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Anförande vid TUR-mässan

Anförande i Göteborg, Sverige

We Swedes are a travelling people.

This has been the case throughout history: from the Viking raids and adventurous Swedish journeys of discovery to emigration to America.

And it is still true today. Some 60 years after the first charter plane took a small number of tourists from Bromma Airport to Mallorca's beaches, we Swedes are travelling like never before.

We travel to our neighbouring countries. We travel to warmer climes. And the growing proportion of our population who have foreign roots travel to maintain old ties or make new contacts.

On any given day, up to 400 000 Swedes are out travelling. Around half a million live abroad.

And new records are being set almost every year: According to available statistics, in 2012 a total of 15.5 million trips abroad including an overnight stay were made from Sweden.

Travelling is good for Sweden.

I do not say this in light of this trade fair, or because, according to the Association of Swedish Travel Agents and Tour Operators, the industry employs more than 7 000 people and sells services worth approximately SEK 50 billion.

Nor do I say it because some of this travel is associated with business or trade, which provides direct returns in the form of increased export income for our globalised business sector.

Travelling has deeper and more long-term value: by encountering other people and perspectives, we gain new insights.

The format may vary: a business trip to China; a skiing holiday in the Alps; a visit to a relative in Iran.

But the result is often the same: new insights and new ideas that we can carry with us into a future where knowledge - and knowledge about the world - will be more and more important for us as individuals and for Sweden as a nation.

I am occasionally asked why I travel so much as Minister for Foreign Affairs.

I usually respond by saying that most of the world actually lies beyond Sweden's borders.

We make an impression wherever we travel in the world. At the same time, we learn from others and contribute to the development of Sweden.

This is true of all Swedish citizens - regardless of whether you are the Minister for Foreign Affairs or not.

I am emphasising this point - that the considerable level of Swedish travel is something to be regarded as positive -because today I want to speak about something else.

About what happens when something goes wrong while travelling.

About the consular mission of the Swedish Foreign Service: supporting and helping Swedes in emergencies abroad.


Our right to travel is enshrined in the constitution.

The Instrument of Government chapter on fundamental rights and freedoms states that no Swedish citizen may be prevented from leaving the Realm.

But this right also entails a responsibility.

Each journey is primarily the responsibility of the individual traveller. Sometimes it is also the responsibility of tour operators and travel agents and - if the travellers have thought ahead - insurance companies and their call centres.

New legislation adopted by the Riksdag clarifies these responsibilities.

The role of the Swedish Foreign Service is to step in when all other possibilities are exhausted. To be a final safety net. When an accident occurs far from home, we should be able to extend a helping hand.

Consular protection is rooted in international law and its conventions on diplomatic and consular relations. These give all countries the right to protect their citizens' rights wherever they are in the world.

A passport that is stolen. A bomb that explodes. A prison sentence that is passed. These are events that can become consular cases for the Swedish Foreign Service.

More than 150 officials - at home in Stockholm and at our missions abroad - are working daily to support and assist the people affected and their families, and this often involves people who are experiencing stress, crisis and grief.

And we must not forget the fantastic efforts often made by our honorary consuls around the world. They are a very important part of our collective efforts who are too rarely given credit.

The statistics on the situations that affect Swedish travellers every year may seem alarming, but they should be read in the light of how many Swedes are actually abroad.

Every year, thousands are robbed of their passports and money, fall victim to other crimes, become ill or are involved in some other emergency.

Thirty thousand people require help with having a passport issued abroad. Five thousand of these passports are provisional passports issued in an emergency.

Every year, almost 500 Swedes die during a trip abroad.

More than 200 are deprived of their liberty in different parts of the world.

And we handle approximately 150 cases of wrongfully removed or stranded children annually.

We do not know the exact number of consular cases handled by the Swedish Foreign Service every year.

What we do know is that around 2 000 cases are so serious that the Ministry in Stockholm becomes involved, and that our embassies handle many times that number of cases.

We also know - from bitter experience - that consular work also must involve preparedness for disasters in our own region as well as further afield.

Swedes are everywhere and geography therefore by no means protects us from accidents, attacks or tsunamis on the other side of the world.


I have three reasons for speaking about this here today. The first is that consular activities are so important.

Now and then, a specific case enters the public spotlight. Example include the tsunami in South-East Asia, the evacuations from Lebanon and Libya or the two Swedish journalists who were imprisoned in Ethiopia.

But much more takes place behind the scenes.

Our staff visit prisons and hospitals in the world's most troubled countries. We quietly help to solve countless practical travel problems.

