Home » Expat Focus International News Update May 2023

Expat Focus International News Update May 2023

Sudan: Travel Advice

In light of the recent outbreak of civil war in Sudan, the British government strongly advises British citizens that traveling within the country is undertaken at their own risk. Evacuation flights are no longer available from the Wadi Saeedna airfield in Khartoum. However, there is a government office at the Coral Hotel in Port Sudan (located here: what3words: number.rhino.displays). If you are a British National in Port Sudan and require assistance leaving the country, contact the government team as quickly as possible. They will provide you with available departure options. You can also contact them on a 24/7 telephone helpline on +44 1908 516 666. Select option two for consular services for British nationals.

Evacuation eligibility is limited to British passport holders and immediate family members, including spouses/partners and children under 18 years old, who are either non-visa nationals or those with existing UK entry clearance. This is defined as anyone with a valid UK visa / visa vignette in their passport, or a UK biometric residence permit.

Additionally, the government website has announced that un-scheduled chartered ships are operating from Port Sudan to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. Visas will be issued to British nationals in Saudi Arabia on arrival and will remain valid for a short period of time.

It is advised to avoid crossing the border into Egypt due to lengthy queues and limited consular assistance in the region. The borders with Chad and Eritrea are currently closed.

For further information, refer to the UK government’s website.

China Widens Scope of Espionage Laws

In late April, the Chinese government rushed through search and seizure powers, entry and exit bans, and cybersecurity measures, raising concerns about increased vulnerability for foreingers. According to The Guardian expats working in ‘sensitive’ areas such as IT and research may be affected, while legal experts say that the laws are ‘breath-taking’ in their scope. The updated espionage laws now cover “documents, data, materials or items related to national security and interests,” a definition so broad as to encompasses virtually everything.

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Margaret Lewis, a Professor of Chinese Law at Seton Hall University, comments:

“Not only is the critical question of how Chinese authorities will use the broadened law unclear, but it is also doubtful that we will be able to obtain reliable data on its implementation. So much of China’s criminal justice system is opaque, and this is especially true when national security is invoked.”

Recent heightened tensions over spying between China and the West, particularly the USA, coupled with uncertainty over China’s plans for Taiwan, make this new legislation particularly concerning for Western expats working in the country or conducting business there. Charges of espionage have already been levelled at a number of expats in China, and Western companies have seen their premises searched and employees questioned. Examples include US management consultants Bain & Company and corporate diligence firm Mintz Group. Japanese firms and their employees have also been targeted, with an executive at Astellas Pharma being detained in Beijing last month.

Driving Licence Renewals in Kuwait

The Kuwaiti transport authorities have recently limited the scope of driving licence renewals. If you are an expat, your licence will be restricted to a one year, instead of three years, unless you are hired as a domestic driver. Driving licences used to be valid for 10 years, but then became linked to residency. If you’re driving in Kuwait, make sure that you have a valid licence.

Passport Scams: Thailand

Online websites offering fast-track passport renewal services for British expats in Thailand have become a cause for concern. The local press has warned against money-transfer scams initiated by fraudulent sites, which are an extension of the ‘cheap flights’ scams targeting unsuspecting Brits. The British Foreign Office (FO) advises individuals to utilize authorized application centres in Bangkok or Chiang Mai. The current cost is £127.51 (34 pages) or £138.51 (50 pages) which includes courier fees. It’s important to note that there is no fast-track service available in Thailand, although such a service exists in the UK, with some expats flying back to the UK in order to access it. The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) informed the Thai press that:

“This scam has arisen as people try to bypass the inevitable delays, but paying money online for special favors is a recipe for disaster.”

Ecuador: Attempted Robbery Uses Scopolamine

In early May, one of Expat Focus’ correspondents had a distressing encounter  on a bus in Ecuador, prompting the need to raise awareness about the incident. A man posing as a bus employee sprayed his hands with what appeared to be hand sanitiser. Shortly after, the correspondent experienced disorientation and confusion, before realising that his laptop and other belongings were missing. He made his way to the front of the bus to alert the driver, and with the help of another passenger he discovered his bag under a different seat. It seems the thief panicked and tried to conceal the stolen items before hastily disembarking. Although our correspondent managed to recover his possessions and is now safe, such occurrences are alarming.

Authorities in South America, as well as Spain, have issued warnings regarding the use of scopolamine in criminal activities. The Spanish police estimate that approximately one-third of sexual assault cases may involve the application of scopolamine, also known colloquially as burundanga. Additionally, 70% of scopolamine-related incidents reported in Spanish A&E involve robbery. The Spanish police comment:

“Spain, together with neighboring countries, is experiencing a rise in the number of intoxications aimed at sexually assaulting or robbing [the victim]. Governments, administrations, institutions, scientific societies and professionals are becoming aware of the need to assess the situation and propose early detection action.”

Scopolamine exits the bloodstream within two to six hours, but remains detectable in urine for longer periods (typically up to a week). Detecting scopolamine is challenging, and public awareness regarding this dangerous substance remains relatively low. It is crucial to exercise caution while traveling, such as by keeping a close eye on uncovered drinks and avoiding situations where individuals attempt to spray substances on your hands or face.