Repatriation efforts to get UK citizens home at start of pandemic ‘slow and poorly co-ordinated’
A recent report by parliament’s cross-party Foreign Affairs Committee has slammed the Foreign Office’s repatriation initiative to bring UK citizens home at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, including many from Argyll & Bute, calling it slow and poorly co-ordinated.
Years of budget cuts and lack of leadership has left the UK unable to match its European neighbours, such as Denmark, Germany or Ireland, and repatriate its citizens trapped abroad during a deadly pandemic.
The Conservative Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat MP, said that many people had received advice which was “confusing, inconsistent and lacking in compassion”.
Many Argyll and Bute residents will recognise this – if not from their own experience, then from that of their friends or family. This was reflected in the report’s findings that over 85% of respondents were either ‘very unhappy’ or ‘somewhat unhappy’ with the UK Government’s response.
“In total 30 constituents and their families contacted me asking for help from the FCO. These people were left stranded across the globe including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Peru, Nepal and Egypt and sadly, in one case, the results of this were catastrophic.Brendan O’Hara MP
Commenting, Argyll & Bute MP Brendan O’Hara said:
“As soon the scale of the impact of the virus became clear, SNP MPs lobbied the UK Government to follow our neighbours – like Germany and the Netherlands – and actively organise flights to repatriate UK citizens trapped abroad.
“In total 30 constituents and their families contacted me asking for help from the FCO. These people were left stranded across the globe including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Peru, Nepal and Egypt and sadly, in one case, the results of this were catastrophic. Everyone who contacted me was shocked that the FCO would effectively abandon its citizens abroad while they watched the governments of other countries act swiftly to get their citizens home.
“Complaints were made to me about the lack of information available from embassies especially for elderly and vulnerable constituents who were having to camp out in airports in the hope of getting a flight. When they did eventually act, the high cost of repatriation flights proved prohibitive to those who had already spent weeks and months booking and re-booking flights in the hope of getting home and using up all income they had in doing so.”
“The lack of action in response shows the UK Government in a position it seems to be repeatedly found in these days: asleep at the wheel. There was an absence of leadership and direction from the very top of this rudderless Tory Government which impacted my constituents when they most needed help.”
Mr O’Hara added: “Despite the herculean efforts of individual Foreign Office staff around the world, it is painfully clear to anyone watching that years of sustained funding cuts have left the UK Government unable to fulfil its basic obligations to its citizens. The pandemic has shown this to be as true abroad as it is at home.”