Many UK citizens have been stranded abroad because of travel restrictions put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic. The number of commercial flights available has been severely reduced and prices for flights have increased dramatically. Embassies across the world have also closed. Some UK nationals are on cruise ships that cannot dock.
The Minister for Asia, Nigel Adams, detailed the efforts made to repatriate UK citizens.
Nigel Adams: "enormous international effort"
Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Nigel Adams, thanked the efforts of diplomats, who "continue to work around the clock" to help bring people home.
Mr Adams estimated that around 1.3 million people have returned to the UK since the outbreak of coronavirus began, and said that keeping commercial routes open has required an "enormous international effort". The Minister said that because of a £75 million deal between the Government and airlines 19,000 people from 20 different countries and territories have returned home on Foreign Office organised charter flights.
The Minister detailed the measures taken to support British citizens on cruise ships, such as working with governments across the world, providing consular assistance and, in some cases, organising charter flights.
He said that consular teams are still providing support to those trying to return to the UK, with the capacity of the consular contact centres having tripled, and stated that those abroad are eligible for coronavirus job retention scheme and access to mortgage holidays. Mr Adams also outlined the steps taken to make sure that stranded travellers have access to food, accommodation and medical care.
The Minister also detailed the Foreign and Commonwealth's efforts in procuring personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators from manufacturers across the world, and in supporting the global search for a coronavirus vaccine.
"Our efforts and our aims show that we are committed to helping every British traveller, no matter where they are in the world."
Lisa Nandy: "deeply concern"
Responding on behalf of the Opposition, Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy, said that she was "deeply concerned" that "there is still no accurate assessment of who is stranded and where", and noted that various figures had been given for the number of UK citizens unable to return home. She asked the Minister to count and publish the statistics.
Ms Nandy thanked the efforts of diplomats, consular staff and the Foreign Office to repatriate people via charter flights, but said that this was happening at a "frustratingly slow" compared to countries such as Germany, who were able to bring home 60,000 people by early April. She called on the Minister to "rapidly" increase the number of charter flights available.
The Shadow Minister raised the situation of non-UK nationals who call Britain their home and who are stranded abroad. She said many of them are "extremely vulnerable" and that they have been told to "contact other countries’ embassies" for help.
She also asked for clarification of messages given to those returning home, including around whether mandatory quarantine periods would be introduced and questioned why airport screening measures have now stopped, calling this "really worrying".
The Shadow Minister stated:
"This reliance on commercial flights has left far too many British people at the mercy of cancelled flights, airline strikes, extortionate prices, domestic lockdowns and chaotic booking systems."
Find out more
Follow the @HouseofCommons
on Twitter and @UKHouseofCommons
on Instagram, for updates on the UK House of Commons Chamber and more.