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Consular services - Individuals who encounter difficulties abroad web forum

Foreign Affairs Committee

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 support for UK nationals and their families who have found themselves in situations of particular difficulty or distress abroad.

This could include people who have become ill or involved in an accident abroad, people whose belongings and travel documents have been lost or stolen, families of UK nationals who die abroad, UK nationals in foreign criminal systems (as victims, suspects, or prisoners) and their families, and UK nationals involved in international hostage taking and child abduction.

  • Based on your experience, how easy was it to get in touch with UK consular services when you encountered a problem?
  • Did you make contact via a call centre, online, or at an Embassy or consulate?
  • Did FCO staff provide accurate advice and guidance?
  • If required, did the FCO provide a consular officer to visit you?
  • Do you feel that the FCO handled your case quickly and sensitively?
  • 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?

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82 Contributions (since 27 January 2014)
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Total results 82 (page 4 of 9)

Julie love

09 February 2014 at 22:25

My son had thoroughly researched his holiday and checked the FCO website for information on all his destinations, sadly, there were no warnings to be found about undertow or riptides. Through the intervention of my MSP and persistent contact that I made, the FCO eventually changed their website to add : Beaches The waters of the Caribbean can be deceptive. There are strong currents and undertows in some areas that can make swimming hazardous. Lifeguards and warnings are not always in place. Had this advice been in place prior to my sons holiday then maybe he would not have gone in to the sea on that day. Thankful that this advice would assist other tourists I felt that yes, the FCO had listened and responded. Less than 2 years ago I noticed changes to the FCO site for travellers to the UAE, in particular Dubai, after the death of 3 British tourists, it reads: Beach Safety Rip currents can occur at any beach, and can sweep even the strongest swimmer out to sea. Always comply with warning signs, especially red flags, and only swim from approved beaches. In the exact same day a British tourist drowned in South Africa & on the same beach less than a week prior, 6 South Arican rugby players had also perished after being caught in an undertow. I contacted the FCO to suggest that they also change the South African travellers page, to date, this has not been done. This is one of many situations were the FCO are not consistent with their advice. Suggestion .. Why wait until a death is reported, be pro-active and advise travellers of the dangers. I later campaigned for a change in the law in Scotland, to introduce FAI's after a Scot dies abroad, I have been assured by the Scottish Government that this will be implemented within this parliamentary session, this campaign received publicity and families contaced me who had similar experience or had received little or no assistance or guidance after their loved one died abroad, no matter what the circumstances, It prompted me to get a group of these families together and we later formed a registered charity DAYNA (Death Abroad - You're Not Alone). The families who have been in contact with us have had little or no support from various organisations and have been let down very badly, this is not only Scottish families but throughout the UK, with circumstances ranging from natural causes, accidental deaths, suspicious circumstances, murder & manslaughter. These families have no guidance whatsoever and many are left so traumatised that they are unable to deal with the overwhelming burocracy and the financial burden this places on them. Families have been advised that their loved one died from suicide only to travel to the country the death occured and discover, through their own investigations, this was not in fact the case and was actually foul play or accidental causes. Many families will accept this as dont have the finances to travel or will have their loved one cremated abroad (as the FCO advise cheaper and easier) and no inquiry is carried out in the UK. I am aware of at least 3 families who were given this advice and reluctantly had their loved one cremated abroad, only to have major regrets after and no apologies from the FCO/UK embassy re the advice they were given. Families have also been advised that a death was accidental only to pursue this further, either through their own interventions, a lawyer or private investigator to find that foul play was involved and that their loved one was actually the victim of murder or manslaughter. Do these statistics change when this is discovered? I believe that they don't and that the figure of "60" murders or manslaughter abroad is indeed much higher. I am also aware, through discussions with families, of organisations that are funded by the FCO whereby their practice is inconsistent and have concerns that these NGO's are not accurately monitored by the FCO and suggest that the committee seek clarification of the criteria of the referrals and how they are implemented, monitored, reviewed, recorded, evaluated and eventually improved. Also, can a family only seek asssitance if the referral has come via the FCO. This subject is very vast and diverse and I couldn't possibly cover all areas however I was glad to see ABTA were invited to give evidence. I hope many other organisations are represented and invited, including ABI, Police, Airlines, Funeral Directors, Trauma & bereavement counsellors, Telecom Providers & others who are involved in providing assistance to families at their time of need. In particular Repatriation Agents whom many families feel charge a questionable fee for the service they provide. A further suggestion I would make is that of this committee and how you relay the request for the general public to contribute. I personally came accross an article on twitter relating to the inquiry which I passed on to other organisations and families and feel had I not done

