U of C travel restrictions

By Heather Thompson

Students planning travel to certain countries through university programs may have to think again. University of Calgary Associate Vice-President International Dr. Duffie VanBalkom has temporarily suspended approval of travel to countries deemed high risk by U of C’s Department of Risk Management, Safety and Security and the Canadian government.

“Given the heightened tensions as a result of the military action in Iraq, we face increased threats to security and safety world-wide,” the advisory reads. “While the Canadian Government issues travel advisories for specific countries, the uncertainty surrounding world events could cause security to deteriorate rapidly in countries previously thought safe.”

Although the travel advisories could impact students and staff who are doing university-related travel, it would not affect students travelling on their own.

“We don’t tell anyone not to go, but we do direct them to the foreign affairs [travel advisory] website,” said Susan Gieson, manager of Travel Cuts. “Not all travel advisories are issued for political reasons.”

Gieson stated that risks such as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome scare in Asia or natural disasters like volcanic eruptions could trigger travel advisories.

Students planning to go to a country deemed ‘extreme risk’ by Risk Management should not be too concerned if they aren’t planning to go abroad right away.

“There’s no point in checking too far ahead of time,” said Kathy Oakes, group travel coordinator at Travel Cuts, explaining that situations in countries can improve rapidly.

However, the opposite is also true, and Risk Management encourages persons travelling even to areas currently rated as “low” or “moderate” risk check the advisory before departing, because these countries could possibly be reassessed as “high” or even “extreme risk” at very little notice.

Oakes cautioned against being too hasty to cancel trips to regions without a Canadian government travel advisor. If there is an advisory, airlines will often refund the money or permit travellers to postpone their trip.

Students should be careful when they examine advisories, Oakes cautioned.

“Advisories are very specific, they must be for a certain country in a certain time period,” she said.

Although no action has been taken yet, students on programs through the university in potentially high-risk areas, such as term abroad programs in China should be on guard, according to Program Coordinator of International Programs and Partnerships at the International Centre Joanna Buhr.

“If the Canadian government issued a travel advisory, then undergraduate students would be prevented from going,” Buhr said. “If an advisory is issued while students are already there, Risk Management will contact the individuals, and advise them to follow the directives of the government.”

Although any undergraduate credit travel study in regions deemed extreme risk are cancelled, graduate students and faculty may still be permitted to travel to these regions under certain circumstances.