The FCO’s Role
With the peak summer holiday period fast approaching, I keep on thinking of the television programme ‘Our Man In…’ which was on Channel 4 earlier this year.
The fly-on-the-wall documentary focused on the work of 10 British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) consulates and embassy offices in Spain last summer.
What was remarkable was not only how it highlighted the good work overseas staff do in often trying circumstances, but the amount of time wasters they have to deal with.
And that was only a snap shot.
The most recently released figures reveal between April 2010 and March 2011 overseas FCO staff assisted in 19,228 cases, including 5,972 involving a death and 3,752 involving hospitalisation.
They were also kept busy by 5,700 arrests, including 799 for drugs, 115 rapes and 163 other sexual assaults.
This is beside the 25,969 lost or stolen passports that staff also helped out with.
Dealing with these incidents is part of their jobs and far removed from the irrelevant and often bizarre enquiries they also fielded.
For instance Sydney FCO staff were contacted by a man wanting advice on what clothes to pack before he travelled while in Florida a tourist was concerned enough by the ant infestation in his villa to give them a call.
Greek consular staff have fielded random calls including one from a man wanting to know the best local fishing spots while another wanted advice on erecting a chicken coop in his back garden.
Most baffling of all was the enquiry the Spanish consulate received from someone wanting to know Prince Charles’ shoe size – so they could send him a birthday present.
So just to be absolutely clear cut, here is what the FCO can and will do:
Issue replacement travel documents
Provide information about transferring money
Provide help if you have suffered rape or serious sexual or physical assault, are a victim of crime, are ill or in hospital
Give details of local lawyers, interpreters, doctors or funeral directors
Contact you if you are detained abroad
Contact friends and family back home
Provide help in cases of forced marriage
Assist people affected by parental child abduction
Here is more advice on how the FCO can help you should you have any of these problems.
The FCO can’t:
Help you enter a county if you don’t have a valid passport or necessary visas
Give legal advice or translate documents
Investigate crimes or get you out of prison
Get you better treatment in hospital or prison than is given to local people
Pay bills or give you money
Make your travel arrangements
Here is a list of all the FCO consulates and embassies overseas should you find yourself in need of assistance overseas.