Civil unrest is conflict between different groups of people living in the same country. It can be peaceful or violent. It can range in scale from a few people at a small local rally, to a large demonstration with thousands of people.
Explore this information for general advice and information about:
- types of unrest
- causes of unrest
- avoiding demonstrations and unrest
- unrest and the law
- staying safe during unrest
This page is for Australians preparing to travel overseas. If you're currently overseas and you fear for your safety, you may need to act quickly to stay safe. See our advice on what to do if there's a demonstration nearby.
Types of demonstrations and unrest
- Marching, where groups of people walk together through the streets. Their destination may be a rally or picket.
- Rallies, where people gather at a location to hear speakers.
- Pickets and sit-ins, where people surround, occupy or block off an area.
- Riots, where protesters turn violent against people or property.
Causes of unrest
People may demonstrate, rally or protest for many reasons.
- Labour disputes. Protesters may call on businesses or politicians to improve wages or conditions.
- Social or political protests. Common topics around the world are taxes, war, human rights, equality and the environment.
- Political rallies. People may gather or march to support a political party or ideal. This can include groups that support ideals at the extreme end of the political spectrum.
Avoiding demonstrations and unrest
Avoid all protests, demonstrations and rallies. Even peaceful events can turn violent without warning.
- Read the travel advisory for your destination. See our advice in the ‘Safety’ section.
- Find out if some areas or regions are more prone to unrest. If possible, avoid those areas.
- Keep an eye on current events in your destination. Monitor local and international media for information about possible safety or security risks.
- Check if there’s an upcoming election in your destination. During election periods, unrest and violent protests can happen.
- Find out if there is increased tension around controversial social or political topics. This can lead to unrest.
- Know the history in your destination. Unrest often occurs around anniversaries of major events, especially politically or socially divisive dates of remembrance.
Be aware that events in one country can spark unrest in another. Demonstrations in the region may also disrupt your travel plans.
Demonstrations, unrest and the law
The right to protest peacefully is a defining feature of democracy, in Australia and around the world. However, many countries don’t recognise this right. If you participate in a protest overseas, you could be arrested or jailed.
If you intend to participate in a protest overseas, learn the local law first. Always find out if the event you’re attending is within the law.
- In some countries, it’s illegal to protest or demonstrate. Freedom of speech and association may be a human right, but many countries have laws that limit or deny it. Find out the laws in your destination, before you go.
- There may be a legal process to get approval (or a permit) first. Find out if the authorities have approved the event before you attend.
- Some countries ban protests in specific places. This is often around government facilities such as military bases. They may have protestor exclusion zones around private businesses such as medical practices or mining sites.
Be aware that just being in the wrong place at the wrong time could lead to trouble. Authorities may consider you a protester just for being nearby, watching or taking photos. Even if you didn’t participate.
The Australian Government is limited in how and when it can help if you're arrested or jailed overseas. Understand our limits. Read the Consular Services Charter.
If a demonstration or civil unrest breaks out
A demonstration or riot can break out anywhere, anytime. Before you go, know what you need to do to secure your safety in case things go wrong.
- Don't get involved in it. Even if you support or agree with the demonstrators. You could be injured, arrested or jailed. Even peaceful protests can quickly turn violent.
- Resist the urge to take photos or videos. Local authorities could see this as provocative or participation. They may see it as an attempt to defame or embarrass their country.
- Vacate the area as soon as it is safe to do so.
- Be prepared to change your travel plans.
If civil unrest affects transport services, contact your airline, travel agent or insurer for help.
See our general advice on what to do when there's a demonstration nearby.
- Understand how and when we can help. Read the Consular Services Charter.
- Learn what to do if you're overseas and need help. See information about crises and emergencies overseas.
- If you're already overseas and need help, see our general advice on what to do when there's a demonstration nearby.
- Read the 'safety' and 'laws' sections of the travel advisory for each of your destinations. Understand what each advice level means.
- Find an Australian embassy or consulate overseas (DFAT).
- Learn more about the right to freedom of assembly and association (Attorney-General’s Department).
- Read the latest news about demonstrations and protests around the world (United Nations).