[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 March 2006, 18:11 GMT
Disaster-hit travellers get guide
World Trade Center tower on 11 Sept 2001
Britons were caught up in a series of disasters including the 9/11 attacks
A guide to the support UK nationals having problems abroad can receive from British consuls has been released by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

It comes after disasters Britons have been caught up in such as the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.

The guide sets out for foreign office staff what they can and cannot do to help - such as paying hospital bills. MPs, libraries, advice bureaux and the travel industry will receive the guide. A summary will go to UK airports.

Newly-issued passports will include the advice and it will be available online at the Foreign Office website.

Emergency 'trauma'

Mr Straw said he believed lessons had been learned from handling previous disasters but the government could not be complacent.

Incidents have included the tsunami, New Orleans hurricane, bombings including Bali, 11 September, and Sharm al-Sheikh, and the crush at the Hajj pilgrimage.

He told the House of Commons: "It is always traumatic to be caught up in an emergency, to fall victim to crime or to have to go to hospital.

65m trips abroad a year
13m Britons live overseas
85,000 consular cases a year
4,200 to hospital last year
3,900 died
150 child abductions
250 forced marriages
6,000 detainees supported
Source: FCO

"When something like this happens abroad it can be worse still for those involved, who may be far away from friends and family and unfamiliar with the local language, laws and procedures.

"It has therefore long been a central task of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to assist British nationals who get into difficulty while travelling or living overseas."

He outlined the rise in demand for consular help. People from the UK make more than 65 million overseas trips each year, three times as many as 20 years ago.

More of them travel independently, to increasingly distant destinations, while 13 million nationals live overseas.

Consular staff deal with up to 3.5 million enquiries per year, helping 85,000 people in need of acute assistance.

The guide was produced after a consultation on consular help.

'Exceptional' cases

He said travellers, not the taxpayer, needed to take responsibility for the risks of travelling abroad.

But the government accepted that since the 11 September attacks, there could be "grave and exceptional" circumstances where it was appropriate for the government to help.

"If we are to deliver consular assistance in the most effective and efficient manner possible, the public need to know what support the Foreign Office's staff overseas can provide to them in times of need," he said.

The new advice will be available in English, Welsh, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Gujerati, Punjabi and Urdu.

The consuls are funded through a levy on British passports issued - 9.65 on a full 10-year passport.

Jack Straw on risks to travellers

Help when a holiday goes wrong
11 Jul 03 |  Scotland


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific