THE Foreign and Commonwealth Office has launched a campaign to inform British nationals overseas of exactly what it can, and can’t, do to help them whilst abroad.
Can you recommend a Scottish chef in Brussels who can make haggis? How do I set my antennae to receive English TV channels in Italy? Can you find me cheap flights to New Zealand?
These are just some of the recent enquires the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has received from around the world.
FCO Contact Centres received more than 365,000 calls from British people last year. Although the vast majority were genuine calls from people needing help, thousands of calls were still to make enquiries the FCO is unable to assist with which take valuable time away from those in real need of help.
Some of the more unusual calls reported in 2014 included:
-A caller asking for help with setting up ‘British-style’ hanging baskets at a trade show because the professional gardener hired for the purpose had stage fright.
-A British woman asking the consulate in Albania how to find out if her son’s fiancée was already married.
-A caller asking for advice on how to treat a cat’s infected paw.
-A man requesting that Mexico City Embassy staff went to the airport to see if he had left his mobile phone on a plane.
-A woman in Italy asking how to synchronise her TV antenna to receive English channels.
-An event coordinator in Brussels asking for the name of a local Scottish chef to make Haggis for a Burns Night event.
The FCO said that such enquiries stemmed from a lack of understanding of what consular teams can do for British nationals overseas and is therefore launching its awareness campaign to remind travellers and expatriates of its services.
The priority is to protect British nationals’ welfare, and consular staff members have pledged to always do their best to assist people whenever they find themselves in difficulty. However, the FCO insists that it is important for travellers to understand what services can and cannot be provided prior to getting in touch and to take pre-travel steps to reduce the risks of getting into trouble including taking out travel insurance, researching the destination and ensuring access to emergency funds.
Foreign & Commonwealth Office Minister, David Lidington, said: “It is important for FCO consular staff to be able to focus on our most vulnerable customers, such as victims of crime, those who have lost a loved one abroad or people who have been detained or hospitalised overseas.
“Consular staff support thousands of British nationals who encounter difficulties overseas every year and we handle over 365,000 enquires annually. We will always try to help where we can but there are limits to what we can do, so it’s important for people to be aware of how we can help.
“We can issue an emergency travel document if your passport is lost or stolen, offer support if you become a victim of crime or visit you in hospital or prison, but we aren’t able to pay medical bills, give legal advice or get you out of jail, or indeed act as veterinary surgeons.”
Head of the FCO’s Global Contact Centres, Meg Williams, said: “The role of the FCO Contact Centres is to help enable consular staff to focus on what is important and to concentrate on those in need, but we continue to receive misdirected enquiries from British nationals. We receive hundreds of thousands of calls every year and while the vast majority of these are from British nationals in genuine need of our assistance and services, in 2014 38 per cent were not related to consular support at all.
“For example, one caller asked us to help find his son’s missing suitcase – as it had apparently been lost by a British airline, the caller thought the British consulate would be able to locate it.”
For more information on how the FCO can help British nationals overseas, visit https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/support-for-british-nationals-abroad-a-guide.