“Sent Home at the Consulate’s Expense…”

Danes or Norwegians on the Eastern Seaboard of Thailand need not go all the way to < ?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Bangkok if they need consular assistance. The joint Danish-Norwegian consulate is conveniently located just a short walk down at the bottom of  Soi Denmark on Jomtien Beach Road in Pattaya, past the many Scandinavian restaurants there.
But if they visit the Consulate for financial help it sure might feel like a long walk back out again.
“Let me say this right up front,” Stig Vagt-Andersen starts our interview, “there is no such thing as the Consulate helping neither Norwegians nor Danes with their personal financial matters!”
“It is sometimes tough to explain to people, who just had their money stolen, that we are actually not in a position where we can be of much help. It’s a matter for the travel-insurance company. But in fact we still see people who choose not to be insured and their only way out of the problem is to contact relatives or friends back home for help.”
“We can take our time to listen and understand and – if needed – we may help contacting the family. We do our utmost to ease the situation for the unlucky ones, but financially there is no way we can help – unless we want to pay from our own pockets,” Stig Vagt-Andersen explains with a smile that also asks for understanding. 

Consul and Travel man
Stig Vagt-Andersen, 51 has been responsible for the Consulate since its opening in 1998. He first came to Thailand in 1982 as a trainee for Thai Airways International during his studies and since, his life moved Eastwards.
Having being stationed by the UN as a programme officer in such diverse countries as Switzerland, The Maldives and Namibia he has lived permanently in Thailand since 1990. First being involved in hotel business he choose to change direction within the travel business  and started up an incoming travel agency, Ben Adisti now giving jobs to forty five people at three branches in Jomtien, Hua Hin and Bangkok.
To become a Consul is not something you can apply for. It’s something you are asked to be.
“Normally it’s somebody who has a private business in the respective country. Somebody who would be in a position to help fellow citizens and somebody who speaks the language of the homeland,” the Consul explains.
The combination of being a consul and being connected in the travel business, at least once showed up to be a good combination.  After the Bali bombing in 2002, Stig Vagt-Andersen was busy help organizing a chartered flight so Scandinavians could quickly be evacuated to Bangkok.     
With the increasing numbers of Danes and Norwegians – both residents and tourists – staying in the area, the Consulate has to be prepared for any possible situation. This year, the Consulate has experienced a 40% increase in activity already compared to 2005. If the tendency continues the Consulate will be able to look back on 2006 with a total of 1300-1400 cases or applications.
The figure does not include people contacting the consulate for queries or information. For some it might be a surprise that around 75% of applications actually come from Norwegians. 

Nice Customers
With all these Norwegians it might seem natural to have a Norwegian working at the consulate. Anne Marie Hauslo took up the challenge in June this year and is still in a learning process. It takes time to build up knowledge on all aspects of living in Thailand. Working at the consulate you are expected to be able to answer everything your fellow citizens don’t know or at least find somebody who knows.
“The majority of people showing up at the Consulate need new passports or need emergency passports after losing the old one. There are applications for international driving license and we issue letters to the Thai authorities regarding obtaining Thai driving license,: she explains
“Lots of the people coming here are keen for a chat, which is ok, but with opening hours for the public being only Monday and Friday from 9-11.30 AM there is not a lot of time for it. I have to try to be efficient, but almost everybody coming here are actually very nice people,” Anne Marie Hauslo adds with a smile that gives you the impression that she actually enjoys these mornings a lot.
Besides the opening hours there is quite some administrative work to be done and also many visits to be done outside the Consulate. Anne Marie Hauslo starts her day at eight in the morning and can walk back home along the beach at five in the afternoon to her nearby home also in Jomtien, where she stays with her husband Knut Hauslo working for Vetco Aibel Thailand.

37 cases in one day
On the day, when ScandAsia visited the consulate, they had handled 37 cases in just two and a half hours.
Besides Stig Vagt-Andersen and Anne Marie Hauslo, the consulate is staffed by Miss Ousra, Senior Consular Assistent and Miss Patumthip, Consular Assistant to keep up with the increasing workload.
Besides passports and driving licenses, the Consulate helps issuing pension letters to the Thai immigration in connection with one year visas for those who are Thai married, for those who are 50 years and over or married to Thai nationals. There are confirmation letters regarding life attestations for pensioners to be made and applications coming in regarding Danish or Norwegian citizenship for children born in Thailand just to name some of the services provided.
What the Consulate does not do is to process applications regarding visa to Norway and Denmark but applicants can pick up the form at the Consulate and have it processed at the Embassy in Bangkok.

The difficult cases
It is the relatively few cases that demand the most manpower.
One example is when people pass away. In those cases, the consulate is informed by the Thai authorities. This information is passed on to the respective Embassy in Bangkok and then the authorities in Denmark or Norway take over. When people die away from home, there are many practical issues to be solved in Thailand and the Consulate assist in contacting a qualified Thai undertaker to help relatives with these issues.
Another example is when Norwegians or Danes get in trouble in Pattaya and end up in jail.
“In cases like this we can arrange for a lawyer if needed but its an offer and solely up to the accused,” Stig Vagt-Andersen explains and continues.
“We can help pass on information to relatives back home if they want, but we can not go in and act as a mediator and overrule decisions made by Thai-authorities nor influence them contrary to the belief or maybe the hope of some.”
“A rather simple theft can for instance in worst case result in a year in prison and even small amounts of narcotics give severe punishment compared to Scandinavia, so it is important to have some understanding that we are in another country where other rules do exist,” Stig Vagt-Andersen explains.
“It is not like in Siam about 100 years ago where Danes had extra territorial rights in Thailand. The Danes could at that time not be arrested by the Thai authorities. They could be apprehended but then had to be handed over to the Consul, who then would decide what should happen.”
Danes or Norwegians getting hospitalized is another group the Consulate need to take care of. Here it’s also a matter of helping with information to relatives and it’s a matter of also just being present as it can be a difficult situation to be hospitalized in Thailand.
Worst case is the patient that has no insurance. For relatives back home it can cost a small fortune to pay the bills. The alternative is to be transferred to a public hospital where treatment is often sub-standard.
The last group is the mentally ill. Some of these Danes or Norwegian should maybe never have been able to get a ticket to Thailand, as arriving here sometimes means the beginning of a downward spiral of their condition, often starting off with too much drugs and alcohol.
Not knowing the culture and customs at the same time it can be a bad cocktail.
“Its difficult. We live in a free country so we can’t prohibit people from travel. We do not like to overprotect and interfere, but on the other hand we are criticized when things go wrong,” says the Consul.
“There is both a humanitarian and an administrative side to our job,” he says, adding though that since the Norwegian church last year opened up in Pattaya this has been a help as they are also able to support especially hospitalized or jailed Norwegians.

 

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