Britons love to travel and holiday abroad,but Foreign Office missions are often stumped with bizarre demands from citizens,such as to help find false teeth or how to translate “I love you” in Hungarian.
In a speech on efforts to strengthen consular diplomacy,Foreign Secretary William Hague yesterday set out measures how the Foreign Office responds to international crises and helps British citizens abroad,including cases of forced marriages in the Indian subcontinent.
Besides examples of help during crises,Hague mentioned instances when British citizens abroad wasted time and resources “with ludicrous requests.”
Hague said: “It is not our job,for example,to book you restaurants while you are on holiday. This is obvious,you may think. But nonetheless it came as a surprise to the caller in Spain who was having difficulty finding somewhere to have Christmas lunch.”
He added: “If like a man in Florida last year,you find ants in your holiday rental,we are not the people to ask for pest control advice. If you are having difficulty erecting a new chicken coop in your garden in Greece as someone else was,I am afraid that we cannot help you.”
Britons make more than 55 million individual trips overseas every year,and at least 6 million of them live abroad for some or all of the time.
Hague said that in the space of a year,approximately 6,000 Britons get arrested,and at any one time more than 3,250 British nationals are in prison around the world.
At least 10 per cent of all the murders of Britons in the last two years took place overseas,and on average more than 100 British nationals die abroad each week.
The Foreign Office,he said,is not the place to turn to “if you can’t find your false teeth,if your sat nav is broken and you need directions,if you are unhappy with your plastic surgery,if your jam won’t set,if you are looking for a dog-minder while you are on holiday,if your livestock need checking on,if you would like advice about the weather,or if you want someone to throw a coin into the Trevi fountain for you because you forgot while you were on holiday and you want your marriage to succeed.”
Hague,whose interventions in the House of Commons are known for wit and incisiveness,went on: “And our commitment to good relations with our neighbours does not,I am afraid,extend to translating ‘I love you’ into Hungarian,as we were asked to do by one love-struck British tourist. There are easier ways to find a translation.”
Hague set out six new measures to improve consular services,including the opening of a new crisis centre this summer with more staff,and a new network of contact centres which people can call,to provide round the clock coverage and free up more front line staff to deal with difficult cases.
The Foreign office is also increasing the ability to respond to crises in the Middle East,North Africa and South Asia by setting up a new Rapid Deployment team,on call 24 hours of the day,seven days a week,to help British nationals wherever need arises.