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Foreign Office apologises to tsunami victims
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    Foreign Office apologises to tsunami victims

    Foreign Office apologises to tsunami victims
    Richard Beeston, Diplomatic Editor
    What British survivors had to say

    The Foreign and Commonwealth Office will apologise to survivors of the tsunami disaster today, after a devastating report into the failure of British diplomats to deal with the aftermath of the Boxing Day disaster two years ago.

    Of the 116 people questioned for a National Audit Office (NAO) report, most had negative experiences of British officials in the aftermath of the disaster, which killed 300,000 people, including 150 Britons.

    In particular, British consular officials were described as insensitive, incompetent and far less helpful than diplomats from other countries in providing emergency services.

    “The British Embassy in Bangkok made promises of assistance that were never delivered,” said one British survivor interviewed for the report.

    “They were ineffective/ unhelpful and hindered my evacuation. I hold the British Embassy responsible for doing nothing when they knew of our plight. Words cannot describe how disappointing and useless the staff in Bangkok, and later in Phuket, were.”

    Another recalled how a group of British consular officials, on holiday in one of the affected areas, arranged for their own evacuation but abandoned their countrymen.

    One respondent said he was treated so poorly that he had felt like changing nationality.

    Other government agencies were also criticised. One family returning from Sri Lanka in the days after the tsunami were asked by an immigration officer why their passports were wet.

    The NAO survey said that some British diplomats, their families and friends devoted hours and days to helping those in need. But it concluded that the FCO and other government agencies need better planning to cope with disasters, better training for staff, improvements in communicating and handling information and delivering long-term aftercare.

    Lord Triesman, the Foreign Office minister responsible for consular affairs, today apologised to survivors for any shortcomings. He said work was already under way to improve the response to future disasters.

    “The sheer scale of the 2004 tsunami meant that no organisation was able to respond as it wanted. As a result, some UK families and individuals did not get the support they could have expected to receive. We have said sorry to them,” he said.

    “We are determined to learn the lessons from their experiences: we’ve been working with families, survivors and with the National Audit Office and others to do that since the immediate aftermath of the tsunami itself.”

    Quotes from the survivors:

    “There was nothing”

    “I wanted them to know I existed. A couple of days after what happened, I would have expected some . . . support from the British Government . . .Or even just some information — you know — like the Government knows you’re here. Or this is what the British Government is doing, we’re trying to arrange flights, that kind of thing. But there was nothing.”

    “They just sat there”

    “British Consulate members were on holiday in the area. After the tsunami they sat in our guest house, which was just out of reach of the tsunami. They didn’t help anyone in any way, they sat there and got drunk until a minibus they had called for arrived.

    “When it arrived they didn’t offer anyone else a lift to a safe area, they just left. Their conduct was disgraceful and made me ashamed to be British.”

    “Get rid of that superiority”

    “(I suggest we need) better trained professional British Embassy staff who do not treat the public as idiots — and get rid of that superiority. To admit that they do not know if they do not know the answer and say they will find out, instead of just bluffing and giving wrong information. I was very close to changing my nationality. In fact I thought their whole attitude was appalling.”

    “We don’t have any plans”

    “They went to the Embassy to get their passports and they spoke to someone and they said, ‘Look, are you going to do anything to help us get home, are you going to put us on a flight?’ and they said ‘No, we don’t actually have any plans at the moment. What we will do, we’ll take your number at the hotel and… we will phone you if we are going to do that’ . . . A couple of days later, my brother-in-law picked up a newspaper in Bangkok, and reads ‘British Government flies home survivors .” I don’t know how many but (it was) virtually empty.”

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    Re: Foreign Office apologises to tsunami victims

    Sorry all, this came from the UK Times today November 30th, 2006. Just wanted to see what everyone's outlook on this is? Should so much be placed on so small a number of people (the members of the British Foreign Office in Thailand) and how to react to this natural disaster? Something so massive, without any forewarning, could so much responsibility of coordination be placed on the Foreign Office in an anarchic situation such as this? What do you all think?

