UK

Foreign Office reveals weird requests to consulates

Phil Collins
Image caption Consulate staff were asked to provide pop star Phil Collins' telephone number

The British consulate offers welcome assistance to travellers who are in trouble abroad, but the Foreign Office is warning there are some things it just cannot help with.

In the last six months staff have been asked for a telephone number for Phil Collins and Prince Charles's shoe size.

Another request was from a man stranded at the airport by his dominatrix.

The Foreign Office says it is important people understand their priority is to help those in real difficulty.

Other bizarre appeals for help made to its network of embassies, high commissions and consulates around the world, include one from a man who rang the consulate in Sydney to ask what clothes he should pack for his holiday.

In another a Briton in Sofia, Bulgaria, wanted the consulate to sell his house for him.

The caller - to Foreign Office staff in Spain - who wanted Prince Charles' shoe size, wanted the information so he could send him shoes as a present.

Other odd requests made to consular staff include:

  • A man called the consulate in Florida to report that there were ants in his holiday villa and asked for advice on what he should do
  • A lady complained to the embassy in Moscow about a loud buzzing noise in her apartment
  • A man asked a consulate in Greece for information on how to go about putting a chicken coop in his garden
  • A man asked consular staff in Dubai to meet his dog on arrival at customs and help it through the customs process
  • A caller asked staff in Malaga in mid-September where she could get a Christmas lunch as everywhere was already booked up
  • Staff in Greece were asked for tips on the best fishing spots and where to purchase good bait

Consular Affairs Minister Jeremy Browne said: "We will always try to help where we can but there are limits to the support that we can provide.

"It is important that people understand the level of help we can offer.

"Our priority is to help people in real difficulty abroad and we cannot do this if our time is diverted by people trying to use us as a concierge service.

"We need to be able to focus primarily on helping victims of serious crimes, supporting people who have been detained or assisting people who have lost a loved one abroad."

Staff from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) handle around two million consular inquiries a year.

In 2010 they dealt with more than 19,000 cases where British citizens needed help - including arrests, deaths, hospitalisations, supporting victims of forced marriage and assisting in incidents where children had been abducted by a parent.

Earlier this year the Foreign Office set up a call centre in Malaga to help filter out the large number of non-consular inquiries received by British embassies and consulates in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Andorra.

Maria Leng, a consular official in Tenerife, said: "A lot of our time was being taken up with queries that we could not assist with, but now the Malaga call centre is making a big difference."

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