Monday, December 20, 2010

US Embassy Abidjan goes on Ordered Departure

Image from East-West Debt
Once more in Africa. 

We have been following the warden messages coming out of US Embassy in Abidjan for the last few weeks.

On December 8, the warden message warns about the possibility of post-election conflicts:
As the International Community, including the United States, continues to increase pressure on the Gbagbo regime to step down peacefully, the U.S. Embassy
cannot rule out the possibility that U.S. citizens might get caught up in a potential
conflict between those loyal to the incumbent and those loyal to the opposition
candidate. Corporations and NGOs, as well as the United Nations and the World
Bank, have temporarily relocated employees to other countries or drawn down
to essential personnel. The U.S. Embassy along with other foreign embassies
have suggested that their employees or citizens go on holiday travel early in
order to remain safe while the political situation remains unresolved and may
further deteriorate. The U.S. Embassy is reviewing its security posture and asks
private citizens to do the same. Read more here.
Yesterday, the Department of State issued the following Travel Warning where it also announced the ordered departure of non-emergency personnel and family members effective today, December 20:
This Travel Warning is being issued to inform U.S. citizens that based on the deteriorating political and security situation in Cote d’Ivoire and growing anti-western sentiment, the Department of State has now ordered the departure of all non-emergency personnel and family members.  The Department warns U.S. citizens to avoid travel to Cote d’Ivoire until further notice.  This replaces the Travel Warning of December 16, 2010 to inform U.S. citizens of the U.S. Embassy drawdown and to update the security information.

Following the contested results of presidential elections, which were held on November 28, 2010, soldiers and loyalists of former President Laurent Gbagbo have now called for wide-spread demonstrations which are expected to turn violent.  Hostility against westerners, including U.S. citizens, cannot be ruled out.

On December 20, the Department of State ordered the departure of all non-emergency personnel and family members.
The U.S. Embassy’s Consular Section in Abidjan has temporarily curtailed all consular services except emergency services for U.S. citizens.  Due to drawdown of consular staff, the Embassy has diminishing ability to assist U.S. citizens wishing to depart the country.  The State Department recommends that U.S. citizens who are concerned about their safety take advantage of commercial means of transportation while they are available and while borders remain open.

Read more here.

The most recent inspection of the embassy was conducted by the OIG in fall of 2007 with a published report dated March 2008.  At that time, U.S. Embassy Abidjan was reported to have 58 direct-hire Americans and 310 LE staff working for the Department of State (Department), Department of Defense, Health and Human Services’ Center for Disease Control and Prevention (HHS/CDC) and Open Source Center (OSC). We have no information on how many family members are immediately impacted by this evacuation.
This is particularly hard for our embassy folks in Abidjan not only because Christmas is only five days away (what do you do with the gifts under the tree?), but also because they are being evacuated from hot, dry, Africa to the Washington, DC area of wintry weather (unless they have safe havens somewhere in the continent).  Instead of writing what happens inside an evacuation, I'll let The Embassy Wife elaborate what an ordered departure is really like:
First, they've got 24-48 hours to leave the country.  Obviously, they're leaving the country.  But think about what this means:  Embassy wives and a few Embassy dads are rushing around frantically trying to make sure everyone's passports, shot records, medical files, and school records are in hand and ready to be packed in a carry-on suitcase.  

Kids are being pulled out of school; plans, playdates, parties, tests, book reports, and projects are being cancelled.  Likely, everyone will come back and will eventually be able to pick up the thread of their lives again.  But there's no guarantee.

Pets must be left behind.
Food in the fridge?  Well, if everyone's leaving it's got to be tossed or given away -- when an ordered departure is called, it's my understanding that it always lasts a minimum of four weeks.  Then the order is re-evaluated every four weeks:  return?  Or remain?
And packing; of course everyone is packing.  All you can take is what you can carry in your suitcase(s).  Your entire life has to be suddenly boiled down to what can fit into two 50-lb (do they still let you bring suitcases that heavy?) suitcases.  And it has to be done NOW.

Read Kelly Armstrong's full post here.

Kelly Armstrong, an FSO from 1993-2001, served in Frankfurt and Tel Aviv, and has since lived in Jakarta, Frankfurt and Zagreb.  A freelance writer, she resides in San Jose with her husband who is IM specialist at the embassy, and their three children. She writes The Embassy Wife in the Personal News Network.  She also wrote an Evacuation Survival Guide for the Foreign Service Journal last year (see March 2009 p31).

What is the difference between an authorized departure and an ordered departure?

State says that "Authorized departure merely allows the Chief of Mission greater flexibility in determining which employees or groups of employees may depart, and avoids any negative connotation that might be attached to the use of the term “evacuation.” Since the law uses the terms synonymously, there is no difference in benefits now in application of the regulations. Note: Once the Under Secretary of State for Management (“M”) approves the evacuation status for post—either authorized or ordered—the 180-day clock “begins ticking” (by law, an evacuation cannot last longer than 180 days).

So unless the host country's political situation is resolved soon, these State Department evacuees will either be in WashDC or in their safe havens outside the US until June 2011, max (unless you're assigned to tricky Peshawar).  Half the school year for those with school age kids away from their country of assignment, winter - spring, in terms of clothes needed by both adults and kids, worries for those left behind, and etc., etc.  If you are with FS, in the DC area and are able to help, check with the AAFSW (they may need drivers, clothes, etc to help with the evacuees), contact the Family Liaison Office or email FLO/Evacuations:

Thoughts and prayers to our friends in Abidjan, for those who must leave their colleagues and loved ones and those who must stay.

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