And far more often than we can say, my closest colleagues and I act in silence to protect Swedes who are in some kind of trouble.

Sometimes we achieve a quick resolution. Sometimes it takes years of work to achieve some kind of result. Sometimes we are forced to concede that we do not succeed in our all efforts.

This work is at times frustrating, often very difficult, but always just as important.

We have had to make major savings in recent years, but we have committed considerable resources and effort to this work.

The protection of Swedes abroad is - and should be - a priority activity for the Swedish Foreign Service.

We have streamlined our routines and introduced a new on-call system that provides accessibility 24 hours a day worldwide.

We have established a new emergency organisation at the Government Offices with enhanced emergency preparedness planning at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and at our embassies.

And we are using new technologies to reach out to many people with accurate and up-to-date travel information: from country-specific facts about most places on the planet to concrete travel advice on the legal situation for consumers who have purchased package tours to areas where the situation is such that one should no longer travel there.

Today, many people often turn to social media to get information quickly in the event of a crisis or other emergency.

Embassies can both collect and disseminate information on Facebook and Twitter.

This is why we have just initiated a major social media drive. All of Sweden's embassies are now on Facebook and Twitter.

Since October, travel warnings from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs have been available on the Twitter account @UDresklar.

Around the same time, we also started the Facebook page UDResklar, which we update with news and where we respond to questions around the clock.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs now has a unique infrastructure in place to reach out and be reached out to via social media in the event of serious natural disasters, acts of terrorism or political instability where Swedish citizens may be affected.

Such disasters will unfortunately happen again, and when they do, we know that Twitter and Facebook are likely to be important channels for quickly getting information out to people in need.

We will continuously evaluate how we can use social media even more in our consular work. The second reason for speaking about our consular work concerns the need for clarity.

We want to reach out with information about what we can and cannot do.

We want you, both travellers and representatives of travel agents and tour operators, to have reasonable expectations of our embassies around the world.

Based on the principle of the individual's fundamental responsibility, our first and foremost duty and obligation is to help people to help themselves.

This may involve mediating contacts with relatives in Sweden, providing advice on the transfer of money or finding contact information to a lawyer or doctor.

But of course there are situations when a traveller cannot resolve their situation on their own and has no relatives or friends who can help.

If the traveller has taken the normal precautions and finds themselves in a difficult situation through no fault of their own, the state can help, for example, in the form of a loan to pay for the fastest and easiest trip back to Sweden.

We can also - if a traveller needs acute life-saving medical care - provide payment guarantees without checking insurance coverage in advance.

And, under certain circumstances, we can provide assistance when someone dies abroad. There are also things that people often ask of us that we are unable to help with.

From the latest crop of requests, we have, for instance, declined to go shopping for ageing relatives abroad, conduct criminal investigations in the territory of another state and watch luggage for someone who didn't want to carry heavy bags during an outing.

Nor could we provide assistance when asked to mediate contact with any unmarried ambassadors.

Our aim is to be helpful, but inquiries of this nature take time and resources from our embassies. This time could be put to better use.

Nor can we have Swedes released from prison as we please.

When abroad, foreign laws apply. If you are arrested in another country, we cannot intervene in that country's legal process.

In the same way, we would hardly accept other countries intervening in the Swedish legal system.

What we can do is ensure that the detainee is assigned a public defence counsel and mediate contact with relatives.

Sometimes there is some scope for political manoeuvre.

In last year's high-profile case in Ethiopia, for example, we were able to support the imprisoned journalists' application for clemency, and thus contribute to their release.

We have tried to utilise similar possibilities - with varying success - in other cases.

The third and final reason for speaking about these issues here today concerns the future. I am convinced that our travelling will continue to increase.

We will have more and more Swedes with aspects of their lives, and parts of their families, outside our country's borders.

We are also likely to have more Swedes with dual citizenship.

This sometimes entails particular difficulties, as the other home country does not always accept that Sweden also has a responsibility.

Together, we - the Swedish Foreign Service, travellers and tour operators - will need to help each other to address the growing consular challenge.

At the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, we will continue to develop our efforts. We are constantly trying to streamline our routines.

We want to build on existing collaboration with our Nordic and European partners.

In this way, we can ensure maximum consular protection in a globalised world. But we will not be able to manage this alone.

We need travel agents and tour operators that continue to take their responsibility, and we need travellers who do what they can to protect themselves and to avoid problems.

Our ambition is simple:

We want travel to be a memory for life, not just another Swedish Foreign Service statistic. And we want Sweden to continue to be a nation of travellers.

Travelling enriches and inspires.

Travelling makes Sweden and the world better.

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