Bildt: Swedes in foreign disasters to pay their way

Swedish tourists who get caught up in natural disasters and other crises abroad will in future have to pay for their own healthcare and trips home, the government has said.

Bildt: Swedes in foreign disasters to pay their way

A new bill to be brought before the Riksdag, Sweden’s parliament, will outline the situations in which Swedes abroad can expect state help and those in which they will be left to their own devices.

According to the bill, the state will only help out during major catastrophes affecting large numbers of Swedes, in countries where the local authorities are unable to cope.

“The bill presents a strong call for the state to help out when really necessary, but a strong call for individuals to take responsibility for themselves and purchase insurance,” Foreign Minister Carl Bildt told news agency TT.

Bildt said that the state may demand reimbursement for the cost of travel and healthcare provided to tourists by the Swedish diplomatic service in a crisis.

“We’re talking about homeward travel and possibly healthcare costs. These are normally costs covered by insurance,” Bildt said. He underlined the importance of buying travel insurance when going abroad and being sure of what it covered.

The bill follows disagreement about the state’s responsibility for Swedish citizens caught in disasters abroad. The issue was brought into sharp relief by the 2004 Asian tsunami and the 2006 Lebanon war.

The cost to taxpayers of evacuating Swedish citizens from Lebanon, partly by arranging transport by ship to Cyprus, was 77 million kronor. The state paid the full amount. Helping Swedes struck by the Asian tsunami, most of whom were in Thailand, cost 157 million kronor.

The Foreign Ministry expects future disasters to draw heavily on taxpayers’ money, but hopes the new rules will enable the state to recoup a portion of the costs from those who benefit directly from rescue efforts.

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Israel intercepts Swedish Gaza-bound activist boat

The Israeli navy intercepted a Swedish-flagged activist boat bent on breaching its more than decade-long blockade of Gaza, the second in less than a week, the military said on Saturday.

Israel intercepts Swedish Gaza-bound activist boat
Photo: TT

“The ship was monitored and was intercepted in accordance with international law,” the military said in a statement, before the vessel, named Freedom for Gaza and carrying 12 people, was taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

“The (military) clarified to the ship’s passengers that they are violating the legal naval blockade and that any humanitarian merchandise can be transferred to Gaza through the Port of Ashdod,” the statement said.

The people on board were taken for “further inquiry.”

The organisers of the flotilla said the boat, which was carrying medical supplies, was intercepted in international waters.

“The demands of Ship to Gaza are that the ship with its crew and cargo will be returned to the site of the boarding, and that they will be allowed to go in peace through international and Palestinian waters in accordance to international law,” they said in a statement.

“This is a demand that the eleven years-long illegal and destructive blockade on Gaza will be lifted at last.”

Freedom was the second boat of the “Freedom Flotilla” to be intercepted en route to “break the blockade” on Gaza, organisers said.

Four boats left from Scandinavia in mid-May and stopped in some 28 ports along the way, with two remaining behind after a recent stop in the Italian port of Palermo.

On Sunday, the Israeli navy intercepted a Norwegian-flagged activist boat that was part of the flotilla.

Israel has fought three wars with Palestinian militants in Gaza since 2008 and says the blockade is necessary to keep them from obtaining weapons or materials that could be used for military purposes.

UN officials have called for the blockade to be lifted, citing deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the Palestinian enclave run by Islamist movement Hamas where 80 percent of the two million population are dependent on aid.