Take me home – Advice for UK citizens stranded abroad due to COVID-19

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Living through a global pandemic is scary enough if you are safe at home, in your own country. But for around 300,000 British travelers stranded abroad, the experience is both hopeless and terrifying.

Some people can go home, but it’s not quick and certainly not cheap. Marie Young, who was stranded in Auckland, New Zealand (at the time of writing, it is not known if she made it home), told the BBC she had borrowed £ 1,350 for a ticket plane to return because his airline had not yet reimbursed him the amount. she paid for her flight which was canceled when the country went into lockdown.

“There is a duty of care to the airlines to get you home if anything happens. They can’t just stop and leave you, ”she says.

“I think the government needs to put pressure on them. We are not expecting a free return, but we are waiting for a refund for a canceled flight.”

What is the government’s policy on the repatriation of UK citizens?

The official UK government directive is that the use of public funds to bring people stranded abroad due to Coronavirus will only be available as a last resort and will be in the form of a loan.

Unfortunately, the advice provided is rather thin and mostly consists of common sense, for example:

  • “find accommodation suited to your needs
  • to keep abreast of our travel tips and British Embassy or High Commission social media accounts.
  • keep up to date with the latest information from carriers and local authorities on your departure options
  • contact your travel insurance provider: The Association of British Insurers says most providers will look to extend coverage for a single trip up to 60 days if you go out of your way to get home. This should ensure that your emergency medical coverage continues while you cannot return.
  • Keep in regular contact with your family and friends at home, so they know you are safe and healthy
  • ask family, friends and employer for money to pay for a return ticket
  • contact charities with charitable funds that may be able to provide financial assistance, such as those with charitable funds. Turn2Us can provide charities to contact. “

Pressure on government to offer charter flights to bring UK nationals home

At the end of March, a group of 60 all-party MPs urged the government to do more. As the stories reached the media of British citizens Stranded in countries like Nepal, Pakistan and India, demands have been made for charter flights to be organized to repatriate people.

On April 13, Foreign Minister Dominic Raab was called on by the Labor Party to “intervene urgently” and help citizens return home.

Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, wrote to Mr Raab asking him to “take a grip” on the situation, saying that among stranded citizens “there is a growing feeling that they have been abandoned”.

“Many are running out of money or medicine, worried about their accommodation and not sure when or if they could catch a flight home.”

Ms Nandy also urged the foreign minister to crack down on airlines “charging huge sums for return flights” and refusing to reimburse passengers for canceled trips.

“When commercial flights are unavailable or unreliable, the government must overcome its reluctance to step in and charter flights.

“I understand the government has concerns about the cost, but these are British citizens, many of whom have now been stranded for some time, and they need to be brought home.”

Charter flights to the United Kingdom

The Conservative government responded to desperate calls to action days later and organized more than 17 charter flights to bring British citizens back to their homes from India. The planes took off from Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bangalore, Delhi, Goa and Mumbai.

The chartered flights were made possible through the government’s partnership with the airlines and the provision of £ 75million for repatriation costs.

However, Amrik Bola, 73, of Derby, told The Guardian that charter flights were of no use to him as he was stranded in a remote village in Punjab, eight hours from Dheli, with his wife and step-in-law. sister. They cannot travel to the Indian capital due to the travel ban in the country.

“If they organized these thefts, why don’t they think of the 15,000 people stricken in the Punjab? This is really bad.

“Every day we end up crying. There are three of us sitting in a room. We don’t know when we’ll be back.

“Our family is in England, our children are in England. If we are in England, we are close to our children if anything were to happen.

“What worries us is that if something were to happen to us in India, they couldn’t come.”

In response, Acting High Commissioner to India Jan Thompson told business travelers:

“We are working around the clock to organize additional flights from places where we know a large number of people are still stranded.”

British Minister of State for South Asia and the Commonwealth, Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon, said:

“We know this is a difficult time for UK travelers and that there is a high demand for these flights. It is a huge and logistically complex operation, and we are working tirelessly with the Indian government and state authorities to help more UK travelers return home. “

Charter flights have now left New Zealand, Islamabad and Bangladesh among other countries with priority seats given to the elderly, pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions. However, passengers had to pay large sums to get home, with flights from New Zealand costing £ 800.

What should you do if you get stuck abroad?

If you are currently stranded abroad, unable to reach an airport due to lack of funds, travel restrictions, or health reasons, the internet is your best friend. Check the official UK government website and the website of the UK embassy or consulate in the country you are in for updates. It is also useful to keep an eye on UK newspapers for up-to-date information.

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