Julie Love

09 February 2014 at 22:22

My son Colin Love drowned in the sea on Margarita Island whilst on a Carribean cruise in January 2009. He was 23 years old. He was an excellent swimmer. The beach was recommended by the cruise company and although notorious for riptides and undertow there were no warning sign or lifeguards. Based on my experience it was easy to make contact with the Foreign office in the Uk, my initial contact was approx 2am on 30th january 2009, several hours after I was notified of my sons death (by his friend) I spoke to a member of the global response team who was very emphatic, however unable to assist as the foreign office had not yet received notification of the death but that he would leave word with the South American desk to ensure someone contact me as soon as the information was recieved the following morning. I never received a call. I contacted them approx 12 noon the following day (bearing in mind I have not slept a wink and absolutely frantic, my son is dead, on the other side of the world) & spoke to a female at the desk, her response was curt, 'we deal with thousands of Brits dying abroad every year, I dont have a message to call you back" Appalled is an understatement. She reluctantly took my details and said she'd call back. I am still waiting on that call. After contacting the HQ of the cruise co in Miami I was able to ascertain the telephone no of the British Honorary Consul on Margarita Island and made direct contact by telephone. His spoken English was very poor however we were eventually able to communicate by email. I was advised, like many other families, to have my son cremated, not to travel to Margarita Island, that the cremation could be arranged on the island and they'd return my sons ashes. How appalling, what mother wants to be told that she can not hold her child ever again. Especially when it's possible that she can. I was adamant my son was being repatirated back to Scotland and that I was going to the island to bring him home. I was advised against this and informed that it would delay his repatriation. Reluctantly I did not travel (although media informed that I did) to the island and it still took 4 weeks for my sons body to be repatriated, I was advised 4 different dates and had church services, etc booked only to have to re-arrange, I had family and friends travelling to Scotland from all over the world and some of them had to return home and to work and were unable to pay respects at my sons funeral because of the date changes. Formal identification of my son proved to be difficult as his passport was on board the cruise liner which had left the port of Margarita and his friend was made to return to the liner as he was not a relative or next of kin. The liner docked in Aruba the following day and his friend travelled from Aruba/Miami, Miama/London & London/Glasgow, he was charged excess baggage on each journey as he thoughtfully and thankfully brought my sons luggage back with him. He was not given any assistance on this journey. The American family who were at the beach with them that day were given counselling by the liner when they returned to their destination because of the trauma they incurred. I did not even get an email or letter to offer condolences. So in answer to the questions, No, I was not offered accurate advice and certainly given no guidance. I feel that the FCO handled my case abhorrently and their was no sensitivity to my feelings or to my sons dignity. I was later to find out that my sons body remained on the beach (uncovered) for approx 12 hours when a tourist who had attempted to save him contacted me, he had returned later to the spot with flowers, only to be horrified that his body remained there. A British newspaper also printed a picture of my sons dead body on the beach. Since my sons death, I have actively followed stories of Brits dying abroad and this same newspaper always appears to have exclusives on Brits dying abroad, it makes me question the relationship between this particular newspaper and the foreign office and also how information is relayed to the media. A journalist once advised me that she was shocked as reporters tend to find out more information than the families. I was most definitely not satisfied with the consular service provided. I would also like to state that my telephone bill for that period was almost £1000. Statement, suggestions & examples of good practice Living in Scotland I was aware that there would be no inquiry into my sons death & whilst I believe it was an avoidable tragic accident, I was also angry that there were no warnings signs or lifeguards on this particular beach which having researched was particularly notorious for drowning. I personally had to write to President Chavez as the Scottish Government and Westminister couldn't make recommendations on by behalf, why would a president listen to me, I am a mum, I dont have Crown headed paper or even speak the languag


