What you need to know about crime in PNG - Stay safe

If you're intelligent, curious and not frightened of your own shadow, you'll find PNG a fascinating place to visit. Like all developing societies, PNG has its challenges.

The movement of unskilled rural workers seeking employment in major urban areas leads to ethnic and cultural frictions. Unemployment and poverty lead to civil unrest and crime.

Ostentation and cultural insensitivity provide constant encouragement to thieves. The best safety advice is to be sensible, sensitive and keep a low profile. When travellers remember that in a foreign land they're guests, the vast majority of the locals react as hosts.

The urban drift began in earnest after the end of World War II. During the war, the settlement of Port Moresby was transformed into a huge military camp housing tens of thousands of troops. At the end of the war, people from almost every tribal group in New Guinea and countless foreigners came to the city. Chosen by the governing Australian administration of the time as the seat of government Port Moresby is the main entry point for international visitors.

The growth of squatter settlements in Port Moresby in the 1970s gave rise to the "Raskol gangs". "Raskol", the Tok Pisin translation of English "rascal" and suggests the nature of their membership. Much of the crime in the capital is attributed to such gangs. Go home early on Friday - pay day - when younger men tend to hit the grog. Keep clear of rowdy groups of strangers, keep your cash well hidden and keep a small amount of "Raskol" money in your pocket if you're held up.

The easiest solution is to keep away from squatter settlements in the major urban areas when unaccompanied by a trusted local. It's advisable to look like a local.

Towards this end, use of the Bilum, the traditional locally produced string bag, is helpful.

While PNG lies 43d out of 53 on the most recent international list for car thefts per capita (0.137601 per 1,000) and Australia heads the list (6.92354 per 1,000)1, carjackings and associated violence to car occupants is disturbingly frequent.

Carjackings are common in Pt Moresby. Lae and Mt Hagen, especially between Nadzab airport and Lae. In November 2010, an Australian group were carjacked while on a surfing holiday Madang on PNG's north coast. A woman and three male friends stopped to drop off their surfboards when they were attacked by a group of men armed with knives and guns. They were robbed, forced back into their car and driven to a secluded location where the men were tied up and the woman raped. The men were Australian youth ambassadors for AusAid and the incident led AusAid to review security arrangements for its youth ambassadors program in developing countries.

In January, an Australian aid adviser in Port Moresby was carjacked and suffered serious injuries in the attack. The victim, a man in his 50s, was treated at Port Moresby Hospital and layer discharged and flown to Brisbane for further treatment.

In February, two Australians, working in Papua New Guinea's capital Port Moresby were reportedly carjacked at gunpoint. A female media adviser with PNG's national radio station and a male law and justice adviser were separately attacked at night on the same stretch of road in a residential area popular with expatriates. According to AusAID security, there were no injuries or assaults carried out during the robbery.

Car travel in PNG can prove challenging. There is no nationwide road network. Most rural roads are in a poor state of repair.

During the rainy season (November to May) landslides occur on the Highlands Highway between Lae and Mt Hagen, resulting in road closures and lengthy delays.

Severe flooding, common throughout Oro province causes significant damage to roads and bridges. Ongoing road repairs and bridge restoration can cause significant delays.

Criminal roadblocks often occur during the day and more frequently under cover of darkness. To avoid armed robbery, avoid minor or remote roads with little traffic and, wherever possible keep windows closed and car doors locked. If possible, travel in a convoy.

In Pt Moresby, Police roadblocks to check vehicle registrations are a regular occurrence. To minimize difficulties, observe the same precautions you would at home. Make sure all vehicle registration and safety stickers are up to date.

If you don't drive, travel in company vehicles, hotel transport or reputable taxis are is considered a safer alternative to travel by Public Motor Vehicles (PMVs). The latter are less reliable due to poor maintenance. They have also been targeted by criminals.

Local group conflicts are frequent throughout PNG. DFAT advises that: Large crowds and public gatherings should be avoided as they may turn violent.

