Most children in orphanages are not orphans; child trafficking

A girl writes the names of body parts on a chalkboard at an orphanage outside Gulu, Uganda, June 10, 2007. REUTERS/Edward Ou

By Emma Batha

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Millions of children around the world live in orphanages, but child rights experts say most are not orphans.

Orphanages have become a lucrative business in developing countries, attracting generous funding. This has led to the trafficking of children to fill them, according to charities Forget Me Not and Lumos.

The two charities, which will talk about orphan trafficking at the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s Trust Conference in London on Wednesday, are calling for an end to orphanages which they say cause immense harm to children.

Here are some facts:

– An estimated 8 million children live in orphanages and other institutions worldwide, but 80 percent are not orphans.

– Research shows orphanages harm children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development.

– Institutionalisation of very young children has a similar impact on early brain development to severe malnutrition or maternal drug use during pregnancy.

– Young adults raised in institutions are 10 times more likely to fall into sex work than their peers, and 500 times more likely to take their own lives.

– Placing a child in an orphanage quadruples the risk of sexual violence.


– The number of orphanages in Haiti jumped by at least 150 percent following the 2010 earthquake.

– Some 30,000 children live in 750 orphanages in Haiti, but Haiti’s government estimates 80 percent have at least one living parent.

– Only 15 percent of orphanages are registered.

– Lumos estimates that funding to all Haitian orphanages is upwards of $100 million a year.

– Its research suggests 92 percent of orphanage funders are from the United States, and 90 percent are faith-based.

– Institutional care is four times more expensive than providing health, education and social support to keep a child in its family.


– Cambodia has promised to return thousands of children in orphanages to their families.

– A survey published in 2017 found 16,579 children living in 406 orphanages with nearly 10,000 more living in other care facilities. Most had at least one living parent.

– The number of orphanages jumped by about 60 percent between 2005 and 2015, and the number of children in them by nearly 80 percent.

– The growth in orphanages comes despite a decline in the number of genuine orphans.

– Half of the orphanages are in the capital Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, both tourist destinations.


– The growth in orphanages is fuelled by tourism, including “voluntourism” where people work short stints in orphanages.

– Orphanage volunteering is a concern in at least 18 countries including Cambodia, Nepal, and Uganda.

– Countries such as the United States, Britain, and Australia are major contributors to the supply of volunteers.

– The continuous rotation of volunteers harms children psychologically, leading to attachment issues in adult life.- There is often no screening of volunteers, leaving children vulnerable to sexual abuse.

– Australia is the first country to recognize orphanage tourism as a form of slavery.

Sources: Lumos, Forget Me Not, Save the Children, UNICEF

(Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit

Exclusive: Puerto Rico open for tourists despite ‘mixed-bag’ recovery – governor

FILE PHOTO: Governor of Puerto Rico Ricardo Rossello delivers remarks during a commemorative event organized by the local government a year after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 20, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Jessica Resnick-Ault and Nick Brown

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello flew to New York this week on a mission: persuade potential tourists that the hurricane-ravaged island was ready for their return.

But Puerto Rico’s recovery from last year’s Hurricane Maria has been a “mixed bag,” Rossello told Reuters on Thursday, acknowledging that the bankrupt U.S. territory, while improving, is far from out of the woods.

Puerto Rico has received only a small fraction of the federal funding it needs to get back on its feet, Rossello said in a 75-minute interview, and getting access to the rest could take more than a decade.

His administration estimates that fixing Puerto Rico fully will require $139 billion, but the federal government has earmarked only about $60 billion to $65 billion for the recovery, he said. Of that, only about $3 billion to $4 billion has actually flowed into the island’s coffers. Obtaining the remainder could take 10 to 11 years, he said, adding that his team is lobbying the U.S. Congress for more money.

Compounding the problem is Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy in U.S. federal court, where it is trying to restructure $120 billion of debt and pension obligations. There are also ongoing spending disputes between the government and a federally appointed fiscal oversight board.

In the year since Hurricane Maria, Rossello has at times been diplomatic regarding the federal government’s response, while at other times – especially lately – adopting a more critical take. He has also been criticized for sticking with an estimated death toll of 64 early-on, when strong evidence suggested it could be higher. A government-commissioned study by researchers at George Washington University eventually pegged the toll at around 3,000.

