COMMONS

Assistance for British nationals in the event of large scale events and crises

The forum is now closed. Thank you to all those who have posted comments and contributed to the Committee’s inquiry into FCO consular services. The Committee will draw upon the information submitted via the web forum as it continues its work. Over the next few months, the Committee will hold further evidence sessions and will conclude by producing a report with conclusions and recommendations for the FCO. Information about the inquiry will be posted regularly on the Committee’s inquiry page.

The Committee would like to hear about the FCO’s consular advice and support for UK nationals during large scale events or large scale crisis situations, such as a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, or conflict situation.

 Based on your experience, were you able to access up to date FCO information and guidance?

  • Did you do so online, on social media, via call centres, or in person? 
  • Did the FCO provide timely and accurate advice and safety information?
  • Were there adequate FCO staff on the ground and available by phone?
  • Was an evacuation necessary and, if so, was it carried out safely and efficiently?
  • Were you satisfied with the consular service that was provided?
  • Do you have any suggestions to improve the service or examples of good practice from elsewhere?

20 Responses to British nationals in large scale events and crises

Chow H says:
February 17, 2014 at 05:36 PM
British Government should take responsibility to assist any British Nationals in their territory and also overseas without discriminancy and hesitation.
Michael Wong says:
February 17, 2014 at 02:02 PM
Dear Sir,
As a BN(O) holder, I want to know if the FCO will assist BN(O) holders in extreme situations.
As far as I have experienced, the British immigration officers do not seem to see BN(O) holders as British nationals - my passport has a chip, I'm above 18, and I'm British national (the three criteria listed on the board at the queue), yet I'm required to fill in a landing form as I went through the immigration counter at Heathrow Airport and was asked to go to the "international passport" queue.
This prompted me to think if the British government is prepared to provide any support and assistance when crisis arise.
As the British government would probably be aware that the tension between Hong Kongers and Chinese intensifies, and the continuous expansion of the PLA (Communist Chinese's army) in HK does make us worry. I believe that I have reasons to doubt the support, if any, from the British government would be offered to BN(O) holders in Hong Kong or any part of the world, may it be a bloodshed or natural disaster.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Warm regards,
Michael
ANDREW AU T. Y. says:
February 16, 2014 at 06:55 AM
The British Consulate in Hong Kong is doing to little to help BNOs in Hongkong.
Graeme Smith says:
February 16, 2014 at 04:54 AM
10 years ago the Bangkok British Embassy’s response to the Tsunami was found to be “lamentable” and was followed by the standard “lessons will be learnt” enquiry: but have they in Bangkok? The Embassies in Tokyo and Manila, for example, carry first and foremost on their Web page a clear message stating tel numbers for any Emergency and Out of Hours Assistance. In complete contrast the Bangkok Embassy has nothing and the Web page is designed to suggest you can only contact the Embassy during office hours. Why are Emergency contact details not standardised as the first item under Services on the Embassy web page across all British Embassies world-wide.? Further the Embassies in Japan and the Philippines have supplemented the Honorary Consuls with a countrywide system of local British Wardens. These Wardens support the Consuls. Certainly in any genuine emergency they are not only on the ground, but also have extensive local knowledge and contacts etc. But in Thailand the FCO has dramatically cut back on usage of Honorary Consuls, closed a Consulate Office only opened 2 to 3 years ago with much publicity and now the FCO has also effectively disconnected these Honorary Consuls from their local communities. A British citizen cannot contact their Local Honorary Consul, (with 1 exception in Chiangmai). Just how disconnected is such a policy in a globalised world, particularly for Emergencies. Why is the Bangkok Embassy not following Tokyo and Manilla’s lead, rather than moving in the opposite direction. In the last year the Embassy included a struck off English Solicitor’s Thai company in its Thai Legal Services List and then replaced the aforementioned by a firm run by an American con man. The police “asked/instructed? ” the Embassy to inform a respected British researcher into Workers (Burmese in Thailand) rights to report to a police station at a certain date and time, despite the Embassy being “legally” forbidden to give a hard copy of these “instructions and from whom” to the British researcher. The Embassy made no enquiries as to why the police had asked the Embassy to do this, but just did it, and at no time offered to accompany the British researcher to such meeting to make sure the researcher was treated fairly and his rights respected. And of course the British researcher duly went and was asked to sign a “confession” which would have had him banged up in jail for many years. In contrast an Australian citizen and reporter on the plight of the Rohingya who faces charges under the same “controversial” law has received a letter of support from the British Embassy stating the Embassy will be monitoring his case very closely and offering further assistance if necessary. All of the above, and many more examples, suggest there is something institutionally “dysfunctional” such that, it does not inspire confidence the Bangkok Embassy could cope with a disaster here. Recently a Brit, unconscious from an accident and delivered to hospital waited to be operated on whilst the Hospital took his mobile, called his stored numbers until they got a friend to come and deposit £5,000. So suppose, 20 British tourists are severely injured in a tour bus crash and the hospitals refuse to operate until payment is guaranteed and their travel insurance documents are strewn somewhere across a motorway. If contacted, would or could the Embassy respond in a timely or effective manner to ensure British citizens did not die whilst waiting to go into an operating theatre? I have great doubts that the Embassy could respond timely and effectively. Embassy Staff on the ground, at the front end, do wish to help but have no empowerment or discretion whatsoever.
Brigid Cooling says:
February 13, 2014 at 05:31 PM
Addendum to my Egypt Revolution post: I should add that the point about the friend's son who had an extremely unpleasant incident occur and where I believe the Embassy may have acted favorably took place during the revolution - not just a random aside.
sam says:
February 13, 2014 at 05:24 PM
Living in egypt for many years. During 2011 uprising the locate emails were great. Regular and informative. Until the net was stopped! Then it was impossible to get info as phone networks down too. We live over 13hrs from cairo so need more local points of contact. All embassy and consular services are in cairo and Alexandria, yet you ate advised not to travel here ??!! Now you need to trawl fb or Twitter and info gets lost in timelines. We don't live in a major city so consular services are zero for us. In cases of emergency in the country transportation stops curfews imposed and travelling long distances not advisable. Services need to spread out over the country. Not just in emergencies but for all consular services.
Brigid Cooling says:
February 13, 2014 at 12:31 PM
Egyptian revolution: internet was shut off for 5 days over the most crucial period, therefore impossible to get info online. Mobile phone network was also highly unreliable (texts weren't being delivered at all) and recharge cards very difficult to get hold of. I was registered with Locate using my Egypt landline which stayed in service throughout the revolution, but at no time did anyone attempt to contact me that way. (Phone not able to make international calls so I couldn't call out.) I believe some emails were sent out WHILE the internet was OUT (and known to be out - it was globally known that Egypt had shut off the internet) but haven't been able to find copies in my system.
I found an elderly British lady living near me, desperate to get out, who spent 2 days trying to call the British Embassy but no answer until after 2 days the call was switched to London and someone said 'they're all at the airport' and that was that. From our location it was nigh on impossible to reach the airport - with checkpoints every 200m or so, 3pm curfew, no access to cash (all ATMs in a 20km radius empty), no fuel, no taxis nearby - those that did manage to find taxis who live in more urban areas were able to find taxis substantially overcharging - about 300x more than normal - to take to airport.
Locations not in Cairo, such as Luxor, had no domestic flights available to get them to Cairo for any evacuation flights.
It was laughable that the government were saying 'everyone who wanted to leave has left' when I know 100% for a fact that there was a desperate old lady who couldn't even get them to answer the phone.
Sadly, the British Embassy performance during this crisis was no worse than that of many other countries and an American friend drew together everyones' experiences into a blog post: http://www.onefleetingglimpse.com/2011/02/important-lesson-learned-about-living.html
Thank Goodness that I, personally, aside from one or two incidents, did not feel unsafe and a need to leave at any time. If there had been a need for a full evacuation I sincerely hope that performance would have been inconsiderably better.
Regarding the general service, people often refer to 'wardens'. I understand these are voluntary positions, but it has never been possible to find out who the relevant warden is except in a couple of areas where the wardens have made themselves known to people via facebook groups etc.. To be frank, it often feels that unless you are the sort of expat who works for a big oil company or international school and enjoy playing 'last days of the raj' with balls, servants, drivers, maids and the like, normal British citizens in Egypt are almost invisible to the Embassy.
On a plus point, I am aware that an extremely unpleasant incident occurred to the son of a friend who has a British passport and I think the Embassy got involved in a positive way in his case. I may, however, be completely wrong about that, I don't remember the specifics in any detail.
Sally King says:
February 12, 2014 at 09:46 PM
This is an older scenario, but having posted on MSE website I was asked to post here. Prior to its entry into the EU, I was part of a large group of British nationals - approx 300 - who were caught up at Athens airport following extreme weather conditions. This meant we had all missed our flights home due to cancellation and were considered overstayers. If necessary I am happy to give a fuller account, but the key issues that I would like to feedback are as follows...

