UK Embassy sets up Facebook channel
Manama, July 7, 2011
A Facebook page set up by the British Embassy in Bahrain is breaking new ground in keeping in touch, Ambassador Jamie Bowden said.
The UK in Bahrain page has become a popular outlet for people seeking answers to questions, keeping up to date on latest news or simply wanting to vent.
"It became, during the crisis, a key consular tool for us - as a way of getting messages out to the community and as a way of us getting feedback of what was happening," he said.
"It became an absolutely invaluable channel for exchange of information in both directions. When I was back in London in May I actually had to stand up and give a presentation to most of the ambassadors around the world about the way we had exploited Facebook."
Meanwhile, he revealed talks were continuing with the Bahraini government about addressing problems faced by expatriates unable to leave the country due to travel bans.
In most cases people have a travel ban imposed on them due to legal proceedings or because they have outstanding debts.
However, Bahraini procedures can make it difficult for them to work or get new employment visas - meaning they are often unable to earn money to pay off their debts.
The British Embassy is aware of 15 UK nationals under travel bans, although there may be more who have not come forward.
"The goodwill is there on the part of the government, and the immigration department have been very helpful" said Bowden. "We are in close touch with both the authorities and some of those facing the travel bans.”
"What we can't do unfortunately is help them financially, nor can we give them legal advice. What we have been doing is working with the Bahraini government to try and find ways to address the problems people under travel bans have working.”
"That has been a particular area of ours. We have been discussing this constructively (with the Bahrain government) for over a year,” he added.
He also acknowledged British expats' frustrations at delays in processing applications for new passports, which are now issued from a centre in Germany.
"I do sympathise with people having longer than expected delays in getting their passports in the post," he said. "London is very aware of the problem and working for a rapid solution."
Meanwhile, the Ambassador admitted he was leaving Bahrain with "huge regret", but said he believed his posting had been a success.
"I wouldn't say I developed an affection for Bahrain - it's the kind of country you fall in love with as soon as you arrive here," he said. "I'm very sad to be going, but I have every intention of being a regular visitor to see the country and my friends in Bahrain."
He said the high points included the visit of Prince Charles in 2007, while the lowest point was finding himself accused of trying to interfere in local affairs after meeting with opposition MPs last year.
"I was on the receiving end of quite an intense media campaign for several weeks, which was disappointing because by any standard I had done nothing that was not absolutely normal diplomacy accepted in any country in the world as normal diplomacy," he said.
"To find myself on the end of that kind of attack was absolutely not justified. I met some MPs, which is what diplomats are paid to do. The allegation was interfering in Bahraini affairs, which was not justified,” he added. – TradeArabia News Service