Safety concerns force YIRA trip cancellation

After the University raised safety concerns, the Yale International Relations Association has cancelled its plans for a student group trip to Pakistan over winter break.

About 20 students had applied to go on the trip, which was meant to take place this winter and focus on women’s rights on Pakistan. But two weeks ago — several weeks after the planning for the trip began, according to YIRA board members — applicants were notified by email that the trip was cancelled. YIRA board members declined to comment on the specific details around the trip’s cancellation, but acknowledged that the trip had initially been planned without checking with the University.

“After discussion with the Yale administration, YIRA agreed that this was not the best time to run a trip to Pakistan,” said Ben Della Rocca ’16, YIRA’s vice president, in an email to the News.

Marjorie Lemmon, the manager of Yale’s Office of Risk Management, said in an email to the News that she advised YIRA to first speak with administrators about its trip plans because FrontierMEDEX — the travel assistance program that covers Yale students when they go abroad — currently ranks Pakistan amongst the most high-risk countries in the world for travelers. Lemmon said she referred the group to speak with Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry and Dean of International and Professional Experience Jane Edwards, who could not be reached for comment over the weekend.

The Yale undergraduate travel policy, which is posted on the website of the Center for International and Professional Experience, states that Yale “will not fund, award credit for, or otherwise sponsor or support any international undergraduate academic or extracurricular project” in countries determined to be unsafe by the U.S. State Department or FrontierMEDEX. The policy also states that no exceptions will be made.

The Pakistan trip is not the first that YIRA has tried to organize to a volatile country. In 2012, six students visited Egypt during a tumultuous period between the country’s revolution and new political elections. Because the U.S. State Department had issued a temporary travel alert and not a long-term warning for the country, Yale administrators still approved the trip and requested travelers to take precautions, such as staying away from protests, said Marc DeWitt ’15, one of the trip organizers.

“Basically [Yale] said, ‘We’ve got a concern,’ but it was a very helpful concern,” DeWitt said, adding that though administrators voiced unease about the safety risks of going into Egypt at the time, they did not actively prohibit the trip.

According to Della Rocca, YIRA and the Yale administration “have not always had full communication” — though he added that the cancellation of the Pakistan trip marks a broader effort to increase conversation between YIRA and University administrators.

Since August 2013, the State Department has urged American travelers to avoid visiting Pakistan, due to the threats posed by terrorists and criminal groups. Just last week, the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad announced that its employees are prohibited from visiting a new shopping complex in the city because of unspecified “security concerns.”

The Pakistan trip had included a visit to Islamabad and interviews with government officials, said Christine Houle ’15, a YIRA member who applied for the trip. The group also planned to visit a Model UN conference in Lahore, she said.

“I didn’t think [the trip leaders] would take me anywhere where I could be potentially killed,” Houle said. “I honestly don’t know why Yale made this decision.”

Both trip leaders — Meiryum Ali ’16 and Hannia Zia ’16 — declined to comment.

According to YIRA member Suyash Bhagwat ’15, a student trip planned for India over winter break is still going ahead as planned.

“India and Pakistan are totally different security risks,” Bhagwat said. “It’s as simple as that.”

In the 2012-’13 academic year, YIRA funded group trips to China, Ghana, Greece, Costa Rica, Georgia and Japan.

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