Kiwis' ridiculous requests of MFAT

By Andre Hueber

The New Zealand Embassy in Washington. Photo / Richard Robinson
The New Zealand Embassy in Washington. Photo / Richard Robinson

If you get into trouble overseas, don't expect the Government to send in a helicopter and no, an ambassador won't deliver your mail by hand.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs received 50,000 consular enquiries in the year to June 30 and assisted with 2122 cases. But many fell outside the scope of the agency's powers - such as requests for money for airfares, bail costs or outstanding debts.

Staff at New Zealand embassies helped some Kiwis that got into difficulties overseas but, said Deborah Geels, director of the ministry's consular division, "there are some limitations".

One common misconception was the Government should provide financial assistance. This just wasn't possible "except in a real emergency and subject to very strict conditions".

Geels said requests were up by 10 per cent in the past year because of the growth in travel, adventure travel, internet scams, terrorism and natural disasters. They were more complex because of greater diversity of locations.

She said some people assumed the ministry could arrange for immigration decisions to be reversed or an embassy could get them a "get out of jail free card".

The more ridiculous requests included a call for an ambassador to personally deliver mail and emergency travel documents and wanting evacuation by helicopter.

"There is often an expectation the government should physically evacuate New Zealanders ... in almost all cases they will need to do so by commercial means."

The ministry could help with lost or stolen passports, contacting relatives to request emergency funds, providing a lawyer and death arrangements but could not help with the costs of returning a body to New Zealand or arranging people better conditions in hospital than a local citizen would receive.

Geels recommended Kiwis travel with insurance, although many don't.

Claims data from Southern Cross showed one traveller to the US incurred more than $1 million in medical expenses alone.

Company chief executive Craig Morrison said the cost of travel insurance represented just a tiny fraction of the potential cost of becoming ill or injured abroad, even in countries with reciprocal healthcare arrangements such as the UK and Australia.

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