The U.K. joined Australia and New Zealand in warning citizens against travel to coastal islands in the east Malaysia state of Sabah bordering the Philippines, citing high threats to foreigners of kidnapping and criminality.
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office this week raised the terrorism threat level for the islands to “high” from “general,” and advised against all but essential travel. There has been an increase in kidnapping by groups operating in the southern Philippines, some with the ability to conduct kidnaps on the coast of Sabah, the office said, while also citing an earthquake that took place in June and increased instances of haze.
Australia advises its citizens to avoid all travel to the coastal resorts of eastern Sabah, including the islands, dive sites and associated tourist facilities due to the high threat of kidnapping, while New Zealand classifies travel to the area as “high risk.”
Malaysia’s foreign ministry said the situation in Sabah is “nothing to be alarmed of” and it will keep other foreign missions informed on the security developments.
“We take note of the advisories posted by some countries for their travelers to Sabah, which have also acknowledged the efforts of the authorities in strengthening security presence in those areas mentioned,” a Malaysian foreign ministry spokeswoman, who asked not to be identified, said by text message. “We also acknowledged the fact that foreign missions are at liberty to provide their own assessment of the security situation in their host countries albeit the fact that it may not be accurate or give a true reflection of the situation.”
The U.S. State Department doesn’t have a travel advisory specifically for Malaysia. In a travel warning for the Philippines updated October 2015, it said U.S. citizens should defer non-essential travel to the Sulu Archipelago, a chain of islands between south Philippines and Sabah, due to the high threat of kidnappings and violence linked to insurgency and terrorism.