No-go area

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A "no-go area" or "no-go zone" is an area in a town barricaded off to civil authorities by a force such as a paramilitary, or an area barred to certain individuals or groups. The term has also been used to refer to areas:

  • Undergoing insurgency where ruling authorities have lost control and are unable to enforce sovereignty[1];
  • That have a reputation for violence and crime which makes people frightened to go there[2] ;
  • That are inhabited by a parallel society that have their own laws and which are controlled by violent non-state actors have been described as "no-go zones".[3]

Some types of no-go zones, such as military exclusion zones, border zones, or other declared exclusion zones, may have a legal basis. De facto no-go zones may arise in conjunction with inadequate local governance or tactical advantage. The boundaries of de facto no-go zones are volatile and responsive to changes in security and tactical advantage. No-go zone boundaries can be negotiated between hostile parties or declared unilaterally by one side of a conflict. Other no-go zones are undeclared or unofficial, making accurate boundary identification difficult. No-go zones in which rescue or security services are unavailable enable unrestricted lethal violence.

Historic no-go zones[edit]

Hong Kong[edit]

With no government enforcement from the British colonial government aside from a few raids by the Hong Kong Police, the Kowloon Walled City became a haven for crime and drugs. It was only during a 1959 trial for a murder that occurred within the Walled City that the Hong Kong government was ruled to have jurisdiction there. By this time, however, the Walled City was virtually ruled by the organised crime syndicates known as Triads. Beginning in the 1950s, Triad groups such as the 14K and Sun Yee On gained a stranglehold on the Walled City's countless brothels, gambling parlors, and opium dens. The Walled City had become such a haven for criminals that police would venture into it only in large groups.[4]


See Rebel Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities


During the Mozambican War of Independence, the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) set up and defended no-go "liberated zones" in the north of the country.[5]

Northern Ireland[edit]

Free Derry Corner, the gable wall which once marked the entrance to Free Derry

During the Troubles, the term was applied to urban areas in Northern Ireland where the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army could not operate openly.[6] Between 1969 and 1972, Irish nationalist/republican neighborhoods in Belfast and Derry were sealed off with barricades by residents. The areas were policed by vigilantes and both Official and Provisional factions of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) operated openly.[7] The most notable no-go area was called Free Derry.

The areas' existence was a challenge to the authority of the British government. On 31 July 1972, the British Army demolished the barricades and re-established control in Operation Motorman.[8][9] It was the biggest British military operation since the Suez Crisis.[10] Although the areas were no longer barricaded, they remained areas where the British security forces found it difficult to operate and were regularly attacked.[6] As a result, they entered only in armored convoys and in certain circumstances, such as to launch house raids.[11] Police presence in these areas remained contentious into the 2000s and the main republican political party, Sinn Féin, refused to support the police. In 2007, however, the party voted to support the new Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).


The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) were in actuality no-go areas for the Pakistani authorities, where the Pakistani police could not enter. The situation was changed temporarily with the United States invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, when the Pakistani government was supported by U.S. military forces. Currently FATA is no more a "no-go area" as it has been merged with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.[12]


The term "no-go area" has a military origin and was first used in the context of the Bush War in Rhodesia.[citation needed] The war was fought in the 1960s and 1970s between the army of the predominantly white minority Rhodesian government and communist-backed black nationalist groups.

The initial military strategy of the government was to seal the borders to prevent assistance to the guerrillas from other countries. However, with the end of Portuguese colonial rule in Angola and Mozambique, and especially the arrival of some 500,000 Cuban armed forces and tens of thousands of Soviet troops,[citation needed] this became untenable and the white minority government adopted an alternative strategy ("mobile counter offensive"). This involved defending only key economic areas, transport links ("vital asset ground"), and the white civilian population. The government lost control of the rest of the country to the guerilla forces, but carried out counter-guerilla operations including "free-fire attacks" in the so-called "no-go areas,"[13] where white civilians were advised not to go.