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    Re: Foreign Office apologises to tsunami victims

    I was in Chiang Mai when the Tsunami happened and for a week or so afterwards. Over the next week I spoke to survivors from Phuket who had been evacuated by the same holiday company I was with via Bangkok and arrived in Chiang Mai over the next few days. These survivors were full of praise for the efficiency of the company, but over that week I heard many people complaining how difficult it was to get any help or info from the British Consulate. Frankly, the Consulate should not have needed more than a few days to get its act together and organise evacuation via the holiday companies on the ground in the affected resorts and elsewhere in Thailand. As far as I am aware, none of this happened and it was left to the holiday companies to individually sort out evacuation of its clients to the UK. As for any form of immediate counselling of these people's trauma, we other Brits were all they got, many of them wanted to continually talk about their experience and possibly thereby come to some understanding of what happened. And we listened. Day and night.

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    Re: Foreign Office apologises to tsunami victims

    See, where I get confused and fogged about the whole situation is how much power does someone in the Foreign office acutally yield? I would imagine that the local Thai police, if anything, yields the most power. What about all those people who wanted to stay to look for loved ones and those they knew and did not want to be evacuated. Also, does the British Gov't own all the transportation companies - i.e. BA, AirFrace, etc.? Only so much that can be done in such a quick amount of time - I would think that the travel companies would have an easier time coordinating evacuations with air travel companies than the foreign offices because that is basically what they do on a daily basis...just some things to ponder about...

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    Re: Foreign Office apologises to tsunami victims

    Part of the British Consulates (BC) responsibility is to assist British Citizens currently present in the country in which the BC is situated. This does not mean that they have to lend money if such is lost-as many people think-but they should assist in things like repatriation due to illness if required. Most certainly they should have a swift efficient system (which could involve travel companies) to help evacuate British citizens in cases of a national emergency-and have done this in the past, in Africa, for example-and to this end should be able to liase at the highest level with the countries government. The BC should also liase with the British Government, which can "request" help from British airlines-which probably would not be rejected-to airlift people out of a country-with the assistance of the relevant countries government as to permission to use civil and maybe even military airports. Again this has been done in the past.
    The fact that the Foreign Office and Commonwealth Office has publicly apologised, even if is a qualified apology, is both very unusual and a clear admission of the failure of the BC to carry out any of these responsibilities effectively over the days that followed the Tsunami. There is nothing really to ponder IMHO-the BC in Bangkok screwed up big time, as did the British Government.
    I must admit I am angry with those overpaid incompetents, I was not there when the wave(s) hit, but I was, and still am, affected by my contact with the people that were, who did not get the help and support needed-and were entitled to- from their government and its represntatives.

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    Re: Foreign Office apologises to tsunami victims

    Over the years I have had several times when I needed help or advice from the Embassy/ consular staff, and over those years I have seen the level of service, as well as their knowledge of the country that they are serving in, deteriorate to such a level as to make them my absolute last resort in time of need.
    The compound that they live in provides a barrier between them and the real world, and I feel sure that the only knowledge of Thailand comes from the very roughest guide to Thailand.
    When my wife was ill in Chiangmai, the taxi driver I picked up at Mor Chit was more helpful, far more knowledgeable than anyone at the embassy. In fact he warned me, on the way to the embassy, that they would be no help whatsoever, and he was right. He waited for me while I was in there, then spent the day guiding me around the copy shops and immigration departments before going back to inform the embassy staff of the outcome of my calls.
    Nowadays my impression is that they are little more use than cashiers!
    If you need help and/or advice while in Bangkok, talk to a cabbie! They really are cheaper and far more help!
    Feel I should add that while my first posting to Bangkok was not a diplomatic one, it did involve close working with the embassy, so I do have knowledge of what they used to be like!
    To be happy with where you are, first be happy with who you are.

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