09 February 2014 at 21:54

I have already left comments regarding the murder of my husband in Spain nearly 5 years ago, his body lays in a mortuary near my home. Reading through these comments, I feel so much for these families, who have lost loved ones, I can not understand how the FCO is not taking immediate steps to change the way they behave and work. How can staff not give vital information. It is left to charities like Samm abroad, to advise families and support them. Eve at Samm abroad has been my constant support for 4 years. I have had no contact with the FCO in over two years, they gave a statement to the BBC when contacted, they would be contacting me and writing to me, that was over a year ago... they also say 'we' should be contacting them.. what for to argue, to feel even more isolated and helpless.. We should we have to fight for our own country to help and support us, we can not even grieve in peace. It is not a few isolated cases, they should be ashamed of themselves. Will all these comments change anything? will the FCO at last change the way they are conducting themselves? families writing about their experience on here, unless you have suffered traumatic death of a loved one, you could not have a idea how draining it is to talk about it, how upsetting it is. My own government have proved to me, they couldn't care less my husband lays in a freezer for 5 years.

Abdul Ghelleh

09 February 2014 at 18:33

Honestly, if you get into trouble overseas, forget the UK diplomatic missions there. Try to sort things out for yourself. It saves you a lot of hassle and disappointment.

Jacky Lawson

09 February 2014 at 17:31

I have recently been helping an English friend whose mother died in Marmaris and wanted to be buried in Turkey. The lady at the British Consulate in Marmaris was very helpful BUT my friend died on a Friday evening and we were unable to get any assistance until Monday morning. Surely it must be possible to arrange for weekend/evening consular cover? Not all problems conveniently happen during weekday working hours. In the end I rang the Foreign Office out of hours service which patched me through to someone in London. She was very efficient but what we really needed was someone to talk to in Marmaris. In the end we had no choice but to return to Marmaris (we live in Dalaman, 1 1/2 hours drive away) on the Monday.

Karen Walchester

09 February 2014 at 17:14

My son was found dead on the beach in Playa de Las Americas, Tenerife. He wasn't drunk or drugged. The FCO where merely message carriers for ourselves and powers that be in Tenerife. They could do nothing and had no power to help us sort out the fact that the Post Mortem was for the most part fictional and the suspicious circumstances not investigated thoroughly. We were scared to employ a Spanish Lawyer with and open ended case which could leave us homeless and still without answers. Again the FCO can do nothing, it seems like once your dead your not a British Citizen worth bothering with anymore. For the most part e-mails and certainly letters go unanswered, and you feel a nuisance when calling the FCO. They need to make substantial changes to become the best consular service in the world.

Hazel and Peter Kouzaris

09 February 2014 at 13:02

Our son James Kouzaris along with his good friend James Copper were murdered on 16th April 2011 in Sarasota Florida USA. We were on holiday in Paris at the time and heard the devastating news from our son's best friend over the phone. Apparently attempts were made to locate us but obviously the FCO didn't try hard enough. The Liaison Officer from Sarasota managed to contact us whilst we were still in Paris. We were desperately trying to make our own arrangements to get back home in a state of shock and would have valued some help from the FCO to do this. This was horrendous and the French were not helpful and we had the language barrier to cope with on top of it all! We needed help at our darkest hour. We have nothing but praise for the way the Americans handled the situation from then on. We eventually had a phone call from the FCO whilst on Euro Star and the person seemed totally dispassionate and simply said she would pass the news on to a FLO in the UK who subsequently gave us tremendous support from then on in. After initial dealings with the FCO we all came to the same conclusion over the coming weeks that communicating with the FCO was a waste of time and effort. All liaison thereafter was handled directly by ourselves and our FLO to America as the FCO were seemingly ambivalent ineffectual and totally disengaged with the whole process. When considering a civil case in America because of the events surrounding our son's murder after many phone calls the FCO who were very unhelpful eventually provided us with a list of possible Attorneys in America who had had some previous success with UK nationals in the past. We were told to "manage our expectations" a phrase we found patronizing and insensitive especially as we didn't know what our expectations were!!! In our opinion the FCO need a small dedicated team who are sensitive and in tune with people's feelings and are up to date with all the information on each case that comes their way. They also need to provide help at first hand when tragedy happens taking away some of the shock stress and trauma that victims experience. Hazel and Pete Kouzaris

