Kidnapping of a child while on a school or mission trip abroad is the ultimate parent and administrator nightmare. The truth, however, is that recovery rates are high, the vast majority of kidnappings are of local citizens, and the ransoms demanded are often surprisingly low. That said, there are still hundreds of American tourists kidnapped overseas each year both for ransom and human trafficking—especially in poor and unstable nations, but even in wealthy countries. Among the hotspots for kidnappings there are some of the obvious places—Syria and Afghanistan, for example—but more concerning for run-of-the-mill travel is that Mexico and Brazil also top the rankings. Even Italy and Greece were becoming problematic pre-COVID: Increased illegal migration from North Africa and Syria to Italy and Greece has opened black-market pipelines and led to a significant number of smuggling vessels making the return trip otherwise empty. Reporting suggests that, among the higher-end smuggling operations, these vessels are increasingly being used for human trafficking of kidnapping victims out of Europe on the return trip to Africa.
The Coronavirus, of course, has upended this sector of the black-market economy. Kidnapping for ransom is a multi-billion dollar a year industry, and it is the primary means of support for some villages, families, and criminal gangs. As with many other hard-hit industries, this kidnapping “industry” has been hit very hard by COVID-19, and is hoping to recover. Accordingly, the prospect of renewed tourism post-COVID also means the prospect of increased high-value kidnapping of western tourists and students—potentially at historic rates—to catch up from 2020’s lost revenues.
With this pent-up kidnapping demand, what can schools do to make their international travel safer? Initially, it is an open secret that many high school trips provide an opportunity for students to take advantage of lower drinking ages overseas than in the US. Efforts by chaperones to completely shut down such activity may in fact exacerbate the danger of students sneaking off to a shady area in small groups. Rather, schools and chaperones should at a minimum consider whether it is wiser to facilitate and control this behavior—legal in Europe—within moderation, and in a safe, supervised, and chaperoned environment.
Without question, organizers and chaperones of student trips must also have timely, relevant, and actionable intelligence about specific threat areas, current scams, dangerous activities, and establishments and districts to avoid while traveling. Alpha Recon provides just such a solution to school trips, church and mission trips, etc. that provides timely and actionable intelligence including not only data mining but also expert human analysts. Our real-time threat intelligence provides not only advanced briefing on threats and tactics, but also tracks your itinerary while traveling, constantly reviewing the situation on the ground, and providing updated alerts as any emergent situation may develop. Contact Alpha Recon for a demonstration of how we can assist in keeping your next school or church trip both safe and enjoyable.
Director of Intelligence Business Development for Alpha Recon
Jeff Vail is a former intelligence officer and has been involved in several kidnapping recovery missions, as well as the rescue of Army Private Jessica Lynch who was captured during the invasion of Iraq.