What to do if caught up in a riot


What to do if caught up in a riot

Sadly social unrest can occur anywhere in the world including destinations that are popular with expats. In the last year alone we have seen mass civil unrest take place in Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Spain and others. Often tourists and expats get caught up in riots and demonstrations as they often quickly gain in momentum and are often held in a country’s most densely populated regions.

In Turkey for example many foreign nationals were caught up in the violent clashes in and around Istanbul’s Taksim square. In this guide we tell you what to do if you ever find yourself caught up in a riot or demonstration.


If unrest has broken out near to your location be prepared. If you have no choice but to travel through the affected area make sure you are ready for the worst. Rioting crowds are dangerous and normally calm people can become crazed as anger spreads through the crowd. Make sure you wear clothes that minimise your skins exposure when outside as anti-crowd countermeasures can burn skin. Alternatively if you can find a different route use that or stay put.

Stay calm

Riots are often caused by intense emotions sweeping through a crowd. Anger at a government, police or any number of things can be a cause for the disturbances. When moving through an area of unrest keep your head down and keep your own emotions in check, the last thing you want to do is to draw unwanted attention to yourself. Avoid people and keep moving.

Avoid crowds

Its common sense but in times of unrest avoid large crowds as much as possible. There’s a good chance that the police or other authorities will be targeting those groups as they seek to control the unrest. Try to look as inconspicuous as possible and carefully skirt the edge of the crowds.

If in a car

There are probably few things scarier than being trapped inside a vehicle during a riot but it’s vital that you stay calm. Remain inside the vehicle unless it becomes the focus of the rioters, in which case it could be at risk of being smashed, rolled or even torched. If it looks like this will happen quickly exit and get to safety.

Driving towards police lines could be interpreted as a hostile act as they may believe you will use your vehicle as a weapon. The best thing to do is stop before the lines and exit the vehicle with hands raised.

Use the internet

Recent riots and demonstrations have been mostly organised via social media and texting. Websites like Facebook have become the main tool used by demonstrators to outmanoeuvre the police. For someone wanting to avoid trouble it can be just as useful. If unrest is taking place in your area ensure you check the internet and social network apps on your phone for the latest news. If you know where the trouble is or is going to be then you can avoid it.

Police riot control measures

To counter riots police in many countries deploy riot control measures. These often include tear gas, water cannon, baton charges, rubber bullets and pepper spray. In some cases tasers and other anti crowd weapons may be used. In extreme cases, as witnessed in Egypt recently, live ammunition could be deployed.

Never hang around when the countermeasures are deployed as most riot control agents can kill if they hit you in the wrong way. Severe injuries can also be common. Always stay on your feet when leaving an area as you could risk being trampled by the retreating crowds.

Get inside if possible

Normally unrest occurs in the streets so if possible get inside! Ensure that you lock all doors and windows and move deeper into the building in order to avoid the danger of being hit by breaking glass windows or rocks and in extreme circumstances bullets. Make sure you have two escape routes planned and clear to enable a quick getaway if the trouble gets to you. Try and contact the authorities and always be on the lookout for signs of fires, after all the favoured weapon for rioters is often petrol bombs.

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