After the 1980 Turkish coup d'état, the Turkish communist guerillas established "liberated" no-go zones.[14]


"Peace zones", seen in red, offered to gangs by the Venezuelan government

In 2013, the Venezuelan government negotiated with large criminal gangs on how to prevent violence and agreed to avoid policing gang territory in what were known as "peace zones", reinforcing criminal behaviors and making gang practices de facto law.[15] According to InSight Crime, there are over a dozen mega-gangs in Venezuela, with some having up to 300 members.[16]

Alleged and acknowledged contemporary no-go areas[edit]

The following are areas that have been described as no-go areas in recent years, though in some cases the characterization has been disputed.


In the wake of the 2015 Paris attacks, the Molenbeek municipality in Brussels was described in many media reports as a "no-go area", where gang violence and Islamic fundamentalism had fed on Molenbeek's marginalisation, despair and festering resentment of authority.[17] In 2015 Belgium's home affairs minister said that the government did not "have control of the situation in Molenbeek" and that terrorists' links to this district were a "gigantic problem".[18] Other academics, commentators, journalists and residents have contested the description of Molenbeek as a no-go zone.[19][20][21]


Some slum areas (known as favelas) in Brazil, most notably in Rio de Janeiro, are controlled by gangs with automatic weapons.[22][23] Police and investigative reporters have been tortured and killed there, such as Tim Lopes in 2002.[24] Attempts at clearing up such areas have led to security crises in Rio[25] as well as in São Paulo.[26]


An early usage of the term regarding Europe was in a 2002 opinion piece by David Ignatius in The New York Times, where he wrote about France, "Arab gangs regularly vandalize synagogues here, the North African suburbs have become no-go zones at night, and the French continue to shrug their shoulders."[27] La Courneuve, a municipality (commune) in the Paris region, was described by police as a no-go zone.[28]

In 2010, Raphaël Stainville of French newspaper Le Figaro called certain neighborhoods of the southern city Perpignan "veritable lawless zones", saying they had become too dangerous to travel in at night. He added that the same was true in parts of Béziers and Nîmes.[29] In 2012, Gilles Demailly [fr], the mayor of the French city Amiens, in the wake of several riots, called the northern part of his city a lawless zone, where one could no longer order a pizza or call for a doctor.[30] In 2014, Fabrice Balanche, a scholar of the Middle East, labelled the northern city of Roubaix, as well as parts of Marseille, "mini-Islamic states", saying that the authority of the state is completely absent there.[31] American magazines Newsweek[32] and The New Republic[33] have also used the term to describe parts of France.

In January 2015, after the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris, various American media, including the news cable channels Fox News and CNN, described the existence of no-go zones across Europe and in France in particular. In some cases, the French areas termed "sensitive urban zones"[34] were described as no-go zones.[35][36] Both networks were criticized for these statements,[37] and anchors on both networks later apologized for the characterizations.[38][39][40][41] The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said that she intended to sue Fox News for its statements.[42][needs update]


A sociology paper published in 2009 said that right-wing extremists had been discussing the creation of no-go areas in Western Europe since the 1980s.[43] It described attempts to create "national liberated zones" (national befreite Zonen) in Germany: "'no-go-areas', which are areas dominated by neo-Nazis,"[44] attributing their appeal in the former DDR to "the unmet promises of modernisation and the poor socio-cultural conditions that offer no perspectives to young people".[45] Whether or not Germany actually had no-go zones was disputed: the paper concluded "according to ... state officials, the police and other relevant institutions, [the phenomenon of no-go zones] does not actually exist ... by contrast, the national press in Germany, various civic associations, and also experts acknowledge and give examples of the existence of no-go areas."[46]

In a 2011 interview, Bernhard Witthaut [de], then president of the German police union Gewerkschaft der Polizei (GdP), stated that in some areas police would always respond to alerts with more than two officers because of concerns of policemen to become target of crime themselves.[47] In 2016, Rainer Wendt head of the smaller Deutsche Polizeigewerkschaft (DPolG) stated that areas exist where police "hardly dare to stop a car [...] Because they know that they'll be surrounded by 40 or 50 men". In 2017, Wendt warned that Germany faced a risk of "police-free zones in Germany".[48]

