Geoff Berridge   15 Jun 2020   Diplo Blog, Diplomacy

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Diplo Wisdom Circle

On 2 July 2020 I received an e-mail from Razvan Constantinescu, the energetic Romanian honorary-consul general for the south-west of England based in Bristol and president of the Bristol Consular Corps. This told me how the COVID-19 pandemic first revolutionised the nature of his workload, and then reduced it to a ‘walk in the park’.

Razvan Constantinescu has occupied his consular post since the beginning of 2014, when it was created by the Romanian government. It was at this juncture that restrictions on entry into the UK of migrants from Romania (and Bulgaria) were lifted, and they were expected to arrive in large numbers. The detail in his e-mail is so interesting – and probably not so unusual – that, with his express permission, I reproduce the body of the message below:

Gone were the days when I was promoting business, facilitating embassy and ministerial visits in my jurisdiction, attending public events and meeting my communities across the SW of England. Instead, due to my Government closing the airspace with the UK, I was confronted with thousands upon thousands of Romanian Citizens left stranded here in the UK. With the closure of the sectors of the economy where the majority of the Romanian community works (abattoirs, hotels & hospitality, retail, car washing, repairs and maintenance, etc.) I had to deal with dozens of cases of sudden unemployment and evictions. Furthermore, many of these people were working before Covid 19 in the underground/parallel economy i.e. not formalised through contracts thus they had no recourse to state aid, protection or assistance.

On top, I had to deal with emergency repatriations on humanitarian grounds and since the UK-Romania airspace was closed, we could only do it by opening humanitarian transit corridors via Budapest or Sofia.

Then, I had to deal with repatriating dead bodies (x2), cremations (x2) and securing a free burial plot for a six-months old infant. Related to this, the Romanian Bishop asked me to set up a Romanian Orthodox Cemetery and I now know how to go about that too.

All in all, I think I earned my wages (sic!). It was a crazy time but as they say, what does not kill the honorary consuls makes them stronger and we emerged stronger and more skilled out of it. I could probably write a small chapter in your next book 🙂

Eventually, the Romanian Government organised eight humanitarian flights from the UK and opened the land routes into the country so by now just about everybody who wanted to leave, has left. The same happens with the Romanian communities in Spain, Italy and France, so God help the Romanian health system.

By now, things have quietened considerably and I find myself eerily void of challenges. Unless I count the decision of the Romanian Embassy to suspend their issuing of Powers of Attorney on account of  the lease of the London Consulate expiring and not having a space anymore. So now I am bombarded by desperate requests for PoA from people who want to bring their minor children over, want to sell a house, a cow or a car. But this is a walk in the park.

This post first appeared on the personal blog of Prof. GR Berridge and is republished here with permission.

Discussion topic

Is the work of honorary consuls likely to be changed for good by the pandemic?

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