x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Odd consular requests posed to UAE's British embassies

The UK foreign office reveals the oddest requests for consular assistance including some off-the-wall pleas for help to the British embassies in the UAE.

DUBAI // How do I silence a noisy cockerel? Can you guarantee a monkey won't hit me with a stone? Can I get a phone number for Sir Paul McCartney's wife?

These are just a few of the more unusual questions posed to Britain's embassies worldwide, the country's foreign office has revealed.

With more than 50,000 missions worldwide, officials are used to a steady stream of queries about visas and passports - but sometimes they get slightly more off-the-wall pleas for help.

And the British Embassy in Abu Dhabi is no exception.

Someone called the office to enquire whether it was OK to travel with a cake that contained alcohol, while a student asked if he could live at the embassy to develop his English language skills.

One of the embassy's most frequent requests is to give out the dialling code for the UK.

Requests to the British Embassy in Dubai include seeking a letter to help a child find a school placement, and a plea for a birth certificate stating a child was born in the UK because the mother did not want Dubai on the certificate.

"FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] staff help many thousands of British nationals facing serious difficulties around the world every year," said Mark Simmonds, the office's consular affairs minister.

"We also receive more than a million enquiries 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."

Consular services are for people who are victims of crime, bereaved families who have lost a loved one abroad, or for Britons who have been arrested or detained, Mr Simmonds explained.

"We aim to continue to focus on supporting those who really need our help in the coming year," he said.

A large number of non-consular enquiries in southern Spain meant the FCO set up a special contact centre in Malaga to handle requests. Since its launch, staff have dealt with 131,211 calls, 39 per cent of which have been lifestyle enquiries.

In the last year, the FCO handled more than a million consular enquiries globally and supported 52,135 Britons in difficulty abroad.

But consular staff regularly receive a large number of enquiries beyond the scope of their duties.

These include a man who required hospital treatment in Cambodia when a monkey hit him with a stone. He demanded help to get compensation and wanted assurances it would not happen again.

Another man asked FCO staff in Rome to translate a phrase for a tattoo he wanted, while consular staff in Beijing were asked to help a woman who had bought a pair of poor-quality football boots.

Consular staff in Kuala Lumpur were asked if they could help pay to send children to an international school, while a man asked officials in Stockholm to check the credentials of a woman he had met online.

Another man asked the consulate in Montreal for information to settle a £1,000 (Dh5,570) wager on the colour of the British passport.

A number of British consulates have been asked to book hotels or to advise on where to watch football matches live on television.

"Our aim is to help staff concentrate on what is important but some of the enquiries we received from British nationals last year were bizarre to say the least," said the head of the FCO contact centre, Steve Jones.

"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 and 1955.

"Some people do not know how the FCO can, and cannot, help Brits abroad."

Research found that 78 per cent of Britons wrongly think the FCO could get them out of jail if arrested, and nearly half of 16 to 24-year-olds do not know what an embassy or consulate does, according to the UK Travel Habits Tracking Research.

 

amustafa@thenational.ae