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Don’t contact a British Embassy about your shoes!

June 2013

Foreign OfficeThe Foreign Office have some hilarious requests...

Many of us will be planning a trip abroad this summer, and whether we are going on a day trip to France or the Channel Islands or a longer holiday away, sometimes we can do with a bit of help.

However, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which look after the various British embassies and consulates overseas, says they are receiving more and more weird requests from British people who clearly don’t quite understand what they do!

To start with, the overseas offices of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office come under a number of different names:

- In Commonwealth countries they are called High Commissions and are located in the capital city

- In other countries they are called Embassies and are located in the capital city

- Consulates are smaller offices in capital cities or regional centres

- Honorary Consulates are smaller versions of Consulates in smaller cities and towns

All the offices are of course there to help Britain and its interests overseas, and this can include helping individuals when they have problems. Last year, the Foreign Office handled more than a million consular enquiries and supported some 52,135 British nationals in difficulty abroad.

But a recent report from the FCO say they are receiving more and more inappropriate requests from British people overseas - and some of them do make you smile.

Evidently recent incidents recorded include a request to translate a tattoo, to silence a noisy cockerel, to supply Olympic tickets and to provide contact details for the wife of Sir Paul McCartney!

Other requests received by FCO staff include:

  • A man who required hospital treatment in Cambodia when a monkey dislodged a stone that hit him demanded help getting compensation and wanted assurance that it would not happen again
  • Consular staff in Beijing were asked to help a woman who had bought a pair of football boots that were ‘Made in China’ but were poor quality
  • A woman requested that consular staff in Tel Aviv order her husband to get fit and eat healthily so that they could have children
  • Consular staff in Kuala Lumpur were asked if the FCO could help pay to send their children to an International School
  • A man asked consular staff in Stockholm to check the credentials of a woman whom he had met online
  • A man asked the Consulate in Montreal for information to settle a £1,000 wager on the colour of the British passport
  • A number of British Consulates have been asked to book hotels or to advise on where to watch the football

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office say the requests are often good natured but can take valuable time away from helping those in genuine distress.

Mark Simmonds, Minister for Consular Affairs, said: “FCO staff help many thousands of British nationals facing serious difficulties around the world every year. We also receive over a million enquiries each year, so it is important that people understand what we can and cannot do to support them when they are abroad.

British Passport“We are not in a position to help people make travel arrangements or social plans, but we do help those who face real problems abroad. These can include victims of crime, bereaved families who have lost a loved one abroad or Britons who have been arrested or detained. We aim to continue to focus on supporting those who really need our help in the coming year.”

The FCO set up a contact centre in Malaga in February 2011 to handle the volume of non-consular enquiries received by British Embassies and Consulates in Southern Europe. Since its launch staff have handled 131,211 calls, 39% of which have been lifestyle enquiries.

Head of the Contact Centre, Steve Jones, said: “Our aim is to help staff concentrate on what is important but some of the enquiries we received from British nationals last year were bizarre to say the least – for example, one customer contacted us to ask if we could provide the name of the watch that the Royal Navy sailors wore between the years 1942-1955.

“While we couldn’t help with the watch information, FCO consular staff in Southern Europe were able to provide assistance to a single mother of three young children who was suddenly hospitalised after a bout of sickness, and we also helped a family of four injured in a road traffic accident.”

The examples listed above indicate that some people do not know how the FCO can (and cannot) help Brits abroad. Recent research shows that 78% of people wrongly think the FCO could get them out of jail if arrested.

How the FCO can help when you are abroad:

The FCO can:

The FCO cannot:

  • Issue you with 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 you a list of local lawyers, interpreters, doctors or funeral directors
  • Contact you if you are detained abroad
  • Contact friends and family back home for you if you wish
  • Provide help in cases of forced marriage
  • Assist people affected by parental child abduction
  • Help you enter a country if you do not have a valid passport or necessary visas
  • Give you 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 any bills or give you money
  • Make travel arrangements for you

The main thing of course is to do adequate preparation before your trip, but it you would like to know more about what the Foreign and Commonwealth Office does, they have a helpful website:

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