New Zealand Embassy Jakarta, Indonesia

From the Ambassador's blog: Consular Work: on the Frontline for Kiwis

Consular Peter Nunan and Consular Adviser Mita Paramita

One of the most important aspects of an Embassy’s work is the provision of consular services and support. When New Zealanders get into trouble, we need to respond quickly. The safe travel website (www.safetravel.govt.nz) provides a lot of helpful information to think about before travelling and when something goes wrong. It’s the obvious first place to go for information and advice, and is the official source of advice for New Zealanders travelling or living overseas.

The Embassy team is here to help.  Here in Jakarta we are seeing a steady increase in the consular workload. The reason is the increased flow of New Zealanders to Indonesia over the past three years. In 2010 according to Indonesian figures about 31,000 New Zealand passport holders came here, mainly to Bali. Arrivals climbed to 38,000 in 2011 and to over 48,000 in 2012. I expect the visitor numbers will continue to grow rapidly as we will have more direct air connections this year, with Air New Zealand serving the market again from June to October and Garuda airlines starting a service from Bali in the second half of the year.

At the Embassy, consular work is led by our Consul Peter Nunan with the support of Consular Adviser Mita Paramita. Other Embassy staff may also be involved, depending on the nature of the issue or when it arises. We make sure there is always someone available to assist 24/7.  Peter and Mita are hugely experienced and have dealt with everything from deaths to accidents to hospitalisations to loss of passports and belongings.  We had around 44 new consular cases and 216 general enquiries last year, but that doesn’t really give a very good indication of the amount of time involved in dealing with issues that arise.

One difficult case last year took about nine months to resolve and intense negotiations with the Indonesian authorities as well as the people most closely involved. We had to deal with important local sensitivities about how people should be treated, high level political interest, media enquiries, legal representatives and family for whom the matter was deeply troubling and urgent. I was frustrated we could not get an outcome more quickly than we did, but the reality was that we had to work through the right kind of process with all involved, bringing people along to a point where a sensible and fair decision was taken. These are typically not issues where progress can be made by getting angry or threatening. They require tact and discretion and the development of good working relationships not only with the New Zealanders involved, but also our Indonesian hosts, especially representatives of key government agencies like the police, immigration, foreign ministry and often the health services. Sometimes, as in this case, we had to work with regional authorities as well as central government ones and there was considerable travel back and forth to take the issue forward, as well as meetings and correspondence right up to senior ministerial level.

Right now we’re dealing with another difficult case around the adulteration of alcoholic drinks with methanol. A young New Zealander died recently due to this.  Other tourists and locals have also fallen victim because of this dangerous practice. We’ve engaged senior government ministers, the Governors of Bali and Lombok, and a wide variety of officials in key agencies about this problem and will keep working to raise the profile of the issue and to find ways to try and address it. We’ve worked closely with our Australian counterparts which, as usual, is productive and has helped demonstrate the seriousness with which our governments take the issue. The Indonesian authorities are aware of the problem and have been trying to address it, but when an individual in a bar can sneak methanol into a bottle of something legitimate it’s very hard to police.

There are some things we can’t do to help individuals. We can’t insert ourselves into the Indonesian legal processes, for example. So if someone is arrested for a crime in Indonesian law, we have to let due process run its course. We can and do check to ensure any New Zealander in custody is properly cared for and has access to legal representation. We are also not able to overrule the wishes of an individual. So if someone’s adult son or daughter is in trouble and they tell us not to engage their family, we have to respect those wishes. And we can’t settle debts or pay for airfares home for people as we need to get their family or friends to help. All this really highlights the importance of staying out of trouble in the first instance by obeying local laws, observing advice on the safe travel website and just being sensible.

I’ve focused on the sort of issues that arise for individuals, but I’m mindful that this Embassy has also had to deal with much greater tragedies. I’m recalling the terrorist incidents in Bali and Jakarta that took the lives of New Zealanders and people from other countries, including Indonesia, and the Boxing Day tsunami about which I wrote a blog recently. Those devastating events require a bigger response, drawing in other resources from within the post and from New Zealand. It’s difficult to be fully prepared, but last year we ran a simulation exercise within the post team of a major disaster to check how we’d respond. As staff change we’ll need to repeat that sort of exercise so our team is conscious of the challenges that might arise in an emergency situation and so we’re as ready as we can be if something should happen. Because Indonesia has one of the most active geographies on earth, with regular earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and other disasters, it’s not a case of if but when another incident will arise.

Whether we’re talking about a large consular incident or something affecting an individual, the New Zealand community and visitors can help by making sure they’re registered with us through the safe travel website. It’s free and the information is only used in relation to consular emergencies.  Those registered on Safe Travel are the ones contacted first if an overseas emergency were to occur.

I’ve focused here on the work we do for New Zealanders in the hope that this might demystify ‘consular assistance’ to some degree, but the key messages are simply be prepared (take out comprehensive travel insurance; register yourself with us if you are resident or travelling in Indonesia or someone visiting; absorb the information on the safe travel website; exercise care as a visitor), be honest with us if you do get into trouble and need help, and rest assured that the team here, supported by the Consular Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade  in Wellington, will do all they can to help in a friendly and sensitive way, whether the problem is a small one or a big one.

 

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