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Bildt calls for crisis clarity

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11:34 CET+01:00
Foreign minister Carl Bildt has called for clearer rules governing the assistance that can be given to Swedes who find themselves caught up in disaster situations abroad. Next year a new law could establish the help that Swedes can expect from the state.

"It's obvious that we need clearer rules. And our intention is therefore to implement an inquiry to go through the whole issue and see what needs to be done," wrote Bildt in an email to TT.

The foreign minister reckons that the notion has been put about "in certain quarters" that as soon as something happens to Swedes abroad, the entire responsibility for sorting out the situation lies with the state.

"Obviously it is not so. Not least, all those who work with these issues in embassies and other places have said that clearer rules are needed," wrote Bildt.

The foreign office is now fine-tuning the remit for the inquiry. A new law could come into force in 2008 at the earliest.

The matter was one of the dominant political issues of 2005 after the mass evacuation of Swedes from Thailand following the tsunami in 2004, and then again after the conflict in Lebanon last summer.

A survey commissioned by the foreign office showed that young men especially have unrealistic expectations about the help they can expect from the government if they are in trouble abroad. Swedish Radio has reported that more and more people are travelling abroad without proper insurance.

Currently, people in difficulty can borrow money from the state but the process is bureaucratic.

Ministry advisor Fredrik Jörgensen said that today's rules simply do not work if there are, say, 700 people waiting to be evacuated after war breaks out.

"It's not possible to sustain such a system for purely practical reasons. So perhaps it ought to be written in law whether or not the state will bear the costs," he said.

When the foreign ministry evacuates citizens, travellers should, in principle, expect to pay their own way. But during the crisis in Lebanon an exception was made.

According to Jörgensen, the cost of getting Swedes out of the war zone is likely to end up at around 100 million kronor. But the foreign ministry's call for clearer rules is not motivated by economic reasons.

"There is confusion about how this should happen. We have seen, for example in the Lebanon evacuation, that we are forced to improvise and it would be good if there was at least a framework for how these things should be solved," he said.

Jörgensen added that one of the main areas of confusion is the division of responsibility between the individual, the travel company and the insurance company.

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