Safety signs are everywhere, at theatres where strobe lights are being used, at amusement parks, where some rides are unsafe for people below a certain height, at playgrounds and in shopping centres. They're bright, obvious and sometimes seem a bit over the top with stating the obvious:
However, when it comes to overseas travel, information about dangers aren't always as well publicised or easily accessible. A vague, generalised comment might appear on the home page of an airline website about potential difficulties when travelling to specific countries, and even the "Summary" about a country in the government travel website might not mention some important information.
Recently, QANTAS airlines has partnered with Emirates, and all flights to the UK now pass through Dubai. It's being presented not only by the airlines, but by travel agents in Australia, as a wonderful place to break your long journey by a few days or more.
Easily accessible QANTAS information about Local Culture in Dubai includes:
Respect: Travellers to Dubai should always remember to respect local laws and traditions. Alcohol is only served at licensed establishments and people should dress and behave with modesty during their stay.There is no link to further information such as: http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/zw-cgi/view/Advice/?topic=United_Arab_Emirates where we see the following:
Exercise a high degree of caution
This alerts the traveller to read further.
Given the extremely restrictive laws and harsh penalties for many things perfectly acceptable in Australia, wouldn't it be responsible for both QANTAS and Emirates to direct passengers reliable and comprehensive information so that they don't end up in jail where the Australian Government will have little ability to assist?
What the brochures don't tell you:
Alcohol is served in bars and clubs at most major hotels but may only be consumed by hotel guests. Residents are not allowed to drink in hotels unless they hold a liquor licence. The legal age for alcohol consumption by licence holders in the UAE is 18 years of age, though a Ministry of Tourism by-law requires hotels to serve alcohol only to those over 21 years. Drinking in public or being intoxicated in a public place is illegal and offenders may be arrested. Foreigners have also been arrested on arrival in the UAE after becoming intoxicated on incoming aircraft or while in transit.Imagine that you and your friends are staying in different hotels and that you've had a few drinks together. It's not unheard of for a group of Aussies to have a few too many drinks before finding a taxi back to their own hotel! Given the lack of information on the QANTAS website they'd be unaware that:
Visitors to the UAE should also be aware of incidents arising from the use of taxis where passengers are intoxicated. Any dispute with the driver may result in the passengers being taken directly to the police station and charged with public intoxication.No doubt QANTAS was aware of these laws before encouraging Australians (who are known to enjoy a drink) to visit. What were they thinking?
Would any Australian reading the extremely superficial cultural information on the QANTAS website realise that if they do happen to be arrested for being drunk that:
If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail. Any custodial sentences will be served in local jails. (smarttraveller.gov.au)We're used to being warned about potential dangers, and safety reminders are often welcome. Here is a very real danger, yet the warning about the possibility of a jail sentence after having a night on the town while on holiday is not obvious.
But it's not just the danger of having a few drinks too many, are you aware that:
Medications available over the counter or by prescription in Australia may be illegal in the UAE.If you're travelling to the UAE, do you know where to go to find which medications are deemed illegal? Can your travel agent direct you to the information?
The crime of being the victim of rape
Did you also know that if you're unfortunate enough to be raped in the United Arab Emirates that you should not report the crime to the authorities?
Did you also know that if you're raped by one, or a multitude of men, that if you're injured and need medical attention, that you shouldn't seek medical assistance until you've first contacted your Embassy?
Did you also know that if you're employed by some companies in the United Arab Emirates and are raped, that it's best not to tell them or you could end up with the additional stress of being fired.
Unfortunately these and other horror stories aren't isolated examples. Yet this is the country that QANTAS is now funnelling unwary Australian tourists through on their way to the UK and in which travel agents are encouraging stopovers.
Helpful information about the potential danger of travel to the UAE is tucked away in the Australian government travel website www.smarttraveller.gov.au, rarely read beyond a cursory glance by the novice traveller because, understandably, being jailed for being raped is a possibility that hasn't been considered. A victim of rape would naively assume that seeking medical help would be safe and they certainly wouldn't think that if they'd been violently abused, that seeking necessary medical attention would result in being charged with "having sex outside marriage" and ending up being held in custody, with your passport confiscated and not allowed to make a phone call for assistance.
Being jailed for being raped has been reported about at least two young women, one an Australian who was jailed for 8 months for the "crime", the other a young Norwegian who will be in jail for 16 months on charges including being raped.
The UAE with its vastly different expectations of behaviour and brutal attitudes towards women and sexuality, is "set to be one of the hottest destinations from Australia in 2013" (QANTAS website) where even our Embassy may be unable to assist if you're the victim of rape and have been charged with that "crime".
