Egypt: is it safe to travel? Find out your rights

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Demonstrations

Egypt has been hit by violent demonstrations in cities from Cairo to Alexandria, marking the first anniversary of Mohamed Mursi's presidency. The US government has told its citizens to avoid all but essential travel to the country, and there have been numerous deaths since the violence began at the weekend.

So is it safe to go? And if you want to back out, can you get your money back?


Dangers

The US Department of State is warning its citizens against all non-essential travel to Egypt. On 28 June it pulled out some non-emergency employees and family members of US State employees in the country.

It says: "Demonstrations have, on occasion, degenerated into violent clashes between police and protesters, resulting in deaths, injuries, and extensive property damage. Participants have thrown rocks and Molotov cocktails and security forces have used tear gas and other crowd control measures against demonstrators. There are numerous reports of the use of firearms as well.... Of specific concern is a rise in gender-based violence in and around protest areas where women have been the specific targets of sexual assault.".

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK agrees that large swathes of the country are risky. It says of the protests: "The atmosphere of these demonstrations can change quickly and without warning. Reports suggest that a few of those attending are armed and that arrests have been made of people intending to cause violence."

"A US citizen was killed in demonstrations in Alexandria on Friday 28 June. Press reporting suggests that he was stabbed after being seen to be filming the demonstration. Three people were reportedly shot dead at demonstrations in Assyut and one in Beni Souef on 30 June. More than forty rapes and sexual assaults of Egyptian and foreign women were reported at demonstrations on 30 June. Some press reporting suggests that some of those demonstrating in Tahrir Square and elsewhere are hostile and suspicious of any foreigners present. If you become aware of any nearby protests, leave the area immediately."

As a result, it is advising against all travel to the North Sinai region because of an increase in criminal activity. It is also advising against all but essential travel to most of South Sinai.

Should you travel?

It sounds as though Egypt is a dangerous place at the moment, and that those with trips planned to the country ought to cancel, but it's not that simple.

The FCO has listed certain exceptions to its advice not to travel to the region, and it includes a large number of the most popular tourists areas, including: the Red Sea Resorts including those in the entire region of Sharm el Sheikh, Taba, Nuweiba and Dahab; the St Catherine's Monastery World Heritage Site; road travel between the Red Sea resorts; road travel from the Red Sea resorts to St Catherine's Monastery approaching from the east; and transfers between the resorts and the airports of Taba and Sharm el Sheikh.

Theoretically, therefore, if you fly to the region and go straight to the Red Sea resorts, the government says you're safe.

What if you're not convinced?

The rule of thumb is that if the FCO says travel is safe, you cannot get your money back if you decide not to travel.

If things get worse and the FCO advises against travel, those who have booked a package holiday may be able to get an alternative holiday or their money back - depending on when and how they booked their trip.

If you have booked the flights and hotel separately, a refund is less likely. If the airline is still flying to the region they won't have to offer a refund, and if the hotel is open it may not give your money back either.

Insurance

If you have booked separate hotel and flights - or you are about to - it's worth considering a travel insurance policy which pays out for riots and civil unrest. Not all policies do, so it's worth checking the small print.

Even if your policy covers civil unrest, it wont pay out unless the FCO advises against travel to the region, so it doesn't cover cold feet.

Of course, if you wait until the FCO declares the area unsafe before you buy cover, then you won't be covered by any insurance bought subsequently, so it's worth getting cover as soon as possible if you are at all concerned.

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