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Safety Travel Safety: Africa: Liberia

Liberia: Republic of Liberia
Capital: Monrovia
Population: 3,288,198
Currency: Liberian dollar (LRD)
Languages: English 20% (official), some 20 ethnic group languages
Religions: indigenous beliefs 40%, Christian 40%, Muslim 20%
Borders: Guinea 563 km, Cote d'Ivoire 716 km, Sierra Leone 306 km

Liberia is a western African country that is suffering from continuing instability and conflict. After months of civil war culminating in the departure of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, a national government of transition came into power in October 2003. The transitional government's authority is mainly limited to those areas patrolled by United Nations military contingents, e.g. the capital city of Monrovia and its surrounding areas. Much progress remains to be made toward the following goals: resettlement of refugees and displaced persons, reintegration of former combatants, reconstruction of the country's infrastructure, respect for human rights and the rule of law, a stable environment for economic development, and the elimination of corruption. By most measures, it is one of the poorest countries in the world. Tourism facilities are poor or, in many cases, nonexistent. The capital is Monrovia. The official language is English.

The Department of State continues to urge U.S. citizens to defer non-essential travel to Liberia. Americans who remain in or travel to Liberia despite this advice should avoid travel to the interior of the country. The ability of Liberia 's security forces to maintain law and order in the countryside is open to question. Armed rebel groups continue to exert authority throughout much of Liberia. Actions of the local security forces (and former members of the security forces) also at times threaten travelers. Members of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) provide limited security in Monrovia and the immediate surrounding areas. UNMIL plans to depart Liberia after the elections in 2005. Given the conflict in Liberia and in nearby Cote d�Ivoire, American citizens should consider carefully the importance of their travel to Liberia and weigh their personal safety. Americans who must travel to Liberia should check with the U.S. Embassy's Consular Section before undertaking travel. Travelers should avoid travel to the rural areas of Liberia due to security incidents and armed dissident activity.

U. S. citizens still in Liberia should be aware of their surroundings at all times and use caution when traveling. Travel anywhere after dark is strongly discouraged. Due to the potential for violence, U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times. In addition, due to recent animosities among security forces, U.S. citizens should avoid any gathering of such forces.

Monrovia 's crime rate is rated as critical. This is exacerbated by the high rate of unemployment in the country. Theft, assault, and murder are major problems, and they occur more frequently after dark. Foreigners, including U.S. citizens, have been targets of street crime and robbery. Residential armed break-ins are common. The police are ill equipped and largely incapable of providing effective protection.

Perpetrators of business fraud often target foreigners, including Americans. While such fraud schemes in the past have been largely associated with Nigeria, they are now prevalent throughout western Africa, including Liberia. The scams pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm. Recently, an increasing number of American citizens have been the targets of such scams.

Typically, these scam operations begin with an unsolicited communication (usually by e-mail) from an unknown individual who describes a situation that promises quick financial gain, often by assisting in the transfer of a large sum of money or valuables out of the country. A series of "advance fees" must then be paid in order to conclude the transaction: for example, fees to open a bank account, or to pay certain taxes. In fact, the final payoff does not exist; the purpose of the scam is simply to collect the advance fees. A common variation is a request for an American to pretend to be the next-of-kin to a recently deceased Liberian who left a fortune unclaimed in a Liberian bank. This variation generally includes requests for lawyers' fees and money to pay taxes to withdraw the money. Another common variation of this scheme involves individuals claiming to be refugees or other victims of various western African conflicts (notably Sierra Leone and Liberia) who contact U.S. citizens to request their help in transferring large sums of money out of Liberia. Another typical ploy has persons claiming to be related to present or former political leaders who need assistance to transfer large sums of cash. Other variations include what appears to be a legitimate business deals requiring advance payments on contracts.

The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense - if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Any unsolicited business proposal originating from Liberia should be carefully checked out before any funds are committed, any goods or services are provided, or any travel is undertaken.

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Liberian law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Liberia are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

Hospitals and medical facilities are very poorly equipped and are incapable of providing basic services. Emergency services comparable to those in the global north are non-existent, and the blood supply is unreliable and not safe for transfusion. Medicines are scarce, often beyond expiration dates and generally unavailable in most areas.

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Liberia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:

Safety of Public Transportation: Unsafe (and very limited) 
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Very poor 
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor to nonexistent 
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor to nonexistent

Road travel can be hazardous. Cars, trucks, and taxis are frequently overloaded with people and goods and make frequent stops without signaling. Many vehicles operate with threadbare tires, and blowouts are common. There are no operating traffic lights in the country; therefore, intersections should be approached with caution. There are also no public streetlights; pedestrians in Monrovia's streets and those walking on country roads are difficult to see at night. Pedestrians often walk in the streets and cross busy roadways with little or no warning. Drivers and pedestrians are cautioned that high-speed car convoys carrying government officials require all other vehicles to pull off the road until they have passed. All drivers should also remain in their vehicles at the roadside with headlights turned off until any such convoy passes. It would be advisable to wait at least ten minutes after the convoy passes since convoy stragglers often drive at high speed in order to catch up with the group.

Despite successful peace talks and deployment of peacekeeping forces, low-intensity fighting between rebel and government forces continues to flare up in the countryside. Principal roads to the neighboring countries of Cote d�Ivoire, Sierra Leone and guinea are often closed due to the fighting. Travel over many roads has become prohibitively dangerous. Travelers should expect frequent delays at armed government security checkpoints, as well as time-consuming detours around the many bridges and roads damaged by war or neglect or by the heavy annual rains which occur from May to November. Travelers can expect strict enforcement of border controls by Liberian, Ivorian, and Guinean authorities. At times border crossings to neighboring countries are closed by war.

For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, please see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at

As there is no direct commercial air service by local air carriers at present or economic authority to operate such service between the U.S. and Liberia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Liberia 's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards.

For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the United States at tel. 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet website at The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at tel. (618) 229-4801.

At this time, three international carriers operate flights to and from Liberia. All international commercial air service to Monrovia arrives at Roberts International Airport (RIA), located 35 miles (approximately one hour by car) outside Monrovia. Very limited daytime air service exists to Freetown, Sierra Leone; Conakry, Guinea; Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire; and Accra, Ghana. Departing flights from Liberia are typically overbooked. Local carriers do not always follow published routings or schedules. At this time, an armed paramilitary security force provides airport security. Conditions at the airport upon arrival and departure are crowded and chaotic. As public transportation to Monrovia is not always available, travelers should attempt to arrange for an expediter and chauffeur through their hotel, employer, or business associates.

Taking photographs of military installations, air and seaports, and important government buildings is restricted. Visitors should refrain from taking pictures of any sites or activities, including official motorcades or security personnel, that might be considered sensitive. Police and military officers are liable to confiscate any camera. Travelers would be well advised not to take photographs, movies or videos in any public place.

Please also refer to the separate Travel Warning for Liberia and to the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

March 22, 2004 | Travel Warning

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