at travel.state.gov.
OSAC Country Council Information
There is currently no OSAC Country Council in Djibouti, but the RSO is working with the Economic Section to establish a Council in 2014.