In 2011, the Bureau of Consular Affairs working with our embassies provided a wide array of services to U.S. citizens abroad. Of particular note was the response to several crises this year and the evacuations of U.S. citizens that occurred in Egypt and Japan.
Cairo—An evacuation is a mission-wide effort, and Cairo’s whole team (the U.S. Embassy in Cairo staff) pulled together to make this one a success. Joined by a team of more than 20 consular officers from other posts, they helped mothers traveling alone with children, found food and water for Americans waiting hours to board flights to leave the country, and made tough calls on who qualified to board and who couldn’t. They cared for a gunshot victim and his family, an elderly woman who had been trapped in her apartment near Tahrir Square and a journalist who allegedly had been abused by local security personnel. They worked hard to overcome obstacles and answer any question or need brought to them. This effort included officers from the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum and extended to colleagues in Athens, Frankfurt, Istanbul and Larnaca who hosted evacuees in transit through their countries on very short notice.
Equally vital to the success of the efforts was coordination with several task forces in Washington, which needed on-the-ground information to keep family members updated, inform senior policy makers and provide support and answers to issues raised by the officers working in Egypt. The Department of State ultimately helped approximately 2,350 U.S. citizens, family members, other nationals—and a cat named Midnight—evacuate Egypt.
Japan—The earthquake struck and the Embassy Tokyo consular personnel knew it was large. Soon, the embassy’s consular section was faced with the enormity of the consular response that was needed. Within four hours, the section established a Consular Crisis Response Center (CCRC) that operated on a 24/7 basis for 25 days, during which it pursued more than 5,400 crisis-related welfare and whereabouts cases, including congressional inquiries for 130 individuals. The CCRC also accounted for all of the 111 Americans initially listed as unaccounted for in the five jurisdictions most affected by the crisis. To cope with the unprecedented demand for emergency American citizen services, 33 temporary duty officers joined the 11 consular officers in Tokyo. In three weeks, American Citizen Services-Tokyo issued what would normally be five years’ worth of emergency passports. It also distributed potassium iodide pills to 3,401 American citizens and foreign dependents, marking the first time a U.S. mission had made such pills available to private citizens.
The embassy sent two Consular Assistance Field Teams to Tokyo’s two international airports to assist departing Americans and organized two chartered evacuation flights, and five Mission Japan officers, including three consular officers, did intensive contingency planning with the U.S. military for the possible evacuation of up to 100,000 American citizens.
A crowd of U.S. citizens waits outside Cairo International Airport on the first day of evacuation flights. State Magazine May 2011.