In service to citizens

The 2023 Embassy Consular Conference and Awards drew a capacity crowd where consuls were able to share best practice and celebrate consular service excellence

This year’s Consular Conference was a powerful reminder of the vital role consuls play in frontline diplomacy. Taking place against a backdrop of multiple conflicts around the world, the conference heard how consuls have been at the heart of efforts to assist ordinary citizens caught in the crossfire as well as everyday hardships brought about by the cost of living crisis.

Crisis responders
The Guest of Honour was the Director of Consular Affairs at the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office Jennifer Anderson, who praised the consular corps in the UK for their efforts to assist their communities in the UK and around the world, particularly in times of crisis.

Appointed to her current position in January 2020, Ms Anderson has lead the British response to some of the most acute consular crises of recent times, including efforts to repatriate British citizens stranded abroad during covid pandemic, as well as evacuating citizens from recent conflicts in Ukraine, Afghanistan and now in the Middle East.

Consular work is team work, she said, and working in partnership with other consular networks, humanitarian agencies, NGOs and service providers around the world was key to getting British citizens back home safely.

She applauded the Consular Awards initiative as a way to recognise the hard work of consuls, so often the unsung heroes of diplomacy, and commended each regional winner for their exemplary service to their citizens.

At the conference, consuls were able to cast a vote for the overall Consul of the Year for 2023.

Domenico Bellantone, Consul General of Italy and Consul of the Year for 2023 is presented with his award from Robert Marin, winner for 2022 and Consul General of Romania


Consul of the Year
Taking home the coveted Consul of the Year Award for 2023 was the Consul of the Year for Europe, Domenico Bellantone, the Consul General of Italy, for his outstanding efforts to assist the Italian community in London. Since his arrival in the capital in 2022, Consul General Bellantone has transformed the Italian Consulate into a model of accessibility, sustainability and inclusivity, using innovative ways to reach the most vulnerable members of the community.

He has spearheaded several charitable initiatives including a project to provide free medical care to economically disadvantaged elderly members of the Italian community, and reduced medical fees for all Italian citizens within his constituency.

Also in the pipeline are plans for the first free Italian library in London, stocked with donated books, to promote social inclusion. Responding to the cost of living crisis, this Christmas, the General Consulate will also lend its support to three charities to provide free meals to needy families and gifts to underprivileged children of all nationalities.

He has also engaged in a pilot project to make the consulate the first overseas public office that fully aligns with ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) parameters to meet the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda.

In accepting his award, Consul General Bellantone said: “Being a consul is not just a job; it is a responsibility to promote diplomacy, understanding and cooperation. It is about building bridges and advocating for the interests of our citizens abroad. I am proud to have been given the opportunity to fulfill this role and make a positive impact.”

Addressing his consular colleagues, he added: “We must always remember that behind each service we provide, there is a life, an individual. Never take for granted what we do: every day we can improve people’s lives. Every day we can make the difference. This is our mission! This is our calling!”

Regional Consuls of the Year for 2023: Indarty Noor (Indonesia), Ahmed Al Bably (Yemen), Domenico Bellantone (Italy), Nana Kwabena Amagyei (Ghana), Elsa Wilkin-Armbrister (St Kitts & Nevis) and Octavio Perales Sánchez (Mexico)


Exemplary service
Consul General Bellantone also paid tribute his fellow regional winners, each of whom had created a positive impact for their communities.

Nana Kwabena Amagyei, Consul at the Ghana High Commission, was awarded Consul of the Year for Africa for his compassion, particularly his efforts to assist the Ghanaian community in South London, traumatised by the surge in knife crime affecting young British Ghanaians.

The Consul of the Year for The Americas was awarded to Octavio Perales Sánchez, consul at the Mexican Embassy, for his ground-breaking work on diversity and gender inclusion, particularly in the provision of specialist services for women and girls, the issuance of non-binary passports, and the registration of same-sex parentage of minors and same-sex marriages.

For her long and loyal service of 39 years, Indarty ‘Alty’ Noor, a consular officer at the Indonesian Embassy was the worthy winner of Consul of the Year for Asia, and was a fitting tribute to all locally employed consular staff who form the backbone of many consular services.

Elsa Wilkin-Armbrister was awarded Consul of the Year for the Caribbean for her innovative ‘mobile consular clinics’ which are part of her exceptional outreach to her diaspora community across the length and breadth of the UK.

The Consul of the Year for the Middle East was awarded to Ahmed Al Bably for his determination to provide consular assistance to his community despite the challenges of the ongoing civil war in Yemen, and for working 24/7 to arrange access for humanitarian agencies to bring aid to his compatriots back home.

Read the full biographies of the winners here.

Stephen Chapman of HMPO briefs consuls on UK passport policy, in the Borders and Migration session with Aaron Walton (Home Office) and Tanup Gadhia (UKVI), chaired by Elizabeth Stewart


Borders and Migration
During the conference consuls received policy updates in three key areas of consular work in the UK – Borders and Migration; Consular Emergencies; and International Families.

On Borders and Immigration they received a presentation on UK passport policy from Stephen Chapman, head of international relations at HM Passport Office. They also received an update from Aaron Walton, from the Future Borders and Immigration System (FBIS) unit at the Home Office, on the UK’s new Electronic Travel Authorisation scheme for non-visa nationals which is currently being rolled out.

DC Rosie Sharma briefs consuls on the UK response to major incidents


Consular emergencies
With the Middle East crisis potentially increasing the risk of a terrorist incident in the UK, Consuls received an important briefing from DC Rosie Sharma, a Family Liaison Officer in the Counter-Terrorism Branch (S015) of the Metropolitan Police, about how the UK Emergency Services respond to a major incident involving foreign nationals, including procedures for victim identification, the role of family liaison officers in the investigation, and consular notification.

Consuls in the audience raised concerns that current procedure on consular notification was not satisfactory and requested a dedicated single point of contact that consulates could refer to during a consular emergency. 

Agata Osinska of the International Family Law Group, Mr Justice MacDonald, Deputy Head of International Family Justice, and Claudia Konarzewska-Stefanczyk of the Care Proceedings Unit at the Polish Consulate


Cross-border child protection
With almost a third of live births in England being to non-British mothers, the issue of cross-border child protection is becoming an increasingly challenging area of consular work. Consuls heard from Mr Justice MacDonald, the Deputy Head of International Family Justice for England and Wales on how the Office for International Family Justice liaises with authorities in other countries to facilitate cross-border child protection in family cases with an international element, as well as domestic issues, particularly care proceedings involving foreign national children.

Agata Osinska of the International Family Law Group provided some legal background on how the UK courts ensure that children’s voices are heard in court proceedings. Claudia Konarzewska-Stefanczyk of the Care Proceedings Unit at the Polish Consulate shared best practice on how they work with Polish families, social services and the judicial authorities in both the UK and Poland to ensure that the interests of Polish children are protected in care proceedings.

Consuls network with service providers at the Consular Services Exhibition


Consular Service Exhibition
The tagline of the Consular Conference is ‘Helping Consuls Help Their Citizens’ and the Consular Services Exhibition was a space where consuls could meet with charities and service providers that could offer advice, support and services to help them better assist their citizens. It was also a place for consuls to make contacts with fellow colleagues and share best practice over a cup of coffee.

Main Photo: PIC: Director of Consular Affairs at the FCDO Jennifer Anderson addresses a capacity crowd at the 2023 Consular Conference and Awards

Photo Credit: Pierre de Villiers