Information about kidnapping

There is very little information available about kidnapping because it is a crime that is often unreported in the media and academics struggle to get access to former hostages and their families to conduct research. Information about how cases are resolved often remains secret. And as it is still a relatively low volume crime, it is difficult to draw generalisations.

Hostage UK is committed to helping to improve public understanding of kidnapping – where it happens, why it happens, and who is taken. We are not a research organisation, but we share resources about kidnapping to help with this process. We are committed to increasing public understanding of the needs of hostages and their families, during and after a kidnapping.

Frequently asked questions about kidnapping

How many Britons are kidnapped overseas each year?
There is no definitive data set for kidnapping. Statistics are held by governments and law enforcement as well as by private business risk consultancies. Their figures are not generally released publicly.

Why are people kidnapped?
People are kidnapped for a variety of reasons. The vast majority of kidnaps are carried out by criminal groups motivated by financial gain. However, militants and terrorist groups also use kidnapping as a tactic. They usually have a broader agenda and might be looking for money, the exchange of prisoners, a change in policy or to gain propaganda. The motives vary from group to group, place to place and over time.

Where do kidnaps most frequently occur?
The countries with the highest rates of kidnap are those with poor security infrastructures, high levels of impunity and economic disparity, such as Mexico, Venezuela and Nigeria, and those experiencing pro-longed conflict, such as Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan.

The most highly developed countries with stable governments have the lowest levels of kidnapping.

What kinds of people are taken?
Contrary to public perception, the vast majority of people kidnapped are local nationals, so for example, Mexicans kidnapped in Mexico or Nigerians kidnapped in Nigeria. People who are kidnapped outside of their home countries form a small proportion of overall hostages, though their cases receive more media coverage.

While local nationals are most frequently targeted, foreign nationals are often the preferred target of militants and terrorist groups who are looking to use kidnapping to attract national or international attention or as part of an ideologically driven battle. Foreign nationals may also be targeted by criminal gangs for whom the notion of a higher ransom is worth the additional risks and hassle of abducting a foreigner and keeping them undetected. Countries where foreign nationals have a higher risk of being abducted include Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, the Philippines and Somalia as well as Nigeria.

There are many different kinds of people who find themselves taken hostage whilst away from their home country. Some are business people on work assignments abroad– they might be engineers in the oil and gas industry working in Iraq or accountants conducting an audit of their clients in Mexico or Pakistan. Some are journalists and aid workers, operating in some of the more dangerous parts of the world, like Syria, Yemen or Mali. Others are tourists who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, in countries like Kenya or the DRC. Still others may be dual nationals who have gone to, for example, Nigeria to visit relatives and have been targeted because the kidnappers identify them as being wealthy or as having wealthy family connections in their country of residence (e.g. the UK).

How long are they held for?
In some countries, kidnaps are resolved quickly – in a matter of days or weeks. In others, hostages might be held for months or years. It can vary according to the identity of the kidnapping group, what they are looking to achieve, political factors on the ground, the identity of the hostage and what those negotiating their release are able to offer or do.

What is the UK government’s policy on hostage cases?

You can read about advice from the government here

Where can I access the latest research on kidnapping?
There is a paucity of research on kidnapping. Hostage UK has created a databank of resources that are available via our website. See our resources here.

How can I share my research on kidnapping?
If you are conducting research on kidnapping or come across useful data or articles that you would like to share, please send it to Hostage UK and – subject to review – we will consider sharing it on our website to help others to access it.