When asked whether his administration’s messaging strategies have been tied to an effort to maintain good relations with President Donald Trump, Rossello said a “critical part” of the island’s recovery “is making sure the federal government responds to our petitions.”

“So yes, I have opted for a path that involves dialogue, that involves collaboration,” Rossello said, adding that he has not been afraid to be critical.

If Trump does not sign the island’s request to extend the federal government’s 100 percent coverage of repair costs, “I’ll be the first one to fight it,” Rossello said, “and I’ll be the first to point out that action, or lack of action, is one of the main obstacles to our recovery.”

Rossello said Puerto Rico still has as many as 60,000 homes with temporary tarp roofs. It also has hundreds of thousands of informally constructed homes with many owners lacking title to their property.

Rebuilding will require the current ranks of about 45,000 construction workers to grow to 130,000, according to Rossello, who recently signed an executive order increasing the minimum hourly construction wage to $15 despite opposition from the oversight board and the private sector.


The island’s government is still considering initiatives that could make the island’s troubled electricity grid more resilient, Rossello said. Ultimately, the island hopes to generate 40 percent of its electricity from renewables and steer away from fossil fuels. The shift would require a new regulatory policy, approval by the bondholders, and, potentially, investment from outside companies or organizations.

“We have received 10 to 12 unsolicited proposals for generation,” he said, while acknowledging the government has yet to find a private operator for the power utility’s transmission and distribution operations.

But changes at the electric agency known as PREPA, which Rossello called one of the most troubled organizations in modern history, will be gradual. The governor said he is working with a search firm to identify outside board members for the utility, after nearly the entire board quit in an uproar over appointment of a new CEO.

Limited electricity was a major problem for the island’s small business sector, according to a Federal Reserve Bank of New York report on Thursday. A survey of more than 400 businesses with fewer than 500 employees found 77 percent suffered losses as a result of hurricanes Irma and Maria.


Meanwhile, Rossello is trying not only to restore tourism, but to expand it in such a way that it incorporates hundreds of square miles of seaside and mountain communities that are largely unvisited. Puerto Rico’s tourism is small compared with other Caribbean locales and tends to be centered in San Juan.

The island’s visitor lodgings hit a 2017 high of 204,025 in July, but fell to just under 30,000 in October following the hurricanes, according to Puerto Rico Tourism Company data.

Convincing tourists to leave the capital, though, will require easier travel. “Puerto Rico should be a multi-port destination,” he said, discussing plans to beef up airport capacity in the south and west of the island.

He emphasized the possibility of capitalizing on Puerto Rico’s near-constant spate of community festivals. “We have flower festivals, orange festivals, plantain festivals, coffee festivals, music festivals.”

Rossello pointed to so-called chinchorreos as a possible draw, events in which Puerto Rican foodies move from one inexpensive eatery to the next.

“A bar crawl for food – that’s the best way to put it,” the governor said, “and the island is small, so you start in one place and you’re on a beachfront, and 15 minutes later you’re in the mountains.”

(Reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault and Nick Brown in New York, Karen Pierog in Chicago and Luis Valentin Ortiz in San Juan; Editing by Daniel Bases and Matthew Lewis)

T-shirts, tacos, and tourism: Singapore businesses cash in on Trump-Kim mania

The Rocket Man Taco and the El Trumpo Taco is pictured at Lucha Loco in Singapore June 8, 2018. REUTERS/Feline Lim

By Dewey Sim and Aradhana Aravindan

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – From summit-themed burgers and online scalpers peddling “World Peace” medallions and “Peace Out from Lion City” T-shirts, Singaporeans are cashing in on a historic meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

The buzz around the Trump-Kim summit on Tuesday has stirred Singaporeans’ entrepreneurial spirit, and raised hopes of a tourism dividend long after the summit dust settles.

A bartender presents a pair of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un cocktails called The Bromance at Hopheads Craft Beer Bar and Bistro in Singapore June 8, 2018. REUTERS/Feline Lim

A bartender presents a pair of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un cocktails called The Bromance at Hopheads Craft Beer Bar and Bistro in Singapore June 8, 2018. REUTERS/Feline Lim

One person is trying to sell his weekend reservations at the Shangri-La Hotel, mentioned in media as the possible lodging of one of the leaders – at three times the price.

“It was for a personal ‘staycation’, but I reckon that because of the summit, people might actually offer to pay a higher price,” Joel Lin, who is asking for S$1,600 for each of two rooms he has booked, said by telephone.

