Assistance abroad – The demand for consular services provided by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs is increasing
The second year of the pandemic was busy for the consular assistance services provided by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Finland's missions abroad, and the number of customers continued to increase. In 2021, the Ministry and the missions abroad provided consular services to a total of 255,000 customers.
The number of customers continued to grow, increasing by almost a quarter from the previous year. In particular, the demand for advisory services increased. As in previous years, most of the assistance was needed in the countries to which Finns prefer to travel, i.e., Spain, Germany, Estonia, Sweden and Thailand.
The biggest single crisis situation of the year was the crisis in Afghanistan. In August-September 2021, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs helped over 400 people escape the country to safety.
There was also a clear increase in contacts to the Ministry's 24/7 service centre, which received nearly 19,000 calls or e-mails during the year. The crisis in Afghanistan in particular caused a clear surge in contacts. Half of the contacts made to the 24/7 service during the year concerned Afghanistan.
In 2021, the Unit for Consular Assistance of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs was involved in managing 550 cases of death abroad. The persons assisted included 75 people fallen victim to a crime, 309 persons who had fallen ill or been in an accident and 175 persons who had been arrested or imprisoned (the number of incarcerated people does not include the Nordic countries, as such cases are handled through direct contacts between the Nordic authorities). The numbers have increased slightly from the previous year 2020.
In 2021, 21,443 new passports and 4,013 identity cards were issued by Finland's missions abroad. Compared to the previous year, these figures have also increased. Many people need to renew their passports after a long period of not having travelled abroad.
”The global demand for consular services has clearly increased in the past year. The number of registered cases reached one quarter of a million, despite the fact that people travel less than normal. The restrictions related to the pandemic and various crises have increased the demand for consular services provided by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Finnish missions abroad and for advisory services in particular,” says Outi Saarikoski, Director of the Unit for Consular Assistance.
In addition to the coronavirus pandemic, the total number of other natural or man-made crises and disasters that were significant from the perspective of protecting Finnish travellers amounted to 118. The emphasis was particularly on internal conflicts and unrest in foreign countries (e.g., Myanmar, Afghanistan, Sudan and Ethiopia). In addition, natural disasters (such as hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and volcanic eruptions) meant work for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
It is always good to file a travel notification
In 2021, almost 78,000 travellers filed a travel notification on their trips to 199 countries via the Matkustusilmoitus.fi service. The highest number of notifications concerned trips to Spain, Greece, France and Turkey. The number of travel notifications has fallen, which is due to a decrease in the amount of travel, but, in relative terms, the proportion of travellers who have submitted travel notifications has increased.
The problems encountered by Finnish travellers and the need for information around the world have not decreased.
”Things happen when travelling the world, and you cannot be prepared for everything. We always recommend that you submit a travel notification, which allows the Ministry for Foreign Affairs to contact travellers in case of a crisis situation. Furthermore, we can never overemphasise the need for a travel insurance. Going to a hospital in a foreign country can become very expensive. Depending on the country, even a small sudden case of illness can cost thousands of euros, and in more serious cases even much more,” Saarikoski says.
Contacts from those in need of assistance are received by Finland's missions abroad, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Ministry's 24/7 service (+ 358 358 9 160 55555, firstname.lastname@example.org). The 24/7 service is responsible for urgent consular services outside the office hours of all Finland's missions abroad.
The primary task of both the missions abroad and the 24/7 service is to give advice and help customers handle matters independently.
Outi Saarikoski, Director, Unit for Consular Assistance, tel. +358 295 350 696
The Foreign Ministry’s email addresses are in the format email@example.com.