More and more Swiss are making demands on the services of their consular representatives while travelling overseas.This content was published on August 10, 2002 - 10:54
Switzerland's consulates have this year already received a total of more than 1000 requests for assistance from Swiss citizens who run into trouble while away from home.
Markus Börlin, acting head of the Swiss foreign ministry department which deals with consular protection, says the increasing demand for assistance can be explained by the fact that more Swiss are travelling abroad than ever before.
"More and more people travel abroad... and we see more people who are not well prepared and who are more ready to take risks than maybe used to be the case in the past," Börlin told swissinfo.
In 2001, Swiss consulates in 106 countries assisted a total of 1024 people seeking protection or advice while abroad.
At the peak of the summer season in August of last year, consular staff had to contend with the requests of no less than 758 people in 87 different countries.
So far this year, consular staff have assisted just over 300 people who have found themselves behind bars for breaking the law while travelling overseas.
Many requests for assistance are made following road traffic accidents abroad or when Swiss citizens fall fowl of local laws, but consular staff are also faced with less familiar incidents.
The foreign ministry cites the case of two young Swiss who travelled into the countryside of Columbia on rented mopeds - only to find themselves promptly becoming kidnap victims.
By publishing details of typical - and more unusual - cases of requests for consular protection, foreign ministry officials hope to make people planning to travel abroad more aware of the limitations of diplomatic assistance.
"We can assist people and help them to go to the local authorities and to seek their rights," Börlin says, "but we cannot implement or enforce them."
"Certainly we cannot apply Swiss law, but we can help to apply the law according to local legislation," he adds.
The foreign ministry - which issues up-to-date travel advice on its website - urges Swiss tourists to research and plan their journeys prior to departure.
"It's very important people to plan a trip thoroughly, to talk to friends who have already been there and to read the newspapers and listen to the radio," Börlin suggests.
"But the best thing to do would be to consult our website where we provide travel advice for most countries around the world."
Breaking local laws
Börlin says it is very often young Swiss who break the law when they travel on holiday.
"It is often young people who believe that a particular country is a little more tolerant [than it actually is]," he says.
"In Thailand, for example, a guilty verdict for a drug offence can lead to 40 years in prison...I'll let you imagine what it means to check in for a stay in a Thai prison."
by Imogen Foulkes and Ramsey Zarifeh
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