After 51 South African youngsters were temporarily trapped in China without their passports, not to mention some hapless South Africans stuck in jails around the world, the South African government has launched a ‘Travel Smart’ campaign.

The campaign, launched yesterday by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) Consular Service, is focussed on ‘Travel Smart: How DIRCO Consular Services can assist you when travelling abroad’.

DIRCO says it will be SA travellers’ guide.

“This is because falling sick, becoming a victim of crime or facing an emergency can be traumatic, especially when you are in a foreign country,” says DIRCO.

The department highlighted those South African travellers who know this only too well – including Stephen McGown, who was kidnapped by Islamist militants while exploring Timbuktu; and the 51 young South African teachers who were recently stuck in China after falling for a visa scam.

It’s important, says DIRCO, when travelling abroad to learn the laws of the countries you’ll be visiting… and to know that the SA embassy and consulate officials are available to you for urgent advice if an emergency – like a natural disaster, unrest or family emergency – arises.

“Most South Africans face the reality of being destitute in foreign countries and under these circumstances they seek our assistance without prior knowledge of what services we are mandated to provide. This situation must be changed…” said DIRCO Deputy Minister Reginah Mhaule on Tuesday.

McGown, who was held captive by Islamist militants in Mali for over five years and eight months, praised Dirco’s consular services, saying: “When you are kidnapped you are vulnerable. There are so many unknowns and questions you cannot answer. But when Dirco got involved… it gave me a line of communication with my family.”

Dirco said another group who can vouch for the harsh realities of being stuck in a foreign country, and the assistance offered by Dirco, is the 51 young South Africans who were recently trapped in China after being enticed by a dodgy agent to teach English abroad.

The agent had promised them work visas once they arrived in China… but these never materialised. Instead, the students began working on the study visas that they’d travelled on… which is against the law in China.

Dirco was able to liaise with the Chinese authorities last week and secure the release of the stranded South Africans.

About 49 of the 51 have returned home to South Africa safely, and the remaining two remain in custody as they served as recruiters, said DIRCO.

Tips for South Africans on Travelling Abroad – from DIRCO

  1. Learn about the financial, political, cultural and economic environment of your intended destination, before boarding the plane.
  2. Learn a few key phrases in the host country’s language.
  3. Make sure you have contact details of the nearest South African Representative office.
  4. Carry contact details of your next of kin at all times.

So what can Dirco Consular Services do for you?

According to Chris Chetty, Head of Consular Services at Dirco…

DIRCO can:

  • offer non-financial assistance such as issuing of emergency travel documents against the payment of prescribed fees,
  • offer non-financial help if you’ve been assaulted or are the victim of crime; or provide you with interpreters, doctors and funeral parlours without assuming their costs.

DIRCO cannot:

  • get you out of prison or prevent local authorities from deporting you.
  • help you enter a country if you do not have valid travel documents.
  • give legal advice, pay bills or make business arrangements on your behalf.


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