The United States has issued a Europe Travel Alert lasting until August 31, 2016, warning travellers of the large number of tourists visiting Europe this summer and associated risks. Specifically, the surge in visitors presents a greater concern for potential terrorist attacks due to the number of large events. And although the alert covers Americans, Canadians are urged to heed the same advice and follow travel advisories if they are heading to Europe this summer.
One major event the travel alert mentions is the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day, which is taking place in Krakow, Poland, from July 26 to July 31. The event is expected to draw upwards of 2.5 million visitors between the ages of 16 and 35 to the Polish city. The Polish Prime Minister’s Office has said there are no signs of increased terrorist activity in the country and reassured travellers that security will be stringent. The safety and security of participants will be provided by almost 25,000 army, security, and emergency personnel in Krakow.
What to expect if you are travelling to Poland
Bring your passport and necessary visas. If you are from a Schengen area country, you are likely aware that you don’t need your passport to travel between member states such as Poland. However, Poland is imposing border controls at all national borders and stricter security measures from July 4 until August 2. The time frame covers the Warsaw NATO Summit, scheduled for July 8–9, as well as World Youth Day. As a result of these additional measures, even citizens of Schengen area countries must present their passports at Polish borders. All visitors to the country are therefore required to carry their passport regardless of the Schengen agreement.
In addition to these temporary border controls, Poland’s facilities and infrastructure will be strained to handle the huge crowds expected at World Youth Day. It is wise to plan for longer commutes since public transportation, streets, and venues will be extremely crowded. Lines for food and water at local cafes will likely be never-ending, so prepare by packing water beforehand—Poland can be hot and humid in the summer.
Areas in and around Błonia Park in central Krakow and Campus Misericordiae (600-acre meadow called “Field of Mercy”) on the border of Krakow and Wieliczka are the two main locations for gatherings during World Youth Day. There are no health care facilities near Campus Misericordiae, but the Polish Army will be setting up a field hospital and medical tents along with appropriate medical transportation in the event of an emergency.
Maintain solid personal security practices
Previous World Youth Days have generally been peaceful and successful events. However, massive crowds and open air public events always require a few extra security precautions:
- Remain vigilant when using public transportation and secure your belongings at all times
- Be aware of your surroundings and use common sense
- Always follow the instructions of Polish authorities, particularly in the event of an emergency
- Stay in touch with friends and family and have a plan in place the event of separation or emergencies
- Keep your embassy’s contact information handy as well as Polish emergency numbers (dial 112 anywhere in Europe for emergency assistance)
- Learn a few Polish “survival” phrases—they will make you a better traveller and likely be useful in emergency situations
Don’t be intimidated
The advice and travel warnings are routine in nature because any large gathering would pose a potential threat. However, Polish authorities are reminding visitors that the travel alert did not arise from any specific intelligence on planned terrorist attacks in Poland. One bishop from the World Youth Day organizing committee reminded journalists that the young adult visitors during the gathering will demonstrate faith, joy, and happiness first and foremost and shouldn’t be intimidated by stricter security or travel alerts.
For more information on travel alerts, please click here.