Foreign drug offences could lead to imprisonment, Foreign Office

The UK Foreign Office has launched a campaign to highlight the painful consequences of being involved in drug offences overseas, The Telegraph has reported.

Presently, more than 850 British nationals are serving terms for such offences in prisons around the world, in distressing conditions and often without being given clear dates for a trial, the Office has warned. The Prisoners Abroad charity said it is currently supporting 80 Britons between the ages of 18 and 30 held on drugs offences, with two-thirds of the detainees still waiting to be heard in court. The other third are serving sentences that range from a year to nearly 39 years.

Some countries and authorities employ a zero-tolerance approach that results in strict penalties for those convicted. For example, in Indonesia this year, a 57-year-old British grandmother was sentenced to death by firing squad for carrying cocaine in a suitcase. Possession, trafficking and manufacture of any illegal drugs are serious offences in Indonesia.

In countries like Thailand, possession of even very small quantities of drugs can lead to imprisonment. Possession in excess of 20 grams of a Class A drug could deem one a trafficker and could potentially lead to a death sentence.

In the United Arab Emirates, sentences for drug trafficking for possession of even the smallest amount of illegal drugs can lead to a minimum four-year jail sentence. The Emirati authorities count the presence of drugs in the blood stream as possession.

More than 30 British nationals are currently in prison in Peru for drugs offences. Drug smugglers face long terms of imprisonment -two young British women charged with cocaine smuggling are currently facing a minimum of six years in prison.

Mark Simmonds, minister for consular affairs, said. ‘In the last year alone consular staff handled over 650 drug-related cases. When it comes to drugs our message is clear – don’t take risks, the consequences are simply not worth it.’

Pauline Crowe, chief executive of Prisoners Abroad, also urged people to consider the unhygienic conditions, overcrowded cells, non-availability of food and clean water and the constant threat of disease before getting involved in drugs. Prisoners ‘may have to live through these conditions for many, many years,’ she said.

Foreign Office relaxes Egypt travel restrictions

The UK Foreign Office relaxed its travel advice for Egypt last Friday, after urging travellers in July to avoid all but essential travel to the entire country, except for the Red Sea resorts, including Sharm El Sheikh, Dahab and Hurghada, The Telegraph has reported.

With the relaxation of restrictions, British holidaymakers can now plan their travel to destinations including Aswan, Abu Simbel, Alexandria and Luxor. However, the Office still warns travellers to avoid travel to large parts of the country, including the Governorates of Cairo (including Greater Cairo and the Giza Pyramids), Bani Suef, Minya, Asyut and Sohag.

The Office also advises against travel to the Sinai peninsula, excluding the Red Sea resorts, ‘due to the significant increase in criminal activity and recent terrorist attacks on police and security forces’.

‘Our travel advice for Egypt has now changed in line with the reduction in the level of violence,’ the Foreign Office said in a statement. ‘We continue to urge British Nationals already in Egypt to follow the instructions of the local authorities and obey curfews where they are in place. There remains a high threat from terrorism throughout Egypt. This has not changed.’

At the annual World Travel Market convention in London last week, Omayma El Husseini from the Egyptian State Tourist Office, said that she was hopeful that the Foreign Office’s restriction would be lifted in full.

Hisham Zaazou, the Egyptian tourism minister, said: ‘More than 18 countries have lifted the travel advisory on Luxor and Aswan. As soon as the Foreign Office revises its travel advice for the UK, we will work tirelessly with our valued media, travel agent and tour operator partners to communicate that the whole of Egypt is open.’

‘[We are using] the latest visual technologies such as webcams and mobile apps to show exactly what is happening on the ground in Egypt now,’ he added.

The Foreign Office first issued its travel advisory in July, as a result of the violence following the ousting of Mohamed Morsi. The move forced many travel firms across the UK, which typically follow the Foreign Office’s recommendations, to put package trips on hold. Independent travellers had the option to travel to the region, but have faced issues obtaining adequate insurance.

With the relaxation, travel operators will now be able to resume their tours, subject to the instructions by the Foreign Office and local authorities.

UK Foreign Office issues warning over Stockholm riots

The UK government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has issued a warning to British travellers to Stockholm, Sweden’s capital, regarding a recent sequence of riots.

For their own safety, visitors have been advised to avoid any large gatherings, take extra care when commuting around the city and to monitor local news reports. The advice comes in the wake of consecutive nights of rioting in some parts of the city, which started last Sunday.

The problem areas include Husby, Hagsatra, Ragsved amd Skogas, according to the FCO, which also reminded visitors that the emergency services number in Sweden is 112, should they need to contact it.

Local police have told the BBC that the unrest has spread as the week has gone on and that to date as many as 40 cars and a restaurant have been burnt out.

The catalyst for the unrest appears to have been the shooting dead last week of an elderly man who had allegedly threatened police with a machete. Trouble then broke out on Sunday evening in the deprived and mainly immigrant area of Husby, a northwestern suburb. The worst of the subsequent rioting, however, was in the southern part of the city, where between 10 and 20 cars were burnt out, while 10 attacks on cars took place in the northwest.

Fredrik Reinfeldt, Sweden’s prime minister, has appealed for calm in the capital and issued a statement on Wednesday, saying, ‘It’s important to remember that burning your neighbour’s car is not an example of freedom of speech, it’s hooliganism.’

Last year over half a million UK residents visited Sweden, and the FCO said that most visitors had a trouble-free stay.