The Singapore Mint, which this week unveiled a commemorative medallion for the summit, later raised the mintage for the gold and silver medallions after an overwhelming response.

At more than S$1,000 ($750) a piece for the gold version, and more than S$100 for the silver one, the issue could yield upwards of S$5 million if they are all sold.

Scalpers are preparing to sell the medallions they get in an online sale.

An Australian Kim impersonator, who goes by the name Howard X, has also been cashing in but said he got an unpleasant surprise on Friday when he was detained for questioning on arrival back in the country for a second time in two weeks.

He said he was allowed on his way after being told to stay away from summit venues.

A Singapore burger chain, Wolf Burgers, urged the two leaders to #settlethebeef and invited them to try its “Burger for World Peace”, with American sharp cheddar cheese and Korea’s marinated Bulgogi shabu brisket.

Mexican restaurant Lucha Loco is selling “Rocket Man” and “El Trumpo” tacos and guests stand a chance to smash Trump-Kim piñatas.

FILE PHOTO: Special red and blue shots offered at Escobar bar to mark the summit meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, are displayed on a table in Singapore June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Special red and blue shots offered at Escobar bar to mark the summit meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, are displayed on a table in Singapore June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

Trump called Kim “little rocket man” last year, when the two were exchanging threats of nuclear war and the prospect of a summit was nothing but a distant dream for even the most optimistic marketing man.

More than 3,000 journalists are due in town, along with delegations and security entourages.

Those who enjoy a tipple might seek out a bar offering cocktails featuring the Korean spirit soju. One bar has named its special summit drink – which mixes beer, tequila, diet Coke and soju – the Bromance.

Singapore, which welcomed a record 17.4 million international visitors last year, is likely to see a bump, albeit small, in retail spending because of the summit.

Every tourist to Singapore spends an average three-and-a-half days and contributes about S$1,500 to overall tourism receipts, said brokerage CGS-CIMB.

Assuming a seven-day stay and about 4,000 people coming for the event, a CGS-CIMB analyst estimated they could spend about S$12 million ($9 million).

That’s a drop in the bucket in the short-term – the Singapore Tourism Board has forecast tourism receipts of between S$27.1 billion ($20.3 billion) and S$27.6 billion this year.

But a glitch-free summit will increase the chances of more big-ticket events.

“As with all high-profile visits, it places Singapore on the map for international audiences and showcases Singapore as an ideal destination, especially for business and meetings,” said Oliver Chong, executive director of communications and marketing capability at the tourism board.

($1 = 1.3330 Singapore dollars)

(Reporting by Dewey Sim and Aradhana Aravindan; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Eleven injured in car crash near London museum, terrorism ruled out

Police officers stand in the road near the Natural History Museum, after a car mounted the pavement injuring a number of pedestrians, police said, in London, Britain October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) – Eleven people were injured on Saturday when a car collided with pedestrians near London’s Natural History Museum, in one of the capital’s busiest tourist areas, but police doused fears it was a terrorist attack, saying it was a road traffic incident.

Police said it was believed the car had mounted the pavement outside the popular attraction in west London and collided with a number of pedestrians. Officers had arrested a man at the scene and he was now being questioned.

Britain has suffered five attacks blamed on terrorism so far this year, three of which involved vehicles, and the incident in an area packed with tourists at the weekend had prompted concerns that the collision had been a deliberate act.

“The incident is a road traffic investigation and not a terrorist-related incident,” a police statement said.

London’s ambulance service said they had treated 11 people, mostly for head and leg injuries, with nine taken to hospital. Police said none of the injuries were life-threatening or life-changing.

Unverified footage from the scene showed a man being pinned to the ground by what appeared to be four security guards or police officers.

The Natural History Museum is located on Exhibition Road in South Kensington, one of the British capital’s most upmarket districts and home to a host of other museums, restaurants as well as university buildings.

It is the fourth most popular tourist attraction in the United Kingdom, with 4.6 million visits during 2016, according to the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions.

The collision brought the area to a standstill as police cordoned off a wide area whilst they carried out their investigation.

“My thanks to the first responders at this incident this afternoon and the actions of members of the public. My thoughts are with the injured,” Prime Minister Theresa May said on Twitter.

Britain is on its second highest security alert level, meaning an attack by militants is considered highly likely.

