Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

FO staff quizzed on Olympic tickets

Supplying Olympic tickets was just one of the unusual requests made to British consular staff

Silencing a noisy cockerel and supplying Olympic tickets were among the more unusual requests made to British consular staff abroad last year.

In Rome, a man asked Foreign Office (FO) staff to translate a phrase for a tattoo he wanted.

A woman requested that consular staff in Tel Aviv in Israel order her husband to get fit and eat healthily so that they could have children, while FO staff were often asked where was the best place to watch football.

The FO also said its staff in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia were asked if they could help pay to send a couple's children to an international school, while a man asked consular staff in Stockholm to check the credentials of a woman he had met online.

Over the period 2012/13, the FO handled more than a million consular inquiries and supported some 52,135 British nationals in difficulty abroad.

The FO set up a contact centre in Malaga in southern Spain in February 2011 to handle the volume of non-consular inquiries received by British embassies and consulates in southern Europe. Since its launch staff have handled 131,211 calls, 39% of which have been lifestyle inquiries.

The centre's head, Steve Jones, said: "Our aim is to help staff at posts concentrate on what is important but some of the inquiries we received from British nationals last year were bizarre to say the least.

"For example, one customer contacted us to ask if we could provide the name of the watch that the Royal Navy sailors wore between the years 1942-1955."

Consular affairs minister Mark Simmonds said: "FO staff help many thousands of British nationals facing serious difficulties around the world every year. We also receive over a million inquiries each year, so it is important that people understand what we can and cannot do to support them when they are abroad.

"We are not in a position to help people make travel arrangements or social plans, but we do help those who face real problems abroad. These can include victims of crime, bereaved families who have lost a loved one abroad or Britons who have been arrested or detained. We aim to continue to focus on supporting those who really need our help in the coming year."

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