Preparing for Travel in a World of Civil Unrest – Part I

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Unrest in Turkey

Joanne Thomas Yaccato was outside her hotel on Taksim Square the morning Istanbul police turned high-pressure water hoses on protesters. “I was actually tear gassed in the square (before) I hightailed it back to the hotel,” she says. Only later did a message from the Canadian consulate strike her funny bone: “Avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings,” read the note on her smartphone. “Follow the advice of local authorities.” She immediately passed the notice along to Facebook friends, whom she had been entertaining with photos and colourful commentary: “Cracked me up. Too much, too late…,” she wrote.

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Insurance Questions

Thomas Yaccato is from King City, just north of Toronto. A confident woman with strongly held views, she is the Senior International Gender Finance Advisor for The World Bank. Her exposure to various risks in Turkey raised interesting questions. How might her family’s group medical insurer respond if she had been injured, or the policy that comes with her credit card?  Would the events in Turkey have fallen under policy exclusions related to travel warnings, or to terrorism and civil unrest? Our conclusion? She might have been covered by the group medical plan, but she and others who travel widely might be safer to consider other travel insurance options and make sure coverage includes 24/7 worldwide emergency assistance.

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Relative Danger

It’s not as though Thomas Yaccato deliberately set out to join a riot. She arrived in Turkey 30 hours after leaving the steppes of Mongolia, where she had ridden on horseback for the first time in 10 years. She was exhausted and became stranded in Turkey. Only on the days before and after the police assault did she stroll among the demonstrators camped in nearby Gezi Park. Her short visit proved less dangerous than a trip seven months earlier. She had stumbled on a pothole and needed crutches to finish her assignment. An x-ray back in Canada revealed a broken bone. Thomas Yaccato had waited four weeks to find out. “Well,” her doctor commented, “we don’t have to worry about you abusing the medical system!”

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What’s a terrorist?

It was the police who responded with unexpected force to a peaceful protest over plans to build a mall as a replica of an Ottoman era military barracks in the park. But there was deeper significance to the dispute. Thomas Yaccato empathizes with those who dread the outlook for women with the governing party pressing a religious agenda. Turkey’s prime minister has urged women to stay home and raise four to five children. “That would be a mistake,” says Thomas Yaccato. “I am very close to a lot of Turkish women…The prime minister is fiercely against day-care centres. Those who entrust their children to others, he said, would end up alone in old-age homes.” During the protests he called participants “radical terrorists” and “unemployed bums.” He urged their mothers to come take them home. Instead, they formed a human chain between the protesters and police.

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So what do you think?

Did Thomas Yaccato witness terrorism, a legal demonstration, a riot, or a mere protest? Find out in the next issue of Travel Insurance File…

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