07:16PM, Thursday 09 April 2020
Owing to the coronavirus pandemic, we’re seeing huge pressure on our NHS and key services, businesses and charities struggling to survive, and a record growth in the number of people being forced into Universal Credit. During these difficult times, it’s important to stay at home if possible to protect our NHS and save lives.
Along with all MPs, I’ve seen a massive surge in requests for help coming into my office. One of the most concerning issues is the vast number of people who are stranded overseas. Some are under one year old, while many are elderly and vulnerable. But from Australia to Afghanistan, they all want the same simple thing – to come back home.
While other countries such as Germany, Canada and Italy quietly and quickly went about flying their citizens home, our Government has been so overwhelmed and slow to react, that only a handful of the constituents who have contacted me over the last few weeks have managed to make it home.
Years of austerity has hollowed out the Foreign Office to a shadow of its former self. Its annual budget – covering all aspects of our famous UK diplomacy and consular services, all our embassies and High Commissions – is now smaller than that of many of our county councils. And it shows!
Just when our diplomatic network is needed the most, it is failing those it is meant to help, leaving them high and dry. They’ve been abandoned in a foreign country, fast running out of medicine, money, and in many cases facing a deteriorating security situation and the risk of contracting coronavirus, away from any familiar healthcare system.
With perhaps as many as 1 million Brits stranded around the world, there’s no denying that the Government has their work cut out for them. Given the unprecedented nature of the situation we are facing, I have given them weeks to sort this situation out. But progress has been disgracefully slow, and it’s time to say so.
People are struggling to get through to consular services. When my office called the British High Commission in Delhi about an elderly constituent being evicted from their hotel during the lockdown in India, the High Commission had already closed for the weekend. In a global emergency, that’s just not good enough.
The Foreign Secretary must urgently arrange for many more flights, especially from Pakistan and India (particularly the Punjab), and they must make sure that people returning home aren’t put into debt in the process.
If we can’t bring people home now, the Government has a responsibility to make sure they’re in regular contact with those who are stranded and that they have food, shelter, security and medicines. Right now, this isn’t happening.
I think this is the least that people facing this situation deserve. I won’t rest until everyone is back home safe!
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