Archive for Consular Affairs
A former diplomat says the Prisoner X case highlights government limitations when giving consular assistance to Australians with dual citizenship. Ben Zygier is believed to have worked for Israel’s spy agency Mossad before being arrested and jailed in a top secret Israeli prison in February 2010. The dual Australian-Israeli national died in his supposedly suicide-proof jail cell in December 2010. He did not request or receive Australian consular assistance after being arrested, and Australia’s ambassador in Tel Aviv was not told about the case. Foreign Affairs officials in Canberra learned of Zygier’s arrest via Australian intelligence officers in Israel, and then relied on the assurances of Israeli authorities that he was being treated within his rights as an Israeli citizen. Foreign Minister Bob Carr has described that as a failing, and former Australian diplomat Ross Burns agrees. But he doubts consular assistance would have helped Zygier in any case. “Australians have high expectations of what can be achieved on behalf of dual nationals in situations that emerge in foreign countries,” he told The World Today. “The reality in international law is that we don’t have automatic right of access to people if they enjoy the nationality of the host of the other country.
The U.S. consulate properties are being auctioned in India by the U.S. government which has created a buzz among prominent real estate players in Mumbai. The U.S Consulate property, Washington House, the Altamount residential building has acquired by Lodha Group for 341.82 crore. Washington House property had quoted a fixed price of 350 crore and the property was one among the two marquee properties that U.S government set up for sale in the financial capital, Mumbai. Last year, the consulate had already shifted to another building in the Bandra-Kurla complex. Subsequent to this, both Washington House and Lincoln House, the other marquee property, were offered for sale.
Record numbers of Brazilians and Chinese have applied for visas to travel to the United States this year, the US State Department said. The State Department said it had deployed extra staff to its embassy and consulates in Brazil in order to process some of the 820,000 visa applications received this year, a 42 percent increase over 2010. More than 1.2 million Brazilians visited the United States in 2010, contributing some $6 billion to the economy, according to the US government, which said the number of visitors could reach 2.8 million by 2016. The State Department has also seen surging demand from China, where more than one million visa applications were submitted in 2011, a 34 percent increase over 2010. The deployment of extra staff has reduced the average wait time for a visa appointment in Brazil to less than 50 days and in China to less than 10 days, the State Department said.
At a time human rights have become the focus of global discussion, Ghanaians seeking visas to some countries are given hostile reception while they await their interview sessions. A visit by the Finder newspaper to a number of Embassies showed the plight of applicants. There was a lack of shelter and minimum provision of chairs. The embassies and High Commissions visited were those of theUnited States of America, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France and South Africa. Most applicants The Finder met at the US Embassy were seen waiting under trees and sitting on rocks. This situation has led to an individual hiring out seats on a pay-as-you-sit basis. The individual who gave her name as Sara provided applicants with plastic chairs and charged them 60 pesewas an hour. A student-applicant who gave his name as Justice told The Finder that he arrived at the Embassy at about 10:20am but was expected to go in for his interview at 1pm. “I have paid a visa fee of US$140 and therefore expected to be served well but as you can see, I am sitting on a rock and this is where I am going to sit till 1pm; can you imagine the discomfort?” he asked. A family of four, who patronized Sara’s plastic chair services, said they agreed to pay GH¢2.40 for every hour that they sat on the chairs. They said it was their second visit to the embassy, adding that the situation was no different even in the interview area. “There is a bold inscription that reads that the room accommodates only 150 people but the last time we were there, there were not less than 300 people in there and some of us had to stand for almost three hours before getting a seat,” the family head said. At the Spanish embassy, the situation was not different as visa applicants had to queue to enter the embassy. At the French embassy, visa applicants sit outside under the barest cover and still at the mercy of the sun, a situation that cannot be said to be comfortable. Another mission that is not doing enough for its applicants is the High commission of the Republic of South Africa. Most applicants that The Finder saw were standing in the sun as they waited for their turns to pass through the gate. A visit to the visa section of the High Commission of theUnited Kingdom, one of the most patronized in the country, showed that there were enough seats for applicants, with some empty seats evident. The German embassy visa section is another place where applicants appear to be treated with dignity as they are given comfortable places to sit while waiting to enter the main visa building. Applicants appear protected from the vagaries of the weather. At the Italian embassy a make-shift shed with wooden chairs have been provided for visa applicants.