In March, a man drove a car into pedestrians on London’s Westminster Bridge killing four before stabbing a police officer to death in the grounds of parliament.

Three Islamist militants drove into people on London Bridge in June before stabbing people at nearby restaurants and bars, killing eight. The same month, a van was driven into worshippers near a mosque in north London which left one man dead.

(Editing by Alison Williams and Peter Graff)

Old San Juan shows its resilience after Puerto Rico hurricane

Jesus Santos sings operatic love songs while repairing plaster to a Hurricane Maria damaged facade at Cathedral of San Juan Bautista in San Juan, Puerto Rico on October 4, 2017. Picture taken on October 4, 2017. REUTERS/Hugh Bronstein

By Hugh Bronstein and Gabriel Stargardter

SAN JUAN (Reuters) – High atop the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista, Jesus Santos applied plaster to the building’s damaged facade, all the while belting out operatic love songs that echoed through Old San Juan’s eerily empty streets.

The city’s colonial heart is usually noisy and bustling with life but on Wednesday Santos’ booming voice was the dominant sound. Since Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, cutting off power and communications to much of the island, tourism has come to a near halt, and Old San Juan’s restaurants, bars and clubs have been hit hard.

The old city’s historic luxury hotel, El Convento, remains full, its staff said, thanks to dozens of U.S. federal employees sent in after the storm. But it is unclear how long they will stay and who will replace them once they leave.

Yadiel Martinez, 24, a supervisor at the hotel, said local tourism was just starting to recover from a difficult 2016 when the Zika virus outbreak led to thousands of cancellations.

Now, with Maria striking just before the high season begins in October, the tourism industry is taking another hit. Like many other hotels in the city, El Convento still does not have consistent water and electricity, Martinez said, and bookings are being canceled.

Compounding a bad situation, the bankrupt island is still struggling to get past a decade-long recession and a $72 billion debt crisis. It needs all the tourist revenue it can get.

“This is going to hit us very hard,” Martinez said, noting that El Convento would likely be affected for months but was not in as dire straits as many tourist-dependent businesses.

“Lots of hotels are going to close,” he predicted.

In Nono’s, a popular bar in Old San Juan, some Puerto Ricans were doing their bit to reactivate the local economy.


Nursing a Bud Light with a Fireball-and-horchata chaser, 37-year-old Brenda Ansa said she was on “forced vacation” from work in the wake of the hurricane.

With her dentist husband attending to an emergency, she said, she decided to come see how the old town had fared over a pre-lunch drink. She was surprised at the absence of people.

“This is like a ghost town,” she said.

Still, in some ways, Old San Juan is one of the city’s bright spots.

While the area sustained damage to roofs, windows and vegetation, most of the sturdy buildings in the historic neighborhood, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, came through the storm without major damage.

The old town’s fortified walls were built by the Spanish after the city was founded in 1508 by Ponce de Leon, and the cathedral where Santos, the singing plasterer, was working has survived 496 hurricane seasons.

Santos, 47, said his fellow workers in the old city appreciate his songs in the aftermath of the storm, especially one of the Cathedral’s priests.

“When I stop, he comes out and complains,” Santos said with a grin, before launching into another full-throated ballad.

Carlos Hernandez, 62, a refuse collector, was optimistic about the long-term future of the old city, even as he swept up debris from the storm.

“Tourism has gone to zero. Those who are here are residents and it’s up to us to do the cleanup,” he said with a wide, toothless smile.

But “I am a Boricua,” he said, employing a phrase islanders use to describe themselves. “And to keep a Boricua down, you have to hit him hard – and I mean hard!”

(Reporting by Hugh Bronstein and Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Sue Horton and Bill Trott)

Abandoned by tourists, Bali town counts cost of Indonesia volcano

Jemeluk beach is seen some 15 km away from Mount Agung, a volcano on the highest alert level, in Amed on the resort island of Bali, Indonesia October 2, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

By Nyimas Laula and Darren Whiteside

AMED, Indonesia (Reuters) – A Balinese town once bustling with holidaymakers has almost emptied of tourists after warnings that nearby Mount Agung volcano could erupt at any time – a snapshot of the growing cost the rumbling volcano poses to Indonesia’s economy.

Business has slumped at many hotels, dive resorts and restaurants in towns around the volcano since authorities issue the highest alert level for Mount Agung last month.

