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Schools defy threat of terrorism

September 11 has made schools think twice about trips to the Arab world, but many teachers who have taken pupils to Muslim countries in the months following the events have enjoyed a safe and rewarding experience.

Trips fell sharply after the terrorist attacks: there was widespread cancellations of trips to Morocco and Egypt. And the tensions between India and Pakistan have done little to inspire confidence in that region.

Mike McHugo of Discover Ltd, a British firm that has been organising school trips to Morocco since 1978 , says that October half-term is usually the company's busiest time but last year one-third of the bookings were cancelled at the last minute.

In most cases, the schools and parents had to foot the bill, says Mr McHugo. "Our insurance will cover us if the Foreign Office says people should not travel to a particular destination, but they have not said that Morocco is dangerous, so it didn't apply.

"Some schools cancelled their trips with very little consideration of the real dangers. Some took their children to Barcelona instead, even though there had been a terrorist bomb there just a few weeks earlier."

The Dragon prep school in Oxford organises so many trips to far-flung places that it has formed a limited company to supervise such arrangements. But recent world events have also caused problems for Beverley Willcox, the teacher who runs it. The school has twice had to cancel a planned Easter trip to Israel, and an exchange with children from the United States was postponed because it was felt inappropriate to finalise arrangements so soon after September 11. Even so, the school went ahead with a planned holiday in the Sinai desert in Egypt in October. They are also pressing ahead with plans to visit Iran and hoping to organise a trip to Syria.

"Parents who had been before said they couldn't have felt safer, or more removed from the problems of the world," she says. "The attitude of the Bedouin in the middle of the desert was not affected in the slightest by the aggressive fundamentalism in other parts of the world. The Foreign Office said it was safe to travel there, and I think it's important that we carry on as we always have, travelling not just to the Arab world, but wherever we can safely go - otherwise the terrorists have won."

The Foreign Office does not issue specific guidance for school parties, but it does publish advice about all countries regularly.

Last month British nationals were being advised not to visit Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Somalia, Tajikistan, the border areas between India and Pakistan, the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Israel's border with Lebanon.

Other parts of the Arab world are considered safe for British visitors - including Iran and Libya.

Joel Wolchover

Contacts

Foreign OfficeTravel advice lines: 020 7008 0232 020 or 020 7008 0233 www.fco.gov.uk Discover Ltd Tel: 01883 744392 www.discover.ltd.uk

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