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

David Reece says:
February 12, 2014 at 11:03 AM
My experience has been that FCO "assistance" was of zero value...

Back in 1982 I was living in the Seychelles when it suffered a military coup. I telephoned the British High Commission by telephone, who explained that while it might be nice to organise an evacuation they did not have the resources, so could not offer any assistance. At the same time a French friend was given accurate information and some practical advice from the French embassy, while Tanzania, France and the Soviet Union provided military assistance to sort out the situation.
Committee staff says:
February 11, 2014 at 06:46 PM
Thank you to all those who have submitted comments already on this forum, which will be extended for a further week. We very much appreciate you sharing your experiences. The Committee will consider the comments carefully as it goes forward in its inquiry, and we will keep you updated with progress.
Wayne Lovell says:
February 10, 2014 at 01:46 AM
I have lived and worked in Timor-Leste since 2000
In May 2006 a 'crisis' developed in this country which basically consisted of the army and the police fighting each other and gang warfare on the streets of Dili, the capital. At the time we had a British embassy here and I just want to say that the Ambassador, Tina Redshaw was the epitome of grace and efficiency under fire. She was helpful, considerate and brave. It was a sad day when the embassy was closed.
Kevin Stephen Graham says:
February 08, 2014 at 04:34 AM
Being a survivour of the terrorist attack at In Amenas last January I believe I fall into this category.

During the crisis you did absolutely zero to provide British citizens including me any safe passage home although you had intelligence relayed of the whereabouts of citizens who were still alive at the time. Totally shocking.

When I was eventually repatriated to get wick is met a [*name removed by moderator*], I asked him questions but he said at the time he could not answer and could I send an email. I got the same response when I sent him an email, then silence even though I sent further emails over the coming months. I did get an email some 10 months later from another one of you team leaders who skirted around the questions. Another fine performance of a department who seem to only want to cover their own posteriors.

Passports. Due to the way I had to save my own life and not wanting to dodge any more AK47 bullets Rockets or being taken hostage I had to leave both of my 10 year passports in my accommodation. I was given a one year temp passport so I could attend my friends funerals in various parts of the globe over the next month. After that stressful time I made an appointment for a fast track passport at Victoria. I was treated like a criminal given no respect and still did not get a new passport. That did not happen until the next day when I informed the staff that I had channel4 waiting outside and my next stop was to be Downing Street to get myself arrested. [*comment removed by moderator*]

The FCO have failed to inform the survivours or families of any of the deceased about the incident. Your department as well as the rest of my government are a joke only to be laughed at.

Regards

Kevin S Graham
Jane Akshar says:
February 06, 2014 at 02:06 PM
• Did you do so online, on social media, via call centres, or in person? Online and in person
• Did the FCO provide timely and accurate advice and safety information? NO NO NO, I live in Luxor and all their advice was about the situation in Cairo, NOTHING happened in Luxor that worried anyone and you would have thought we were in danger of our lives. We call them the chocolate teapot. I completely ignore their advice which is more about covering their arses than uptodate information about where I live.
• Were there adequate FCO staff on the ground and available by phone? No they were all in Cairo
• Was an evacuation necessary and, if so, was it carried out safely and efficiently? NO
• Were you satisfied with the consular service that was provided? NO
• Do you have any suggestions to improve the service or examples of good practice from elsewhere? Differentiate between parts of a country. Giving country wide advice is stupid to people living here.
Tara Conroy says:
February 05, 2014 at 09:45 PM
Satisfied with consular services through the Egyptian Revolution??
No, no and no again.
The demise of the registration service has meant that the consular staff are no longer aware of who is on their patch of ground, who they are related to, who they need to contact should there be such an emergency.

The old system of consular registration worked. You filled out the card and the consular staff knew where you were for a year.
Locate worked to some extent. But when the internet is cut, the limits of the locate system were revealed in all their glory.
The demise of the Locate Service has created an even bigger predicament ......in that now NO ONE is aware of where anyone is, or how to contact them. Instead my inbox is filled with a daily email of the latest riveting news. Which is all well and good so long as we all stay connected to the internet to read it.

Supposedly a warden system exists. But after several emails to Cairo and Alexandria....I gave up trying to work out who my warden was, as in breach of Data Protection, I was advised to pass on my details and they would forward them to a third party. I did pass on my details, but advised that they were not to pass this on to an unknown third party without my say so. I never heard back (with the exception of an email mistakenly forwarded to me that included messages between the Ambassador and all the wardens and how to operate their Radios in the event of an emergency)
There is seemingly no way to discover who your warden is, and so the Ambassador passes on his messages to his group of wardens.....who then pass it on via Facebook. My question is:- Why doesn't the Ambassador just pop this message on to the UKinEgypt facebook page instead of messing around with a middle man?

