The UK Foreign Office has launched “Support for British Nationals Abroad: a Guide” in an oral statement to the House of Commons.This is the first time that the details of what the Foreign Office can - and can’t - do to help British people in trouble abroad have been set out in a single document.
The new Guide comes against a context of rapidly-rising demand by Britons overseas for the Foreign Office’s help, with three times as many trips abroad from the UK as in the mid-1980s, and 13 million British nationals now living abroad.
It sets the service that British Embassies can offer in a range of different situations - whether visiting people who are in hospital or prison, working to rescue victims of forced marriage abroad, or simply issuing emergency passports to people whose documents have been lost or stolen.
Every year the FCO’s 1,800 consular staff in almost 200 countries deals with 3.5 million enquiries, including 860,000 people who come to our consulates in person. We provide Travel Advice notices on 217 countries and territories, and our travel advice website receives 400,000 visitors a month.
Equally, the Guide sets the boundaries for what help the FCO can provide.
It makes clear, for example, that people cannot expect public funds to be used to cover medical costs incurred abroad or to help find property overseas, and that the FCO cannot get people out of jail.
The Guide contains a wealth of tips on how to stay safe overseas, and how travellers can protect themselves if things go wrong.
Jack Straw said:
“Falling sick, being a victim of crime or facing an emergency are traumatic events under any circumstances. When these problems happen abroad, they can be even more difficult and frightening. So there is no more important task for the Foreign Office than our work to help British nationals in distress overseas. I hope that this new Guide will help British nationals travelling or living abroad know what support we can offer in different cases.”
The Guide will be available through libraries, Citizens Advice Bureaux and community centres throughout the UK, and through the FCO’s website http://www.fco.gov.uk/travel. A summary document, in leaflet form, will be available at selected airports and through many of the FCO’s 180 travel industry partners in the “Know Before You Go” travel safety campaign.
As well as the English versions, both documents will also be available in Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Gujerati, Punjabi and Urdu.
The new Guide fulfils a manifesto commitment and is the product of wide consultation with the travel industry, NGOs, consumer groups and parliamentarians. It received the Plain English Campaign’s Crystal Mark for clarity.