Wednesday, April 21

Yes, The US Government has an Obligation to Help Americans Trapped Overseas

Most Americans have never had to visit a US Embassy overseas. If you are part of that group, consider yourselves lucky because visiting a US Embassy, even as a US Citizen is a horrible experience. And this is just for regular business. If for some reason you have to visit an Embassy as a result of some self-stupidity (i.e. getting drunk and losing your passport), forget it. But regardless of the reason, you are interrupting their day and in many cases, they will resent your interruption and do nothing to hide their resentment, treating you in a condescending matter. So if you can avoid it, stay far away from any US Embassy. (Note: Yes there are some wonderful, helpful people working in US Embassies, but those who do a crappy job will do their best to keep you from reaching any of them.)

That said, there are thousands of Americans trapped in Europe due to the Iceland's volcano fallout. there has been discussion of the US's responsibility to help these people. Surprising many people are wholly unsympathetic to their plight. (Perhaps they are State Dept. employees.) So I thought I would comment on what, if anything, the US Embassies in Europe should be doing to help these people.

First, we need to evaluate the situation that caused the problem. It is one thing for an Embassy to show a lack of interest in helping you when you have done something that resulted in you getting into trouble. Such as skipping on a restaurant bill, driving drunk, creating a public disturbance, etc. However, it is another thing entirely when you become a victim through no action of your own, other than deciding to take a vacation. This is a perfect example of that kind of situation. Over 40,000 Americans ended up trapped in the UK due to airports being closed. Given that these people are powerless to resolve the problem on their own, many have looked to the local US Embassy for guidance and assistance with little to show for it. And that is a shame. (Here is the guidance statement from the US Embassy in London)

Even now that the skies are opening up, there is the ongoing problem of a shortage of available seats to carry the passengers from the canceled flights, given that the seats on these flights had already been booked by others. This is a perfect example of how the US can work to solve the problem by arranging for additional airlift, either by chartering commercial craft or by requesting military airlift to assist. None of this has been done.

Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting that the US fly these people home for free. They should be charged a reasonable fare for the service. As it so happens this is what the US does when they bring refugees to the US (at least they did). That is not the only form of assistance that should be provided. The Embassies should also be willing to extend a loan to these Americans trapped overseas. Many are in need of money and have no easy way of getting additional funds from the US or have simply spent their last dollar.

It makes no sense to me how people can complain how the Government comes to the aid of Americans at home (think Katrina) but somehow reason that you should be on your own simply because you are outside the country. Given that the US Government will tax you where ever you live simply for being an American, it should should be ready to provide a lifeline when needed, where ever you are. This is certainly one of those times.
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