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Consular news – Embassy 29

Consular concerns

Bogdan Kolarov talks to Elizabeth Stewart about challenges facing London’s consuls and how the Consular Corps can help them in their work.

Bodan Kolarov is never off duty. As Bulgaria’s consul in London, one of the country’s busiest consulates in the world, he’s the person Bulgarians turn to when they run into trouble.

And while we talk, his mobile on the table buzzes intermittently.

“This is a 24/7 job where no day is ever the same,” explains Kolarov. Day or night, he – or a member of staff on duty – has to be ready to help nationals in distress, whether it is visiting a citizen in a police station or assisting a national who has been duped by a phony recruitment agency and is stranded in the UK without work, money or a place to stay.

And that is on top of the regular ‘hatches, matches and despatches’ work (registering births, marrying couples – about 40 a year, he says – and assisting in the repatriation of the dead) not to mention piles of paperwork – issuing visas, passports, notary services and much more besides.

“Consuls are the public face of an embassy,” says Kolarov, adding: “We’re in the front line and we should never forget that an embassy is judged by its consular services.”

Responding quickly to a consular emergency is essential but working in a huge, multicultural metropolis such as London can be very challenging – and with limited space and staff numbers, consuls need all the help they can get.

Establishing a network of good contacts – in government departments and public bodies as well as charities and community groups – is key to the work of consuls, says Kolarov, who was recently elected President of the Consular Corps of London, a networking group for London’s hardworking consuls.

Established in 1902, the Consular Corps is one of the oldest professional bodies for consuls in the world. It is open to all consuls or diplomatic officers with an interest in consular issues and is a useful forum where members can network with each other, share experiences and gather vital contacts for their work.

The Corps meets once a month for a luncheon lecture, with high-profile guest speakers drawn from various government departments and agencies, such as the Home Office, the UK Border Agency, the Ministry of Justice, Scotland Yard and the Foreign Office. Consuls also hear talks from members of parliament involved with consular issues such as human trafficking, and NGOs including the International Organisation from Migration.

Obtaining the right contacts in sprawling institutions such as the Home Office is never easy so one of the key roles of the Consular Corps is to facilitate direct access to officials who can help its members in their work.

“When you are dealing with a consular emergency where it is a matter of life and death, you need an immediate response and a general inquiry line or email simply is no good.”

As a group, consuls also have more leverage when dealing with UK institutions, adds Kolarov. “The Consular Corps is a really useful channel to communicate common concerns to various organisations such as the UKBA or the Foreign Office. Of course we can’t act on behalf of a single country, but in the past we have raised issues as a group and got some good results.”

Meeting on a regular basis is also a good way to meet colleagues and to create a network of contacts with other missions who may be able to help in difficult situations, adds Kolarov.

“And Many of our members continue to stay in touch even when they have been posted to other capitals, creating a global network of consular contacts.”

During his term, Kolarov hopes to build on the good foundations of his predecessors by expanding the membership and by making the organisation more responsive to the needs of its members. One idea is to have more field trips to British institutions and to encourage more “two-way” communication with them.

Focused seminars on topical issues are also in the pipeline, notably one covering consular preparations for the Olympic Games.

“The consular role during the Olympics will be very important because we are the direct link with the community,” explains Kolarov. “So we are all very keen to establish close relations with the Mayor’s office and the Olympic authorities so that we can prepare in advance. Huge numbers of people will be coming to London and we need to know how we can protect our citizens and what sort of information to communicate back home.”

Kolarov and his committee also plan to host a number of social events where consuls can get to know each other in a relaxed environment.

The website is also being revamped. Not only will it raise the profile of the organization but it will also be a useful tool to keep people in touch with each other, no matter where in the world they are.

The mobile buzzes again insistently. Sighing, he picks it up and smiles: “Duty calls.”

For information on the Consular Corps of London contact:
membership@consularcorps.org.uk
or visit
www.consularcorps.org.uk

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“We’re in the front line and we should never forget that an embassy is judged by its consular services”

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