Asking for rock superstar Phil Collins’ telephone number and checking on the Prince of Wales’ shoe size are among the odd requests made to British consular staff abroad, it has been revealed. Records also showed that staff in Spain were asked by a man to contact a dominatrix who had left him stranded at the airport. A man rang the consulate in Sydney to ask what clothes he should pack for his holiday while a Briton in Sofia, Bulgaria, wanted the consulate to sell his house for him. A woman in Moscow wanted embassy staff to visit her flat to get something done about a loud buzzing noise there, while a consulate in Greece were asked how to put a chicken coop up in a man’s garden. In Florida, a man called the consulate to report there were ants in his holiday villa and asked what he should do, while another hopeful caller asked consular staff in Dubai to meet his dog at the airport and help the pet through customs as he would be away when the animal arrived. A caller asked staff in Malaga in southern Spain in mid-September where she could get a Christmas lunch as everywhere she had phoned was already booked up. Staff in Greece were asked for tips on the best fishing spots and where to purchase good bait. 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. 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.”
Foreign consulates with their gun-toting security guards have been iconic addresses in south Mumbai since the sixties. Later this month, the US consulate will bring down curtains on one such recognizable structure-the Lincoln House in Breach Candy-and move to a spanking new and more spacious setting in Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC). The consulate’s expansion and its northbound move are in keeping with a transition that is underway across foreign service offices in the city. Many consulates are witnessing a ballooning of staff, services and offices in recent years, in what foreign affairs experts believe is a sign ofIndia’s growing importance on the global stage. Australia plans to double its diplomatic staff strength in Mumbai; Britain has been expanding the scope of its work here; and, a few months ago, the New Zealand consulate opened a new office in BKC. Experts estimate that there are roughly 80 diplomatic missions in Mumbai. The buzz is palpable in diplomatic circles. The US consulate’s shift from its 53-year-old address, for instance, was necessitated by the need for a larger office space to accommodate its ever-increasing services. “Our new home reflects the overall trend of US-India ties. Our relationship withIndiais growing and modernizing, and our Consulate must do the same,” saysUSConsul General Peter Haas. The optimism is most evident in the Australian consulate. Till mid-2010, it had only one Australian staffer in the city; today, it has many more diplomatic staffers on board. It now plans to double its staff strength and relocate its offices to Crescenzo in BKC by next February. The British Deputy High Commission was the first to make the shift from south Mumbai to BKC in 2008 in the wake of furious Indo-British engagement on business and visas-a decision Peter Beckingham, British Deputy High Commissioner forWestern India, describes as “a sound move.” A spokesperson of the British Deputy High Commission in Mumbai estimates their visa operations in India to be the UK’s largest in the world-they processed around half a million visas last year. The complex also houses the trade development agencies ofScotlandandNorthern Ireland. Consular growth also reveals the city’s business trajectory. Anais Rieu, attache de presse from the Consulate General of France, told TOI that their decision to move base to BKC in December 2010 was taken since they noticed the centre of gravity of Mumbai moving towards the area.
The US consulate in Hong Kong will continue its “deep engagement in all aspects of life” in the city, and its role is “understood and appreciated” by Beijing, a top US diplomat said. The comments by Dr Kurt Campbell, US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, come two weeks after Beijing warned the consulate to stop meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs. Campbell is on a whirlwind tour of Asia that will end this week in Beijing. Campbell defended the consulate in an interview with the South China Morning Post, saying Washington was very pleased that it had been able to maintain a close partnership with Hong Kong through a “very strong consulate” deeply engaged in all aspects of life in the city. The Foreign Ministry in Beijing, through its Hong Kong office, rebuked the US consulate late last month, citing cables released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. These showed that the consulate was interfering in the city’s constitutional development by holding meetings with various people, it said. A spokesman for the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the US of contravening the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which forbids diplomats from interfering in the internal affairs of host states. WikiLeaks released 960 diplomatic cables from the US consulate in Hong Kong at the end of August. Some messages mentioned discussions about the city’s democratic development, its financial markets and how it handled waste and water supplies. Campbell said of Beijing’s accusations: “We all believe that the [US] consulate continues to play a vital role and function [in Hong Kong]. I think that role, frankly, is also well appreciated by Chinese friends.”