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People stand outside the Culiacan International Airport which was reopened after being closed because of the violence caused by the detention of Mexican drug gang leader Ovidio Guzman, the son of jailed kingpin El Chapo, in Culiacan, Mexico, Jan. 6, 2023.STRINGER/Reuters

Canadian tourists stranded in Mexico’s Sinaloa state after violence erupted earlier this week were preparing to return home on Saturday, as some airports reopened and international flights resumed.

The Thursday arrest of Ovidio Guzmán, a member of the Sinaloa Cartel and the son of jailed kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, had sparked a deadly response from the crime syndicate – forcing local authorities to shutter airports, schools and office buildings. It also prompted Global Affairs Canada to issue a shelter-in-place advisory for Canadians in that part of Mexico.

Ottawa continues to recommend avoiding non-essential travel across the Sinaloa state, except within the city of Mazatlan.

If you find yourself in a foreign country experiencing a large-scale emergency, such as a natural disaster or civil unrest, here’s what you need to know.

Before leaving Canada

Global Affairs Canada, or GAC, says there’s a checklist of things to do before setting foot on an airplane, train or bus.

A little early research can go a long way. It is recommended that you learn about the country you’ll be visiting, including visa requirements, local laws, customs, and medical care. Have a valid Canadian passport for each family member and carry a consent letter if you are travelling alone with a child or children under 18.

GAC also recommends checking travel advice and advisories for selected destinations page twice, “before travelling and again just before you leave to get the latest updates.” Purchasing travel insurance ahead of time can also help Canadians avoid large travel expenses they may not have budgeted for, such as emergency hospitalization or medical evaluations.

The federal government also says it’s important to register with GAC before leaving the country. This helps them keep track of how many Canadians are located in a designated crisis zone and allows them to contact you in the event of an emergency, such as an earthquake or civil unrest. You can also plan ahead by noting down the Canadian embassy or consulate closest to your destination, in case something goes wrong.

To help stay informed, travellers can download the Travel Smart app, subscribe to travel updates and follow GAC’s social-media channels, including Facebook and Twitter.

Who to talk to

If you need emergency assistance for a crisis while travelling outside of Canada, GAC has a 24/7 Emergency Watch and Response Centre that includes contact numbers, e-mail addresses and a virtual assistant to which you can reach out.

Canadian government officials abroad can do more than take complaints. They can transfer emergency funds if urgent financial assistance is required and all other options have been exhausted; replace lost or stolen passports; provide a list of local doctors and hospitals; contact family or friends (with your consent) if you have had an accident or are held by police; and offer advice and guidance if a person goes missing or if a child is abducted while travelling outside of Canada.

Representatives can offer guidance if a traveller has been physically or sexually assaulted, and help you get in contact with the proper authorities. If you are the next of kin or a representative of a Canadian who died outside of the country, they can help you repatriate their remains. They can also request “timely and transparent investigations into suspicious circumstances in the event of an alleged or apparent crime or death.” For a full list of consular services provided by the Government of Canada, click here.

The dos and don’ts in any escalating situation may differ, depending on the type of crisis a country is facing. But if you find yourself in such a circumstance, one of the most important things you can do is try to remain calm so you can properly assess your situation, said Dr. Nipa Banerjee, a senior fellow and adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa School of International Development and Global Studies.

If you are staying at a hotel or safe place, it would be best to stay put until you can get in contact with consular services, who should be able to give you advice on your next steps, said Dr. Banerjee, who has spent much of her career travelling to countries in conflict, such as Afghanistan, to study Canada’s roles in military and development assistance. If getting in touch with GAC isn’t immediately possible, Dr. Banerjee said to stay with your group, and that locals should be able to advise you on safety practices.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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