There's a demonstration or civil unrest
Demonstrations and civil unrest are common around the world. They can be peaceful or violent. This page provides practical advice on what to do if there's unrest nearby, and where to get help.
- Types of demonstrations and unrest
- What to do when there's unrest nearby
- Where to get help
- Consular emergency assistance
This page is for Australians already travelling overseas. If you're planning your trip, see our information about demonstrations and civil unrest before you go.
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.
What to do when there's civil unrest
- Stay safe and avoid danger
- Stay within the law
- Get medical care
- Contact your loved ones
- Follow instructions from local authorities
- Contact us if you need urgent help
- Stay up to date
- Decide if you'll stay or leave
1. Stay safe and avoid danger
Your safety is your first priority.
Even peaceful protests and rallies can turn violent at short notice.
- If you're safe where you are, stay put. Many demonstrations are short lived. You may be able to wait it out until the demonstrators leave.
- If it's not safe where you are, get to safety. If possible, get back to your accommodation. Or, get to a police station or other safe place away from the demonstrators.
- Avoid the immediate area around the unrest.
- If it's a march, find out the demonstrators' route and destination. Avoid it.
- Resist the urge to go and watch it as a tourist. Demonstrations are unpredictable. You could get swept up in it. Or police may accuse you of being involved.
2. Stay within the law
In some countries, all protests and demonstrations are illegal. In some, the event is legal only if the organisers have a permit, and abide by certain conditions.
It's your responsibility to know and stay within the law.
If you break the law, local authorities could arrest or jail you. They may detain you if they think you're involved, even if you weren't.
- Don't take part in an illegal demonstration. Even if you agree with the cause. Local authorities could arrest or jail you.
- Don't set out to watch an illegal event as a tourist. Don't take photos. Local authorities may think you're a demonstrator.
- Stay out of the area of an illegal event. You could be on camera. Authorities may take photos and videos of demonstrations. They may use these to identify and arrest participants afterwards.
Learn what to do when arrested or jailed overseas.
3. Get medical care
If you've been injured in a demonstration, get medical care.
Be aware that you may have trouble getting medical care during major demonstrations and unrest. Emergency rooms may be packed with injured participants and bystanders.
Being Australian doesn't grant you priority over other people waiting to be seen. The Australian Government won't help you jump the queue.
See our information about getting medical assistance overseas.
4. Contact your loved ones
Tell family and friends where, and how, you are. If they've heard about the civil unrest from the news, they'll fear for your safety.
Contact them as soon as possible.
Don't wait. You may not have the opportunity later. Especially if violent demonstrators damage communication infrastructure. Or, if local authorities disable infrastructure, or block the internet, to control the flow of information.
5. Follow instructions from local authorities
Do what you're told by the local first responders. This includes police and paramedics. They're the authority in your location.
Some countries that experience regular civil unrest have specialised riot police. They may be armed and carrying anti-riot gear. This includes:
- riot shields
- body armour
- police batons
- tear gas
- vehicle mounted water cannons
- guns with regular or rubber bullets
They may issue instructions to the crowd through a loudspeaker, the media and / or social media.
If you don't follow their instructions, riot police may use anti-riot gear to control you and the crowd.
6. Contact us if you need urgent help
If you need urgent help in a crisis overseas, you can contact us through the crisis contact form on Smartraveller or by calling the Consular Emergency Centre.
You can also contact us if you have serious concerns for the safety or whereabouts of family or friends who might have been affected by a crisis overseas.
Learn more about crisis response.
7. Stay up to date
Follow the news and social media for developments as they unfold. Subscribe to updates to the travel advisory for your destination. Subscribing gives you travel advice updates straight to your inbox. You can also opt in to receive SMS ‘critical alerts’ for crises overseas.
We strongly encourage you to subscribe so you’re well-informed for your trip overseas.
During major unrest, you may find it hard to stay up to date.
In some destinations, authorities block all communications. This includes blocking the internet and switching off mobile phone towers. In others, they may just block specific websites and social media channels.