An owner of a dive center in Amed, around 15 km (9 miles) from the volcano and just outside the official “danger zone”, said many of her guests had canceled.

“If (the situation) lasts for nine months or more… then we have no choice but to close down because we will have no money left to operate and pay the staff,” said Helene Rabate, a Spaniard who runs the center.

Cafes and restaurants were largely empty and few visitors were seen at the usually crowded dive centers of this seaside town.

The last time Agung erupted was in 1963, when more than 1,000 people were killed. Since then, tourism has transformed towns like Amed from sleepy fishing and agricultural villages.

Restaurant owner Wayan Widarti has seen a dramatic drop in customers.

“It could be worse than when the Bali bombing happened because there’s uncertainty on when (the eruption) is going to happen and how long we wait,” she said, referring to the 2002 nightclub bombing that killed 202 people and prompted a slump in visitors to the holiday island.

Bali, famous for its surf, beaches and temples, attracted nearly 5 million visitors last year – more than half the total number of foreign tourists to Indonesia.

Tourism, a cornerstone of Bali’s economy, is Indonesia’s fourth-biggest earner of foreign currency after natural resources like coal and palm oil.

Indonesian policy makers have been seeking to boost an economy whose growth rate has been stuck at around 5 percent for the last few years, so any protracted damage to tourism will be particularly unwelcome.

Indonesian officials have said Bali remains safe for tourism, but there have been cancellations even in areas further away from the volcano amid concerns that ash clouds could disrupt air connections.

Some tourists are still in the area at a safe distance from the volcano.

“We plan to… just follow security instructions… and take a fast boat to escape if there is an eruption,” said Arlin Shiu, a woman from Hong Kong who was traveling with a friend.

Disaster management authorities have imposed an exclusion zone of up to 12 km, prompting more than 140,000 residents to flee to neighboring villages.

“For people who live in safe zones, there is no reason to evacuate,” Bali governor I Made Mangku Pastika said, adding that makeshift evacuation centers were straining under the weight of thousands of extra evacuees.


(Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Ed Davies)


Menacing Bali volcano throws tourists’ plans into jeopardy

Menacing Bali volcano throws tourists' plans into jeopardy

By Nyimas Laula

KARANGASEM, Indonesia (Reuters) – Some tourists are having second thoughts about visiting the tropical Indonesian resort island of Bali after repeated warnings that its highest volcano could erupt at any time, half a century after it killed more than 1,000 people.

Strong volcanic tremors rumbling underground and billowing white smoke over the scenic Mount Agung have raised alarm, prompting the evacuation of more than 75,000 people within 12 km (7.5 miles).

Sitting on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, Indonesia has nearly 130 active volcanoes, more than any other country. Many Indonesians live near volcanoes because lava flows make the surrounding soil and land fertile for farming.

Several countries, including Australia, Singapore, and the United States, have issued travel advisories alerting holidaymakers to the new risk. And a hotel operator in Bali said news of the volcano had caused cancellations.

“Business is getting low since Mount Agung’s alert status was raised to the highest level,” said Ketut Purnawata, manager of Dasawana Resort, which is in the same district as the volcano, popular with tourists and hikers.

Nearly five million people visited Bali last year – most of them from Australia, China and Japan.

Airlines in Australia and Singapore said they were preparing for any disruptions due to an eruption, but flights were running normally for now.

Virgin Australia and Jetstar, both of which fly to Bali from Australia, said they would carry extra fuel in case they needed to change course.

Jetstar and Singapore-based budget carrier Scoot said they had been contacted by a small number of customers looking to change their travel dates. “Less than 100 customers chose to rebook to a later date,” a Scoot spokeswoman said.

Singapore Airlines and its short-haul arm SilkAir said customers traveling to Bali until Oct. 2 could rebook or request a refund, while AirAsia said flights were operating normally.

One Indonesian travel agency said it had seen some cancellations.

“There will definitely be an impact on (sales of) tour packages but we don’t know the figures yet,” said Agustinus Pake Seko of PT Bayu Buana travel agency.

President Joko Widodo visited shelters near Mount Agung on Tuesday and urged residents to follow evacuation procedures after reports that some people were reluctant to leave their homes because nothing had happened.

“While the government will continue to try to minimize the economic losses of the community, the most important priority is the safety of the people here,” Widodo told reporters.