In a February 2018 interview, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that there are no-go areas in Germany, saying, "There are such areas and one has to call them by their name and do something about them."[49] This came in the context of arguing for a zero-tolerance policy in German policing.[50] It appeared to be the first time that a German government politician had stated that no-go areas exist in the country.[49]


In Kenya, the ongoing conflict in Somalia, where the terrorist organization al-Shabaab controls territory, has severely affected the security situation even on the Kenyan side of the border. There have been terrorist attacks and kidnappings in Kenya followed by a Kenyan intervention, Operation Linda Nchi, and police crackdowns. These have affected counties bordering Somalia and in Nairobi, the suburb of Eastleigh, which is inhabited mostly by Somalis. The U.S. government prohibits its personnel from traveling to the counties bordering Somalia: Mandera, Wajir and Garissa and Tana River County, Lamu county and Kilifi county north of Malindi.[51] The area has been called a "no-go zone for travellers" because of terrorism and internal conflicts.[52] Already in 2004, Eastleigh was described as a no-go zone for Kenyan authorities after dark.[53] In 2012, in travel advisories issued by the U.S. and U.K. governments, Eastleigh was temporarily declared a no-go zone because of bombings and ongoing conflict.[54][55][56][57]

Israel and Palestine[edit]

The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) maintains a border zone on the Gaza strip and declares "no-go zones", where they may use lethal force to enforce the security exclusion zone.[58] An IDF spokesman said that "residents of the Gaza Strip are required not to come any closer than 300 meters from the security fence", although there is some allowance for farmers to approach up to 100 meters if they do so on foot only.[59] The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that the no-go zones include about 30% of the arable land in the Gaza strip, and a small number of residents farm in the exclusion zones despite the risk of military action.[58] Unlike a legal border zone, the no-go zone is declared unilaterally in occupied territory, without acknowledgement or cooperation of Palestinian authorities, and as such can be considered a disputed no-go zone. It is considered unlawful by the Swedish organization Diakonia.[60]


The Gaya Island is a location of an illegal Filipino colony, called Kampung Lok Urai, with stilt houses girdling the beach. Both the Malaysian federal government and the Sabah state government do not officially recognise the settlement and the inhabitants as the inhabitants are known as illegal immigrants. It has a 6,000 floating population of largely Filipinos Suluk and Bajau. It is considered a dangerous, high crime or "no-go" area by the police and the locals.[61]

South Africa[edit]

The term "no-go zone" has been informally applied to high-crime neighborhoods in South African cities. In South Africa, the apartheid policy created segregated neighborhoods where whites risked being removed or victimized in black-only neighborhoods and vice versa. Because of the bantustan system, many urban inhabitants lived in the city illegally per apartheid laws. For example, in Cape Town, Cape Flats was a neighborhood where many of those evicted were relocated. It became a "no-go area" as it was controlled by criminal gangs.[62] However, many of these areas have experienced significant gentrification; for example, Woodstock in Cape Town has experience significant urban renewal and cannot be described as a no-go zone anymore.[63] Nevertheless, MiX Telematics uses the term "no-go zones" to warn drivers of the risk of carjacking and other crime in its proprietary Matrix vehicle tracking software.[64] In 2010, a housing complex comprising a number of city blocks in Atlantis, Western Cape were described as a "no-go zone for police conducting raids",[65][66] and ambulances could not enter without police escort. In 2014, the situation had improved, and after convictions of several gang members, a police official said that "legislation concerning organised crime was beginning to work".[67] In 2018, a gang war in Parkwood, Cape Town was reported to turn the area into a "no-go zone", although a minister visited the area to ensure policing continues.[68]


Some urban areas in Sweden have been called no-go zones. The Swedish government states that "no-go zones", where "criminality and gangs have taken over and where the emergency services do not dare to go" do not exist. They acknowledge that there are areas "increasingly marred by crime, social unrest and insecurity".[69][70][71]

