DFAT receives 48,000 emergency calls as overseas trips reach all-time high

November 29, 2019 john 0 Comments

Nearly 1700 Australians died overseas last year, 1570 were arrested and almost 400 were imprisoned in a foreign country.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade received about 48,000 calls to its emergency line and provided consular assistance in more than 13,700 separate cases from July 2018 to the end of June this year, as the number of overseas trips taken by Australians jumped to an all-time high of 11.2 million.

However, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said the number of serious cases dealt with by her department fell to just over 9100 in that time frame, despite a 20 per cent jump in the number of overseas trips from five years ago.

“I think that reduction suggests Australians are becoming better informed and better prepared when they travel,” Ms Payne said.

The department’s annual Consular State Of Play report, released on Monday, revealed the most popular destinations for Australians were New Zealand, which accounted for about 1.4 million trips in 2018-19; Indonesia with 1.3 million trips; and the United States, with 1.1 million.

Consular assistance was provided in nearly 900 cases in Thailand, 665 in the US, 650 in the Philippines and 565 in Indonesia.

The most common types of consular assistance provided last year were for nearly 5000 cases of missing persons, welfare problems (2800), deaths (1700) and hospitalisations (1500).

Most of the deaths of Australians overseas, which have risen 32 per cent in the past five years, were due to illness or natural causes and could be due to “an ageing population travelling more and retiring overseas”, the report stated.

About 10 per cent of Australians travelled overseas without insurance, with this figure rising to 22 per cent for men under 30.

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The government’s Smartraveller website was visited more than 25.5 million times over the 2018-19 financial year and the department is now launching an updated site. The new website will have a dedicated crisis page for major incidents, aiming to make it easier for travellers to find the latest information, advice and contact details for local authorities and consular officials.

The department will no longer offer travellers the option to register their trips. Instead, it is offering a new subscription service that will allow travellers to receive critical alerts in a crisis via text message, including on overseas numbers, and email.

“Our advice to Australians planning to travel overseas is to read the travel advice, subscribe for updates, take out the right travel insurance, leave your itinerary and contact details with your friends, your family, your employer,” Ms Payne said. “Most importantly, stay in touch.”

She said her department received its “share of unusual consular inquiries” last year, including from travellers wanting to know if the consulate could book ride-share services for them.

“We had someone call and say, and I did check the veracity of this, a bird ate my passport and the airline won’t let me fly to Bali,” Ms Payne said.

“Another Australian wanted to sell eggs in Pyongyang and I thought, OK, except that the second question was, ‘Could DFAT please ascertain whether North Koreans prefer white or brown eggs?’.”