Please bring back Consular Registration for people living in Egypt. It worked.

Patricia Joy says:
February 03, 2014 at 03:04 PM
I have lived in Ukraine for nearly 11 years with my husband for nearly 11 years. We opened and run a small children's home, classes as a patronate. When we first came we had to register every year. About five years ago we were informed that this was not necessary.

As you may know, we have some problems over here now. I have signed up to get updates from the Consulate and if I'm lucky I get one a week. It tells me nothing and asks us nothing. They don't know our address or a telephone number for us. If I ask for advice on the British Embassy site on face book I'm told to sign up for updates.

My American friends have already planned, through the American embassy, how to get out quickly if World War III breaks out. We have not even had that option. I have written to the consulate, but they can't be bothered to answer us.

Does the government of Britain care for their own nationals. My husband and I were born in England, as were our parents and our grandparents but, as I say, the government and embassy doesn't seem to care about us.

Looking at the conditions another question pops to mind. Does the government actually get to read our comments.
Committee staff says:
February 03, 2014 at 04:23 PM
Thank you for writing. All comments are made public on the forum so anyone, including the Government, may read them. In addition, the Foreign Affairs Committee might reproduce some or all of the forum comments in its final report. The Government has undertaken to respond to the Committee's reports within two months of publication. Further details about the Committee's Consular Services inquiry can be found here: http://bit.ly/1caRWEI
Brian Greenhalgh says:
February 02, 2014 at 09:28 AM
I was evacuated from Libya at the end of February 2011 on a British Government organised flight. The support of the local embassy staff was excellent and they tried their best, under difficult circumstances, to to ensure that our wait at the airport was as comfotable as possible. The major issue was the extremely long time it took to 'find' a plane in the UK to transport us. Post event suppport was good and we received several calls from the FCO to make sure that I had arrived home safely.
Craig William HITCHCOCK MBE says:
February 02, 2014 at 06:22 AM
I first arrived in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire in March 2000, and I am still in Abidjan today. When I arrived, there was an active, vibrant and almost complete Embassy and staff, it only being a few weeks after a (fairly - what commentators described at the time "British" ... i.e. bloodless) Coup d'Etat. I registered with the Embassy Consular staffs, and was given a briefing by the then Vice Consul, Mark McGuinness. I became a British Embassy Warden in the same year.

In 2004 there was a full evacuation following the incidents where French troops and an American volunteer were killed by the incumbent President's Air Force, and the attacks by the "Jeunes Patriotes" at Hotel Ivoire. Abidjan was reinforced by Consular and Military staffs from Ghana, and the evacuation went well and was well organised. The only complaint heard at the time was that whilst the French authorities took their people back to Paris, the UK only moved the British out to Ghana!!

In April 2005, the Embassy closed its doors in Abidjan, and effectively moved to Accra. Consular service was provided from Accra, but the British Embassy Warden Network continued to function on its own in Abidjan, supported by Accra.

Eventually we had a series of "Political Officers" who took the Warden Network under their wing, and eventually a Charge d'Affaires, prior to the arrival of an Ambassador.

In 2011, the post electoral crisis resulted in a partial evacuation, where those who wished were either evacuated to Ghana, or were "secured" in the French Military base at the airport. This evacuation went reasonably well, with the exception that the communications (Radio Network) failed, and the FCO intervention team's mobile phones were no either no use or extremely poor.

The decision to withdraw from LOCATE, and to rely on Twitter and Facebook is, for me, a complete and total waste of time, and ineffective.

We Wardens in Cote d'Ivoire still maintain our network, even though the British Embassy have made virtually "zero" input into it since June 2012.

The support that I have had from the BHC in Accra has been full, and 100+% over the past nine years, and I have no complaints in that direction.

I am available for a face to face on Skype, if you wish, or an interview by telephone.

I remain, Sirs, your obediant servant.

Craig W Hitchcock
Ian Martin says:
February 01, 2014 at 11:30 AM
I am receiving timely FCO updates on the situation in Bangkok (the anti-government protests) where I live and work however it would be good if those who live here long term could register at the British Embassy as they were able to do in years past.

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.