Jose Elizabeth Reynolds

09 February 2014 at 11:31

My son was a resident in Spain. He had brought his Venezuelan wife to Spain and they had had two sons whilst living here, both of whom are the holders of British Passports. However, when his Venezuelan wife applied for Spanish Residency it was blocked by the British Consulate in Alicante. As a result of this blockage he was obliged to move with his family to Venezuela. The reason given for the blockage was a lie. They cast doubt on the signature of the supporting document for the marriage. This allegation was totally refuted by the nearby consulate of The Dominican Republic. An honest answer would be welcome. My son and grandsons now live in a dangerous country where kidnapping is all too common, all because a letter of recognition of my son's marriage was not forthcoming. In stead of helping I feel the British Consulate has put my family in danger.

Anita Sloan

08 February 2014 at 23:55

This goes back to the Gulf War in 1991. Although it is 23 years ago I will never forget the fear of being in Riyadh Saudi Arabia, working as a nurse. Apart from being issued with a gas mask, we were offered absolutely no help or reassurance whatsoever from the British Embassy. Our British passports were held by our Saudi employers at all times and we were not allowed to leave the country. We had no telephones in our accommodation,and there was no internet.Saudi TV did not broadcast any relevant information. We had no way of letting our families in UK know what was happening. Friends and family in UK who rang the British Embassy in London were fobbed of with excuses. On a separate issue Brits unlucky enough to be thrown into Saudi jails were given no real help or support,by the British Embassy;they were left in appalling conditions, for the Saudis to metre out justice in the form of torture.

Sherrin Kennedy

08 February 2014 at 19:56

my son Jonathan Kennedy was murdered in Nuth in the Netherlands January 6/7th 2007. he had returned to Nuth on the 2nd January to go back to work for the 3rd where he was living and working . He was home for Christmas and the New year , I dropped him off at Edinburgh airport on the 2nd , and that was the last I saw my son alive . I received a phone call on the evening of the 2nd January with a message on my answerphone saying he had arrived safely . I made several attempts to contact him during that week but his phone went straight onto voicemail . On the 11th January a work colleague called me to ask if Jonathan had came home . Alarm bells was telling me something was seriously wrong and my son and daughter made calls to friends, Strathclyde Police and also the British Consulate with no help whatsoever . As the incident wasn't in this country and no helpful information from British Consulate a contact name was given but 3days later this person had left . No continuity other than being told to call back Strathclyde Police where 2 police officers came round to make an incident report . blunders made by the Dutch Investigation followed where Jonathan's body was in a cupboard of the apartment and this was missed in the first search so it was the 18th January before his body was found . On the months that followed this crime everything was a nightmare not knowing where to turn to between the F.C.O V.S. NHS Flo officers until I got an address for SAMMABROAD which helped me find out what should happen and obviously how many people do not receive the help that's needed . I lost cost of flights for cancelled court dates and more .Two Englishmen were involved one is serving a 9 year sentence the other was charged with concealing evidence and because he was in remand for a year he was then released with his passport. He had another 2months added on appeal but did not return to serve this time . Several attempts were made by head F.L.O. To contact British Consulate General no reply was ever made. To date this person is still free while me and my family are still suffering. Sincerely Sherrin Kennedy

Total results 82 (page 4 of 9)