Evacuations from Non-Permissive Environments

Aleppo, Syria. 2020.


For the purpose of this article, a non-permissive environment is defined as follows:

  • There are active threats.
  • It’s not safe for evacuees (as foreigners) to be visible on the streets.
  • There would be serious consequences if evacuees were discovered and captured or apprehended.
Homs, Syria. 2020.

Getting Out

From the outset, recognise that an evacuation or exfiltration from a non-permissive environment is dangerous. At the same time, it may be the least bad of multiple bad options. You’ll need to carefully weigh up the risks of staying in place vs attempting to evacuate. To make this assessment, you’ll need granular and up-to-date details on local conditions. Because it’s difficult to move around in a non-permissive environment, it may be difficult to get the information you’ll need. As a result, you’ll need to focus your efforts on a single evacuation option — the option that you believe will have the most chance of success.


In a non-permissive environment, it will not be safe for you or your team to move around on foot or be visible while moving in a vehicle. These constraints will make evacuation planning and execution significantly more difficult. One key challenge is that it will be difficult to confirm evacuation routes. You’ll need to rely on your Trusted Local Network to confirm evacuation routes for you.

  • Travelling at specific times of the day (or night).
  • Taking more complex routes to avoid checkpoints
  • Using low profile vehicles
  • Relying on armoured vehicles and security escorts (more on these options below)
Passing through a military checkpoint in Syria. 2020.

Remote planning

Given the situation, it may not be possible to send specialists in to the location to assist on the ground. Planning may therefore need to be conducted remotely, with inputs and advice from people on the ground.

Safe houses as Assembly Points

Assembly Points are the locations where your evacuees would congregate before moving to the Port of Departure (e.g., an airport, marina or border crossing).

Tripoli, Lebanon. 2019.


In a typical evacuation, you would use Report Lines to track vehicle movement during the move to the Port of Departure (or border crossing). Due to the inherent risks of moving in non-permissive environments, there is an additional demand for more granular tracking.

Security escorts

In a non-permissive environment, you will almost certainly need a security escort to protect evacuees as they move to their safe houses, and from there to the Port of Departure (or border). This security escort will need to be discreet. Vehicles should be unmarked and security officers should not wear uniforms. Security personnel should be armed. Any weapons less than assault rifles will be ineffective at countering any serious threat during an evacuation in a non-permissive environment (handguns won’t cut it).

Armoured vehicles

If there are armed groups in the area, you will need to rely on armoured vehicles for the evacuation. If you’re able to, procure B6 vehicles from a reputable local transport provider. Of course, the decision to use armoured vehicles does not mean you should accept additional risks during the evacuation. Your focus should always be on avoiding known risks.

Tripoli, Lebanon. 2019.

Contingency planning

Contingency planning is an essential aspect of any security evacuation. However, in a non-permissive environment, you’ll need to up your game. Contingency planning will need to be deeply integrated with transport and security planning, ensuring a seamless response to any incident during the evacuation. Consider the deployment of standby vehicles and security units along the evacuation route. Also consider medical planning in detail.

Driving through a small town at night in Syria. 2020.

Anticipate failure

Any attempt to evacuate people from a non-permissive environment will be met with a host of challenges. Even with effective planning, there will be a real risk that your operation may fail as a result of factors entirely beyond your control.



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