“So I ask all people around Mount Agung to follow instructions from the officials and minimize the impact of this volcano.”

Life was going along largely as normal on the island famous for its beaches, temples and gentle Hindu culture.

One Spanish tourist, Jordi Portalo, 23, said he wasn’t troubled.

“I think it could happen but…maybe we’d have to stay here a couple more days, so nothing to worry about,” he said sitting at a cafe next to the trademark white surfing beach of Nusa Dua.

The last time Mount Agung erupted was in 1963, before tourism took off, when streams of lava traveled as far as 7 km along its slopes, killing more than 1,000 villagers.

More recent ash clouds from volcanic eruptions have also disrupted tourism in Bali and other parts of Indonesia.

Hundreds of domestic and international flights were disrupted in 2016 when a volcano erupted on Bali’s neighboring Lombok island, sending columns of ash and debris into the air.

(Additional reporting by Jamie Freed in SINGAPORE, Cindy Silviana and Fransiska Nangoy in JAKARTA and Ed Davies in NUSA DUA; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Israeli ‘counter-terrorism boot camp’ a tourist attraction in occupied West Bank

A group of tourists take part in a two hour "boot camp" experience, at "Caliber 3 Israeli Counter Terror and Security Academy" in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Nir Elias

By Ori Lewis

GUSH ETZION SETTLEMENT, West Bank (Reuters) – Taking in the scene of a simulated fruit market in an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank, a group of tourists ponders whether a poster-size figure of an Arab man holding a cellphone is a threat and should be shot.

The aim of the mock scenario is to teach rapt foreign visitors how to deal with an attack on a market. It is part of a counter-terrorism “boot camp” organized by Caliber 3, a company set up by a colonel in the Israeli army reserves.

Entrance to the gated compound in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc – built on land the Palestinians want for their own state – costs $115 for adults and $85 for children.

Admission includes watching former Israeli commandos take down an “attacker” and other means to thwart assaults, including the use of an attack dog. Adults can shoot live rounds at a firing range.

While most of those signing up are American visitors, there have also been tourists from China, Japan, India and South America, keen to experience Israeli-style security training in an attraction condemned by the Palestinian mayor of the nearby town and an anti-settlement group.

The facility opened in 2003, running courses for security guards during a Palestinian uprising that included suicide bombings and shooting attacks and which was met by Israeli military operations across the West Bank. After the intifada subsided, tourist visits began in 2009.

The man in charge, Colonel Sharon Gat, said staff stressed the importance of vigilance and caution. The Arab man depicted on his cellphone was deemed innocent by the instructors, so the target did not end up being shot.

A tourist takes part in a two hour "boot camp" experience, at "Caliber 3 Israeli Counter Terror and Security Academy" in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Nir Elias

A tourist takes part in a two hour “boot camp” experience, at “Caliber 3 Israeli Counter Terror and Security Academy” in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Nir Elias


“In two hours you can’t become a professional, but we give visitors some awareness of what it means to secure yourself, your community and your family,” said Gat.

“Many (visitors) have heard from their friends (about us), that this was the highlight of their trip to Israel and that is why they come. They know it’s an attraction they can’t see anywhere else,” he said.

Yasser Sobih, mayor of the nearby Palestinian town of al-Khader, condemned the Israeli venture.

“The participation of tourists in training in these camps built on occupied Palestinian land means that they support the occupation and we ask them to stop it,” he told Reuters.

One of the visitors, Rabbi Moshe Bryski of Agoura Hills in California, said that if he was ever caught in an attack, he would run and hide since he does not carry a weapon.

But he said the training had given him “an understanding and an appreciation of what those in the security industry face”.

Yotam Yaakoba, of the anti-settlement group Peace Now, criticized the venture as a “cynical and unseemly way of making money from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.

Many Israelis have served in the military, and it is not unusual for off-duty soldiers and police and some civilians to carry weapons in public, but gun control laws are strict.

Over the past two years, during a surge in Palestinian street attacks, Israeli passersby have in a few cases shot and wounded or killed assailants or suspected attackers.

Rights groups have accused Israel of using excessive force in some incidents. Israel says its forces act lawfully to counter lethal threats.

Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Along with most of the world, they consider settlements illegal and an obstacle to peace. Israel disagrees, citing biblical, historical and political connections to the land – many of which the Palestinians also claim – as well as security interests.

