Foreign Office failing stranded Brits, says Wolverhampton MP
The Foreign Office has been criticised for failing to "meet the reality" of the dire circumstances faced by people who are stranded abroad during the coronavirus crisis.
Thousands of Brits from the Black Country and Staffordshire – many of them elderly – are stuck under strict lockdown in India and Pakistan, unable to return home due to their flights having been cancelled.
They have been left frustrated with advice given to them by the Foreign Office, after a letter from UK officials advised people requiring medication to "go to the nearest pharmacy" or to "consult a local doctor" to arrange treatment.
They say they are unable to attend pharmacies due to the lockdown, while many local doctors in India are said to be refusing to treat foreigners.
Wolverhampton South East MP Pat McFadden says he has received dozens of emails and calls from people with family members stranded abroad.
He said: "I appreciate the Foreign Office and our posts abroad are under huge pressure but much of this advice does not meet the reality of people’s circumstances.
"For example I am told it is very difficult for people to get access to local pharmacies and doctors during the Indian lockdown, which is being policed in a much more strict manner than here in the UK.
"I don’t believe it is practical for many of the people stuck in India to be able to follow this advice and in the absence of commercially available flights think it is essential that the Government organises charter flights to enable people to come home to the UK.
"What is important is that anyone stuck in India emails the British High Commission with their full details so that if the Government does act, they have the maximum information about the numbers and whereabouts of the British citizens who are there."
Last night Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced that tens of thousands of Brits stranded abroad will be flown home under a new arrangement between the Government and airlines.
BA, Virgin and Easyjet are among airlines working with the Government to fly Britons back to the UK, while ministers have also pledged £75 million to charter special flights to bring home UK nationals from countries where commercial flights are unavailable, such as India.
Mr McFadden is one of a number MPs who has been calling for the Government to arrange charter flights to repatriate British citizens.
He said: "I have been pressing the Government to commission charter flights to bring people home for about a week now.
"I welcome the announcement but there is still a lot of detail we don’t know and it will have to be followed up by speedy and effective action over the next few days.
"I have had a lot of approaches from constituents on this issue, many of whom have relatives stranded abroad in very difficult circumstances.
"For many there are no commercial flights available and a charter operation like this is really the only way to get home."
John Spellar, the Labour MP for Warley, is among MPs to write to Boris Johnson calling for military involvement to bring people home.
He asked the PM: "Could you confirm whether the Government has instructed the Ministry of Defence to provide Military Aid to the Civil Authorities for this task?
"By that, we do not just mean providing transporter planes, although they may have a role where appropriate, but also utilising the proven capability of the MoD to mobilise civilian aircraft and aircrews and negotiate airspace and landing facilities, whether at civilian or military airfields, to facilitate the repatriation flights we all want to see."
Other nations have already completed repatriation flights, with hundreds of German nationals brought home last week on specially chartered Lufthansa flights.
India is in the middle of a 21-day lockdown in a bid to combat the pandemic.
The British High Commission New Delhi has moved into crisis mode and currently has a dedicated mailbox for British nationals in India who wish to return urgently to the UK.
Anyone with family members who are stranded should email Conqry.Newdehli@fco.gov.uk, giving the full name(s) of those who are abroad, dates of birth, passport numbers, visa status and contact details, including their exact location in India.