In rural areas tribal conflicts occur, usually during daylight hours. Mind your own business and the participants are unlikely to involve you.

In urban areas, townships and worksites where groups of individuals from different parts of the country live side-by-side, ethnic disputes inevitably arise. Worldwide, ethnic disputes lead to violent and often life-threatening clashes. The atmosphere of lawlessness is usually associated with an increase in opportunistic crime.

In a crowd, keep your eyes open and move away at the first hint of violence.

If you intend to enjoy your stay in PNG, try to remember that all large crowds and public gatherings are the not same!

The Mt Hagen Show attracts a local crowd of 50,000 drawn mainly from the Highlands provinces. Many also come from Madang and Lae, the only coastal towns with road access to Mt Hagen. Established by the colonial administration in 1964 with the aim of reducing tribal fighting, promoting inter-marriage and channelling inter-tribal rivalry into positive forms of competition, the Show attracts participants from all parts of PNG including Bougainville and the Tobriand Islands. Violence is virtually non-existent.

If you join the 500 to 1,000 foreign tourist who attend the show each year, you'll probably be safer there than you are back home.

Bougainville, the largest island of the Solomon's Island archipelago is an autonomous region of PNG. Magnificently rugged jungle terrain, active volcanoes and stunningly beautiful coral reefs ensure that despite its relative inaccessibility, Bougainville remains a favourite tourist destination.

Travellers are advised that the Panguna mine, the main precipitating factor in the brutal civil war that lasted between 1988 and 1997 is a definite no-go zone. Foreigners who entered the centre without PNG Government authorization have been delayed and questioned, some for several days, and had their passports withheld on departure from the zone.

The abandoned mine is unsafe and the advice to keep out minimizes the risk of accidental injury.

Due to its rugged mountainous terrain which makes navigation and landing difficult, flying in small planes is discouraged. The most recent fatalities occurred in August 2009. The aircraft, an Airlines PNG aircraft, a de Havilland Twin Otter was flying in bad weather when it crashed into a mountain near Kokoda. All eleven passengers and two crew were killed.

However, the national carrier Air Niugini, flies internationally and to all the major cities of PNG. In its 32 years of operation, the airline boasts an unblemished safety record.

So far, international terrorism has not posed any threat for locals or travelers to PNG.

Nevertheless, air travel to and from PNG has the same potential dangers posed by all international air travel.

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  • steve said

    The photo is Indonesian Policeman tying up a West Papuan Civilian and not PNG. However, stories told could be true in some cases just to keep you alert if you happened to be in PNG.

  • Yanda said

    For the first time, I am seeing a blog which is truly balanced and reflective of PNG as a native of PNG. This is a fair blog for us as PNG's to known what we are doing, while also for visitors to be mindful of crimes. I agree, nobody wants to get into any trouble or being victimized for no reason.
    Mind you, crimes are confined to cities and towns only. For a foreign visitor, if you go out into the villages or local settings, you wont see criminal activities. Instead, you will see the true beauty of PNG whether in the Highlands or in the coasts.
    Worth reading, thanks for this post.

  • Maggie said

    Only days ago ( 1 Dec 17) I returned to Australia with 3 companions from a scuba diving trip to the very beautiful Tawali Milne Bay PNG. Even though the area is remote and accessible only by boat, we felt safe staying at the highly recommended Tawali Dive Resort. a great place where we were well looked after and armed security and police are employed. Never the less, on our second last day the hotel was raided by an armed gang of 5 men, some wearing masks and carrying guns and machetes. We were forced to lay on the ground at gunpoint and our belonings stolen. A manager was assaulted , a young local woman working in reception taken hostage and cctv, doors and furniture smashed. We were all terrorised. After half an hour of terror then the men left by boat the way they arrived. No police came from Alotau,the closest town, to investigate or speak to those involved. We wrote our own statements. The next morning we flew home. I have attempted to contact the Australian High Commission and DEFAT in Port Moresby but have had no response at all!! We are left to go it alone it seems if we are victims of crime in PNG.

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