(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Alison Williams)

French tourism companies want special police force amid safety fears

French Army soldiers secure the area of the Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica in Marseille, France,

PARIS (Reuters) – France’s tourism sector on Tuesday urged French authorities to set up a special police force in Paris to fight crime targeting tourists as safety fears curb the number of visitors to the French capital.

Foreign tourist arrivals to France could fall 4-5 percent this year following Islamic militant attacks and repeated robberies against Asian tourists, warned Alliance 46.2, a group representing firms that rely on foreign visitors.

Its members include department store chain Galeries Lafayette and holiday group Club Med and AccorHotels.

“The image of France has deeply deteriorated and it’s likely that 2017 will still feel the impact. The recovery may therefore be long,” it said.

Armed French police stand guard during the18th edition of the Techno Parade music event in Paris

An armed French policeman maintains a security presence during the18th edition of the Techno Parade music event in Paris, France, September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes


An armed robbery against reality TV star Kim Kardashian on Monday only exacerbates the situation.

The decline in visitor figures, if confirmed, would be the steepest in 40 years and put up to 30,000 jobs at risk in the struggling French tourism sector, the statement said.

Foreign tourists have avoided France since Islamic State gunmen killed 130 people in an attack in Paris last November. In July, a gunman drove a truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day on July 14 in the Riviera city of Nice, killing 86.

Repeated robberies against foreign tourists, notably Asian tourists, have also added to safety worries, Alliance 46.2 said.

The tourism sector represents 7-8 percent of France’s gross domestic product and employs about 2 million people.

The French government last month pledged more aid to the sector, bringing to 10 million euros its contribution to a campaign to promote the country abroad.

France is the most-visited country in the world, with almost 85 million foreign tourists last year. France is still targeting 100 million foreign tourists by 2020.

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

Security fears overshadow world’s biggest travel fair

BERLIN (Reuters) – Security fears are on everybody’s lips at the ITB travel trade fair in Berlin this year as a battered tourist industry seeks to reassure travelers and tour operators that they need not shy away from booking summer holidays for this year.

Attacks in tourist hotspots like a Tunisian beach resort and the city of Paris over the past year have rattled travelers’ confidence, sending bookings for Tunisia, Turkey and Egypt plummeting and heralding a slowdown in demand for international travel.

“People have money to spend, but there’s a strong negative impact from the geopolitical situation. People fear attacks,” Roy Scheerder, commercial director at low cost Dutch airline Transavia, told Reuters at ITB.

Airlines, tour operators, hoteliers and travel search companies at the fair said they had seen more caution than usual in bookings at the start of the year, often a popular time for people to book trips.

A survey by consultancy IPK International projected that growth in the number of international trips taken would slow to 3 percent this year, down from 4.6 percent in 2015.

Rolf Freitag, founder of IPK, said security fears had knocked off about 1.5 percentage points from the expected growth this year. Of 50,000 people in 42 countries surveyed at the start of February, 15 percent said they would either not travel or holiday in their home country this year.

Hotel groups like Marriott International and Best Western expressed concern over tourist bookings for Paris after November’s attacks on the French capital, which may have a knock-on effect on other destinations.

“It has a ripple effect. If you think about someone traveling from the United States to Paris, Paris was not the only city they would visit, they would also go to other parts of France or Europe, and that has been curtailed,” Best Western CEO David Kong told Reuters.

The beneficiaries are destinations perceived to carry a smaller risk of becoming the target of attacks.

“The really hot markets are anywhere that’s safe. Spain is on fire for this summer. Italy is very strong,” Darren Huston, chief executive of Priceline Group and its subsidiary, told Reuters.

Spanish low-cost carrier Vueling, for instance, has added more capacity to Spanish destinations from Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland to keep up with demand, though it highlighted that hotel space was running out.

Destinations in North America and the Caribbean are seeing increased demand, while search firm Kayak said Germans were more interested in hotels in their own country this year.

Some in the industry are clinging to hope that tourists will still travel this summer but are holding off on firm bookings longer than usual due to the uncertain security outlook.

“Past experience has shown us that a country that is serious about tourism and has built an infrastructure always bounces back,” Taleb Rifai, the head of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), told Reuters in an interview.

“Look at Egypt. It has been up and down for the last 10 years. Every time it comes back stronger than before,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Peter Maushagen and Tina Bellon; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)