A 2016 report from the Swedish Police mapped 53 "exposed" areas (Utsatta områden) and 15 "particularly exposed" areas. An "exposed area" was defined as an area with low socioeconomic status and high crime. A "particularly exposed" area was defined as an area nearby to an "exposed area" the inhabitants of which demonstrated the following qualities:

  • Unwillingness to participate in legal proceedings
  • Hindrance of Swedish police operations
  • Parallel social structure
  • Violent extremism

Swedish police protocol differs for working in these areas. For example, the police bring certain equipment and work in pairs when in a "particularly exposed area".[72]

In a 2017 interview with the conservative opinion magazine Weekly Standard's Paulina Neuding [sv], Gordon Grattidge, the head of the Swedish ambulance drivers' union, stated that there were some areas too dangerous for rescue workers to enter without police protection, using the English term "no-go zones" to describe them.[73][74][75]

In March 2015, journalist Henrik Höjer discussed the rise of criminality, especially organized crime, in various neighborhoods within Sweden since the mid-1990s, especially in the city of Malmö. He interviewed a police officer and task force chief who referred to such areas as "no go areas" and wrote that gangs like to lay claim to an area by throwing stones at mailmen, police, firefighters and ambulances who enter the area.[76]

In February 2016, a news crew for Australia's 60 Minutes working with anti-immigration activist Jan Sjunnesson[77][78] reported having come under attack, including allegedly having stones thrown on them and a car running over the foot of a cameraman who was trying to prevent it from leaving in the immigrant-dominated district of Rinkeby of Stockholm.[79] 60 Minutes published the video, on which reporter Liz Hayes says "there are now 55 declared no-go zones in Sweden."[80]

A 10-minute December 2016 film by's Ami Horowitz, Stockholm Syndrome, focused on violence by Muslim immigrants within Sweden, and included an interview with two policemen who seemed to confirm that there are no-go areas for police in Sweden.[81] During the interview, one officer states, "If the police is chasing another car for some kind of crime, if they reach what we call 'no-go areas', the police won't go after it."[82] The police officers later objected to the interview and said that their quotes had been taken out of context, and a videographer who worked on the film supported the officers' account, saying the video was cut together unethically.[83] The documentary gained significant attention several months later when U.S. President Donald Trump indirectly alluded to it in a speech.[84] The film as a whole, and its description of no-go areas, have both been disputed by sources within Sweden; the Swedish The Local quoted a police spokesperson as saying that, though there are areas "characterized by, among other things, the difficulty for the police to fulfill its duty", "There are no guidelines that the police should not visit these areas".[85] The description of no-go zones was also disputed by several sources, including the interviewed policemen.[86]

United Kingdom[edit]

Around the time of the 2001 Oldham riots, BBC Radio 4 reporter Barnie Choudhury wrote "An investigation for Today has found disturbing evidence that Asian youths in parts of Oldham are trying to create no go areas for white people...It's not clear whether this is bravado but their message is blunt... white people keep out".[87]

In 2012, Professor Hamid Ghodse of the United Nations' International Narcotics Control Board included areas of Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool as "no-go areas" run by drug traffickers, comparing them to Brazilian favelas. Local police forces denied the claims.[88] In 2015 Donald Trump, in the early stages of his presidential campaign, stated on Twitter that the UK was trying to "disguise [its] massive Muslim problem", and retweeted an article which falsely claimed that the city of Birmingham was totally under Muslim control. These remarks were condemned by the mayor of Birmingham.[89][90]

These claims, especially about London, continue to echo on social media typically accompanied by claims of "Sharia Law" being imposed in several neighbourhoods. Articles ridiculing these claims have appeared in the media.[91]

The group Falmouth Hates Students have declared the town of Falmouth, Cornwall a no-go zone for students.[92][93][94]

Criticism of use of the term[edit]

Articles have appeared in The Atlantic and Business Week magazines, Media Matters for America, and including criticism of the use term "no-go zone" to refer to areas claimed to operate under Sharia Law in Europe or the US.[95][96][97][98][99]

See also[edit]


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