February 2016 / News


The following article appeared in Belgian newspaper, Het Laatste Nieuws in March 2016. The Hart security team accompanied the film crew and cast as they followed in refugees’ footsteps from Somalia to Serbia for the programme ‘Go Back To Your Own Country’.

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They were in Istanbul when a terrorist killed ten people down the road. They could see the IS flag waving in the wind from the front in Mosul. However the participants were never scared. This was thanks to two Australian bodyguards that lead them through the warzone

Ivan Turner (48) is packing his suitcases when we phone him. Tomorrow he flies to Kabul. In the Afghan capital he runs a branch of Hart International, a company that escorts heads of states, diplomats, journalists and businessmen in and out of warzones, preferably not in a body bag. Together with his colleague, Paul Jordan (49), he ensured that Jean Marie Dedecker, Ish Ait Hamou, Veroniek Dewinter, Bart Gabriëls, Zuhal Demir and Margriet Hermans were not riddled with bullets during the filming of ‘Back to your own country’. In this programme directed by Martin Heylen, six participants followed the footsteps of refugees on their routes to Europe. Danger lurked at every corner: terrorism, kidnapping, disease, you name it.  “This production landed on my lap as I was also the safety officer for ‘Go Back’, the Australian version of this TV format”, Paul tells us from Sydney.

Helmet on a bedside table

That’s correct, although his CV is more elaborate than merely that. “I was successful in completing the tests and training of the Australian special forces, which I was a part of for ten years. An amazing time. But I was left running on empty after a mission in Rwanda and I decided to go and do something else. My wife was pregnant and I had the opportunity to start as the head of security for a goldmine in Papua New Guinea”. However before he knew it Paul was back in high-risk zones, as he calls it; it was in his blood. This time not as a soldier but as an employee for security companies. His daily rate: 1000 Dollars, around 900 Euros. To state the obvious: with a guy like him by your side a trip to Mogadishu is a lot less terrifying. “I was on the road with Veroniek, Bert and Zuhal, and I never had the impression that they were scared”, says Ivan. “I gave them a security briefing when they arrived, which made them vigilant from that moment on. But nobody shit their pants (laughs)”. Ivan even wants to congratulate the crew of ‘Back to your own country’. “This wasn’t a holiday, unless you make trips where, before you go to sleep, your tour guide tells you to keep your helmet on the bedside table.

10 Years ago Ivan stared death in the eyes. A roadside bomb exploded and a passenger in his jeep got critically injured. He got away with minor injuries. In 2008 Paul spent almost a month in a dirty prison cell in Indonesia. In his career he has – literally – been caught in crossfire on numerous occasions and by his own admission ‘was too often in the vicinity of bombs’. “But I have never been seriously wounded and I have never lost a client. However even that threat is not our biggest concern”, says Ivan. “I spend 8 months a year from home and that is mentally much more taxing”. Paul agrees. “I have 3 children. Every time I come home from a mission I tell them everything. But I never speak of the dangerous situations we encounter: that doesn’t help anyone.”

Sitting duck

The crew experienced their hairiest moments in Somalia and in the refugee camps in Dadaab Kenya, Paul explains. “If you visit a fish market in Mogadishu you better make sure as a white person that you get out of there within 5 minutes: those that stay longer become sitting ducks. So everything was meticulously prepared down to the finest detail: fourteen heavily armed soldiers surrounded us constantly and we drove in bullet proof vehicles. Nine months before the start of the trip I already began with the preparation. Safety is not to be taken lightly.”

“Most people will see Istanbul as a relatively safe place”, says Paul. “Especially in relation to warzones. When we were in Turkey a bomb happened to explode a few streets from our hotel. Ten dead, fifteen wounded. There are many doom scenarios you can anticipate beforehand, but this one I did not see coming”. Disease is also something to watch out for: “Whenever Ish or Margriet shook someone’s hand in a refugee camp, I was there with my pot of disinfecting gel. Cholera is just as deadly as a bullet. And it was my task to get them back home to Belgium safe and sound.”

Always alert, eyes in the back of your head: can you still lead a pleasant life as a professional ‘war survivor’? “I am able to relax”, says Paul. “Naturally I suffer from professional deformation: when I am basking in the sun on an exotic beach I will still always first check if there is not someone hiding behind the nearest dune. But it hasn’t left me emotionally numb. I realised that again during ‘Back to your own country’. I will never forget how we stood on a Greek beach just when the boats came floating in. A mother gave her baby to Martin so that she, completely exhausted from the trip, could finally put her foot on land.  In those moments I shiver more than when the bullets are flying around my head”.