Number of Kiwis dying abroad on rise

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 05:00 07/01/2014

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More than two million trips are made by New Zealanders overseas each year, and although the number who don't make it back alive is small, it is increasing.

In the near 10 months to September 25 last year, 154 New Zealanders were killed overseas, figures issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs show. That's up from 143 for the full 2012 year and 132 for the full 2011.

The figures come just days after Wellington mother-of-two Lynn Howie and her British partner were shot and killed on a beach in Libya's Zawiya District.

The ministry is advising against all travel to the region, which has a "high to extreme" risk to security because of terrorism and kidnappings.

More Kiwis die in Australia than any other country, but that is because of the large number living there.

Thailand, a popular destination particularly among younger New Zealanders, is second on the figures.

Eighteen New Zealanders were killed there in the 2013 year to September 25. More than 115,000 Kiwis travelled to Thailand.

New Zealand's ambassador to Thailand, Tony Lynch, said the diplomatic post was one of the ministry's busiest for a range of reasons - "either a mix of the complexity of the issues or just the volume of cases we have to deal with".

"I wouldn't say Thailand is any more dangerous than anywhere else, but it's a matter of the volume of tourists that come through and the demographic factor," he said.

"We get a lot of younger New Zealanders out to explore Asia - they are probably a bit more innocent, and . . . engage in riskier behaviour."

This time of the year was considered peak season, and while helping hapless Kiwis was only a small fraction of the work the embassy undertook, it was an important part.

Two consul staff handled all requests for help, with one of those employed by the ministry being a local Thai.

"You need the language to be able to navigate the Thai bureaucracy and with Thai authorities," he said.

"One of the classic Thai holiday examples is people come, they're in their holiday gear, they hire a bike and scoot around and have an accident and then find that their insurance policy doesn't cover riding a moped or a scooter."

Embassy staff would, more often than not, help the traveller and their family organise transport back to New Zealand to receive free healthcare, or facilitate the payment of medical fees in Thailand.

But according to the figures, deaths far outnumber accidents and injuries for New Zealanders across the globe.

Only 19 people found themselves requiring consulate assistance after being injured in an accident last year, in countries ranging from Thailand to Tanzania.

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Mr Lynch said it was "vitally important" travellers registered their itineraries and made sure their families always knew what part of the world they were in.

"It makes the call home - usually to mum, to shift some money - much easier and faster to make."

In Australia, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop recently signalled a "user-pays" approach to consular assistance after 11,927 Australians sought help in the past financial year.

New Zealand Ministry for Foreign Affairs spokesman Adham Crichton said the ministry did not charge for providing assistance, but it did not provide money either.

"We don't provide money for legal fees or emergency flights home.

"Only in very limited cases can we give a cash advance, but that is always expected to be paid back."

Mr Lynch said the embassy was always there to help, "but the less we see them [tourists] the better - it means they're enjoying their holidays". 

- The Dominion Post

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