1) while the consul did come and visit us, they did not speak Greek or bring a Greek speaking assistant. A number of us were given document in Greek but we could not read them. We did not find out until we returned to the UK that they were deportation papers. Recommendation... bring local staff to crisis meetings to help with translation so that affected parties can have a fuller understanding of their situation.

2) the consul did not leave an attachment to stay with the party. If we tried to lay down and sleep on the hard airport floors, we were kicked by guards and woken. Recommendation... where possible leave a staff member with the party in crisis to witness and report on conditions.

3) I was forced to sign away my travel insurance rights in order to get home on a chartered plane. This was a private charter and I could not get on a commercial flight. Recommendation... have practical guides that you can give out to stranded parties who may not have access to normal tools such as the net. Let them know their local rights. Better still, have someone on hand to explain.
David Reece says:
February 12, 2014 at 11:14 AM
In 1989 I was living in Manila (Philippines) when it suffered a military coup and all services were paralysed. I listened constantly to the BBC World Service, expecting that it would carry any announcements for British people caught up in the situation from the embassy, but no such information was broadcast. I did not have access to a telephone during the crisis and so could not communicate with the embassy: the radio was my only link, and it did not provide anything.

The crisis was eventually resolved by the US Air Force, which flew missions over Manila to make it clear to the rebels that they had better run away, which is what they did. The UK contribution was zero.
David Reece says:
February 12, 2014 at 11:10 AM
In 2010 I was living in Benin (West Africa) when severe floods combined with an increased risk of terrorism to create a climate of insecurity. Benin is served by the UK High Commission in Lagos, a two-hour drive away but across an international border. Consular advice was mainly provided by Facebook rather than the FCO web page, which was unfortunate since my employer blocked access to Facebook. When I eventually managed to read this advice on Facebook it all related to Nigeria and so there was nothing at all relevant to me.

Oral evidence

The Foreign Affairs Committee is conducting an inquiry into consular services provided to British citizens overseas. You can read transcripts of the evidence sessions on our inquiry page.