Get as much information as you can, as soon as you can, while you can. Especially in a destination with a history of blocking all communications during unrest.
8. Decide if you'll stay or leave
Ultimately, it is up to you to decide whether to remain in your current location.
- If the unrest is minor, you may be comfortable to continue your trip in your destination.
- If there's major unrest, or it looks like the situation may persist, you may wish to leave.
The Australian Government can't make decisions for you when there's unrest.
Getting ground transport away from your location
If the local unrest continues on the streets, it may be difficult to travel by road to get out.
Riot police may cordon off roads. Authorities may halt all public transport, and taxi drivers may choose to avoid the area.
If you have a hire car, the unrest may void your insurance policy. Civil unrest is a common exclusion. Any damage to it, you'll have to pay out of pocket.
Before you venture out to find transport:
- make sure it is safe to leave your accommodation
- find out what your options are, for example if roads are closed, the trains may still run
- try to organise your transport in advance, otherwise, you may end up stuck in a transport hub with everyone else trying to get out
Getting flights out of the country
Be aware that during major unrest, it may be difficult to get flights out.
- Airlines often cancel flights in and out of destinations affected by civil unrest. Especially if there's increased activity at or near the airport.
- Even if airlines haven't cancelled flights, tickets may be in short supply and in high demand. If you can get a ticket, it may be much more expensive than usual.
Contact your travel insurer. Most have 24 hour emergency numbers you can call from overseas. If your situation is covered by your policy, they may help you coordinate a flight out.
Also see general advice about travelling by air.
Where to get help when there's unrest
- Local police. Call the police, or visit a police station. We publish local emergency contacts in the travel advisory for each destination.
- Local hospitals. If injured, seek medical assistance. Go to the nearest hospital. If possible, choose a hospital away from the unrest.
- Your tour guide or hotel manager. They may have local knowledge about what's going on, and advice on what you can do to stay safe.
- Your travel companions. Stick together. Look after each other. Share information that will help others stay safe during the unrest.
- Your family and friends back home. They may be able to help book your flights out. If you've got financial problems, ask your family and friends for money.
- Your airline. If you need to get an earlier flight out, ask your airline if they'll change your flight. You may have to pay to change it. They may have a policy on flight changes when there's a crisis.
- Your travel agent. Ask if they can change your arrangements to stay clear of the unrest. Especially if it's likely there'll be unrest in the next stop on your trip.
- Your travel insurer. Some travel insurance policies cover cancellations and changed plans if there's a crisis. However, many specifically exclude demonstrations and civil unrest.
How the Australian Government may help
If you need emergency consular assistance, contact the nearest Australian embassy or consulate (DFAT). Or, contact the 24-hr consular emergency centre:
- by phone on +61 2 6261 3305, or
- by SMS on +61 421 269 080
- or on-line if we have activated our crisis page on Smartraveller
- We can update the travel advice in your destination to reflect the current situation.
- We can give you a list of local hospitals with doctors who speak English, if you need medical assistance.
- We can help you contact your relatives or friends, with your consent.
- We can provide emergency consular assistance. Understand how and when. Read the Consular Services Charter.
- We can initiate a crisis response to the unrest when we know Australians are, or could be, affected.
- We can switch on the crisis contact form, if we've initiated a crisis response.
- We can't guarantee your safety and security in another country, or provide you with personal security services.
- We can't make decisions for you, or make you leave a country.
- We can't give or loan you money.
- We can't make your travel arrangements, or pay for your emergency flights out.
- We can't give you legal or medical advice.
- Understand how and when we may help. Read the Consular Services Charter.
- What to do if you're overseas and need help. See information about crisis and emergencies overseas.
- 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).
Crises that affect a large number of Australians overseas usually require a response beyond our normal consular services.
Terrorism remains a threat to Australians living and travelling overseas. Before you travel overseas, it's important to understand the risk of terrorism worldwide.