Victims of sexual assault: It is possible that victims of sexual assault may be charged by UAE authorities for engaging in sex outside of marriage and be dealt with according to the criminal law. There have been cases in the UAE where sexual assault victims have been imprisoned after reporting an incident to local police or upon seeking medical assistance. Sexual assault victims should contact the Australian Embassy in Abu Dhabi or Consulate-General in Dubai, or the Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra, as quickly as possible to obtain relevant information on these issues and guidance on what support services may be available. Consular officers cannot provide legal or medical advice but can provide lists of English-speaking service providers who may be able to assist you in this process. Contact details are listed under Where to get help.
Note the use of the word "may" - it's not clear that there are support services or that they will be able to assist.
All women, but particularly young, unmarried women need to be extremely careful when travelling in the UAE - even if it's just a stopover. Drink spiking happens - you will be blamed if you're the victim of sexual abuse and could well end up in jail. Is it worth it?
Good one QANTAS - more young women will now be exposed to this vile attitude towards women and rape and a culture which appears to condone the abuse and jails the victim. A culture where women are less than second class citizens. I have the horrible feeling that these two publicised cases aren't going to be the last.
Thinking about ethics as I often do, I'd be uncomfortable promoting Dubai as a stopover for men or women without encouraging them to read the extended DFAT website thoroughly. It's relatively easy to search for information about being drunk (a crime), holding hands (a crime) and even the crime of looking at local women (another crime), (here) but it's not on the QANTAS website and there is no link or even the hint that you need to understand local customs in far more detail than one would normally expect. The issue of rape is not surprisingly, avoided or ignored expect on the DFAT website.
If you're a Jewish Australian, forget it, it's possible you may not be allowed to leave the airport, although that's unclear (here) - which could be a blessing in disguise! It's certainly not clear from information provided by QANTAS. Good one QANTAS for supporting discrimination. But what happens if lots of aircraft are grounded and airport hotels are full? Where do our Jewish friends go? If they're not allowed to leave the airport - will they be forced to sleep on the floor in the transit lounge?
Do travel agents remember to ask all travellers? Do they remind travellers to get a new passport if they've travelled to Israel? Do they give clear information about who to contact and NOT to contact in the case of emergencies and why this is vital? Can they direct travellers to information about local laws?
GLBT and defacto couples
Not only will there be a clash of cultures with attitudes towards drinking and holding hands in public, but sex outside marriage is illegal and you may be asked to prove that you're married. I wonder how many Australian couples are made aware of this before travelling? What does QANTAS suggest they do?
Homosexual acts and sex outside of marriage: Homosexual acts and all kinds of sex outside of marriage are illegal and may lead to severe punishment, including imprisonment and fines. Foreigners have been imprisoned for having sex with people to whom they are not legally married. De facto relationships and civil unions are not recognised in the UAE and any sexual acts within these relationships are considered to be sex outside of marriage. It is also against the law in the UAE to live together or share the same hotel room with someone of the opposite sex to whom you are not married or closely related. If checking into a hotel as a couple, you may be asked by management to prove that you are legally married. These laws apply equally to UAE residents as well as visitors.QANTAS, I won't be staying in Dubai, and I'll discourage everyone I know - I refuse to support a country which openly condones violence towards women and blatant discrimination towards fellow Australians. You haven't provided clear information or obvious links to smarttravellergov.au and appear not to have thought through the implications of your partnership with Emirates, not only on your own staff, but on Australian tourists.
Tourists could understandable be forgiven for assuming that if Australia's trusted airline QANTAS and their travel agents are encouraging a visit to the UAE, that the country is relatively safe. Given the warnings on the Australian Government travel website, that is a questionable assumption.
Travellers need much more than a superficial "be careful, they have different laws there". That is such a vague statement as to be meaningless for the unwary, inexperienced traveller who knows nothing about Sharia law. The sign at the start of this post about bears is more helpful. It's clear the situation and danger is taken seriously and the traveller is appropriately warned about the danger which could be experienced. You are able to make an informed decision before staying.
Lift your game QANTAS and Emirates and give the travelling public adequate information about the "hottest destination for 2013" so they can make a fully informed decision about whether they choose to visit or not.
For anyone who wants to use this a platform for racism think very carefully about blanket assumptions about any group which has repressive attitudes towards alcohol, women and sexuality. Right wing, fundamentalist men in many religions including Christianity and Judaism as well as Islam have more similarities than differences in this regard.
So called christian men in the US and Australia profess very similar brutal attitudes towards women and are keen to impose repressive, backwards ideas onto the rest of us. Some make laws about what women can and cannot do regarding pregnancy, others are determined to impose their creationist views and disregard for science onto schools. In Australia, men have used their position as priests to sexually abuse children and have systematically, knowingly and deliberately covered up the crimes.
All countries have their share of both progressive and fundamentalist groups - thankfully, so far in Australia they haven't managed to gain as much power as those who make the laws in the UAE.
Let's keep it that way.