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How much should the British Govt help you when you're abroad?

(19 Posts)
flashingnose Thu 31-Mar-05 10:36:14

I read an article in the paper yesterday about a British woman who lives with her husband on the island of Nias, off the coast of Sumatra, which was hit by an earthquake on Monday. I've heard today that she's been found, so a happy ending.

But one thing in the article caught my eye - her Mother, obviously very distressed, criticised the British Govt for not doing more to locate her daughter:

<<"This is now day two and we know nothing...I am very unhappy with the Government in the UK. The Consul-General in Indonesia is doing all he can but he needs a helicopter".>>

<<The Foreign Office spokeswoman said a helicopter had now been chartered and would be searching the island tomorrow (Thursday). She said "We are doing everything we can to find those who have been reported missing.>>

I didn't think getting a helicopter available to search a very remote part of the world within three days of an earthquake happening was too bad? Bearing in mind the Foreign Office who run overseas posts is funded fully by the taxpayer, is it realistic to have a worldwide network, covering even the most remote parts, that can respond more quickly than this?

Interested to hear your thoughts, especially from Brits who live abroad.

Caligula Thu 31-Mar-05 10:42:32

I think the idea that the FO will help you if you are abroad is a hangover from the days when more or less the only people who travelled abroad were the very rich, who all knew the chaps in the FO anyway. They looked after them because they were their mates, or their mates' mates.

Now that travel abroad is a mass-market phenomenon, I think one would have to be very credulous indeed (and possibly unreasonable) to expect the British Government to play an active part in protecting the interests of every single subject.

Blu Thu 31-Mar-05 10:48:56

I agree - I think it's different if you are caught up in a political kidnap or miscarriage of justice, or are actually working for the UK gvt overseas. If you are working for a uk company, they should take responsibility for the welfare of their employees, if you are on hol, you should take responsibility for the relevant insurance.

Sympathies, of course, with anyone who sufferes any distress anywhere.

LIZS Thu 31-Mar-05 10:53:50

Agree with caligula. Think part of the problem is that British society is losing its sense of personal responsibility, expecting others to step in. The mother must have been very desperate to ensure her daughter was ok but not sure a quest to locate an individual can be deemed high priority in the immediate aftermath of such a widespread disaster and resources to do so were probably limited.

Pamina3 Thu 31-Mar-05 10:57:21

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

flashingnose Thu 31-Mar-05 11:01:14

I think what happens in that situation now, pamina, is that you get your relatives/friends in the UK to lodge money with the FO in the UK and then the Consulate will pay that money out to you where you are. Obviously they will also provide an emergency passport where necessary. Do you think they should do more than that?

Pamina3 Thu 31-Mar-05 11:04:55

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

flashingnose Thu 31-Mar-05 11:10:14

Out of interest, what happens if you're (for example) Irish and you get mugged in a country where there is no representation from Ireland?

Caligula Thu 31-Mar-05 11:13:45

Hmm, but then you have the situation where you don't do something stupid, but get beaten up and arrested anyway, particularly in countries where the police have absolutely no public accountability. Then I think there is a valid reason for the FO to intervene.

Pamina3 Thu 31-Mar-05 11:31:23

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

flashingnose Thu 31-Mar-05 12:08:36

So what should the FO be responsible for, do you think? If people choose to live abroad, should the Govt even have any responsibility towards them if things go wrong? I think Caligula is right in that a lot of the ways in which the FO does things are historical from our colonial days.

flashingnose Thu 31-Mar-05 12:09:22

Not sure I've got my singulars and plurals sorted out there but YKWIM!

Chandra Thu 31-Mar-05 12:20:43

Well, if I am mugged in the UK I don't expect the government to sort my situation and can't understand why they have to provide such an emergency service for people in such problems abroad. I think that issuing a new passport and the possibility of being sent money through the consulate it's already lots of help, but providing accomodation, food or money it's something that a travel insurance could sort up, but not the consulate...

It reminds me of a program I saw about Greek authorities dealing with yob behaviour coming from some British tourists, and the British Consulate commenting that they receive midnight calls from drunks who have landed themselves in jail, requesting to be taken out of jail immediatly as they are British citizens, they also mentioned about the consulate receiving calls of people in jail demanding to be sent a pizza because they don't like the food!

LIZS Thu 31-Mar-05 12:33:43

Agree that that is what Travel Insurance should deal with but they may well have lost the documentation if they were mugged and lack the means to make the phone call required. As increasing numbers make their own travel arrangements rather than use tour operators there is no obvious point of contact other than the Consulate when things go wrong and many rely on E111's, overlooking the need for other insurance.

As regards the police scenario, in UK there is a less obvious language barrier and afaik those who do meet it should be entitled to an interpreter and/or solicitor. In an emergency situation it would bewildering to say the least if you could not communicate your needs adequately to those who may be able to help you and to understand what is going on. The Consulate is the obvious place to seek someone who could officially liaise on your behalf surely if you have no travel representative.

suedonim Thu 31-Mar-05 13:16:27

We were living in Indonesia at the time of the Bali bomb. Dh's company had arrangements with a private security co who would have evac'ed us if necessary. But the Brit Ambass was the one who guided expats (about 2,000 UK expats there) and the security Co's through the political maze. He also gave advice to the school, after it was identified as a bomb target, and so on. He was amazing, just as I'd imagined an ambassador - cool, calm and unflappable. They do take an interest because of the British companies working there, who contribute to the economy.

I have to say, they did well to hire a helicopter in any circumstances out there. They are as rare as rocking horse s**t and reliable pilots even rarer!! I certainly don't think UK resources should be used to get drunks out of jail etc but I'm not sure what I think in this case, tbh. They certainly haven't been slacking - 3 days is pdq for anything to get done in Indonesia.

Gwenick Thu 31-Mar-05 13:20:28

Agree that that is what Travel Insurance should deal with but they may well have lost the documentation if they were mugged and lack the means to make the phone call required.


WEll in that case they should have been more sensible and have the important documentation put in the hotel/hostel safe rather than carry it with them !

Chandra Thu 31-Mar-05 13:23:30

I believe that in unpredicatable disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis or the so called "acts of God" present in American insurance policyies are situations where the consulte should be quick to respond, but getting mugged in a foreign country is something that you can predict or avoid in most cases, precautions as storing some money and important documents in other places other than your bag are definitively fairly obvious solutions.

suzywong Thu 31-Mar-05 13:50:33

we were helped by the British Consulate in Malaysia after the ferry accident, they gave letters verifying we had been in an accident for insurance puporses, let us call home and checked for any immediate difficulties but told us ( and I mean all the Brits involved) that they would hhelp us all they could but not financially

Pamina3 Thu 31-Mar-05 13:53:04

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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