Honorary consuls in Cambodia: Godie van de Paal and Billy Barnaart
Back at the very start of the coronavirus crisis the cruise ship Westerdam spent days on end criss-crossing the South China Sea. Why? Because the authorities in Thailand refused to let the ship dock due to coronavirus concerns. Eventually the Westerdam was allowed to dock in Cambodia. Honorary consuls Godie van de Paal and Billy Barnaart helped the Dutch nationals on board return home. This is their story.
Honorary consuls in Cambodia
The Netherlands has almost 300 honorary consuls all over the world. They act in the interests of Dutch nationals abroad on behalf of the Dutch government, without receiving a salary in return. Together with our embassies and other missions, they are the Netherlands’ eyes and ears abroad.
Billy has been living in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, in the south of the country, for well over 30 years. He has always helped Dutch people and in 2019 he was officially appointed honorary consul. Godie has her own business and serves as honorary consul in the northern town of Siem Reap. Together they are there to assist Dutch nationals in Cambodia.
Evacuation of Dutch passengers
Billy was in the capital Phnom Penh when he heard that the Dutch passengers who had been stuck on board the cruise ship Westerdam could be evacuated. ‘At the airport I helped Dutch nationals get to Kuala Lumpur to be repatriated from there. But after two flights we had to suspend the whole operation.’
‘One of the passengers turned out to have coronavirus. I stayed with the people stranded at the airport and arranged a hotel for them in Phnom Penh. For two weeks I was at the hotel with them, reassuring them and keeping them informed about developments.’
Contact with Dutch people on board
Godie was in the port town of Sihanoukville, where the ship was docked. She was the contact person for the Dutch passengers still on board. ‘I made sure they knew what was happening, what the procedure for testing was and when they could leave. To get the latest information I was in close contact with the local authorities about all the rules. Billy and I set up WhatsApp groups to share information with all the Dutch people on board and at the hotel.’
‘Passengers could ask questions in those groups, too. And I went on board every day to speak to Dutch passengers in person – from a safe distance of course. As soon as everyone had been tested and was allowed to disembark, I accompanied them to Phnom Penh.’
Billy: ‘I’ve been a link between the Netherlands and Cambodia for 30 years. I’m the contact for not only the Dutch embassy in Bangkok, but the British one too. I’ve helped Dutch people in emergency situations, visited people in prison and issued emergency passports and other documents. You know, I did a lot of networking on the football pitch. Many of my team mates work in government or for other organisations which I have a lot of dealings with in my work as honorary consul.’
Assistance for Dutch businesses and emergencies in Cambodia
Godie: ‘Because I run my own business, I deal with any economic queries. If there are Dutch entrepreneurs who have a company here or want to do business with Cambodia, I help them with any questions or problems they have. And in Siem Reap there are sometimes consular emergencies too, for example Dutch people with mental health needs or who have been arrested.’
‘Cambodia is quite a big country. But because there are two of us in two different parts of the country, we can get to wherever a Dutch person is in trouble relatively quickly. Billy helped me by sharing his contacts. I’ve built up my own network in Siem Reap and made official visits, so that now I have plenty of inroads for asking for assistance.’