‘Government waited too long to act’ says Helen Hayes as Southwark residents anxiously await repatriation flights

Katherine Johnston (14 April, 2020)

One GP has come home after Qantas offered flight for free

19567Helen Hayes, MP for Dulwich and West Norwood

Southwark residents trapped abroad amid global lockdowns and flight suspensions still face an anxious wait to return home.

Despite a 75 million repatriation fund announced by the government and thousands already helped home, many still have no set date for flights back to the UK.

Dulwich and West Norwood MP Helen Hayes said that although the announcement was a positive step, constituents of hers remain trapped overseas and the support has come ‘too late’.

She told the News last week: “I am pleased that the foreign secretary has finally agreed to a programme to help my constituents return home to the UK.

“This is welcome news for Southwark and Lambeth residents still trapped overseas in countries including New Zealand, Vietnam and Uruguay.

“However, the government has waited too long to act and relied too much upon increasingly limited and expensive commercial flights to help British residents overseas.

“In many parts of the world it is now almost impossible to find any commercial route to the UK. The Foreign Office must urgently organise repatriation flights directly where affordable commercial flights are not available.”

Camberwell and Peckham residents stuck abroad have included a man with multiple sclerosis at risk of running out of medication and a lesbian couple fearful of travelling back via Singapore due to its laws against homosexuality

Before further government support was announced Camberwell and Peckham MP Harman had told of her difficulty getting answers and specific advice despite a dedicated MPs “hotline” for repatriation queries. 

“The ‘hotline rang for 45 minutes until my assistant gave up and got back to the rest of her work,” she said an update published last week into her work during the pandemic.

“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office responded to my emails only (with the exception of Vietnam) with generic advice that did not relate to the situation of the individual about whom I’d contacted them.

“Clearly the consular offices are dealing with a huge number of stranded UK citizens and many of the staff are unable to be at work because they are ill or self-isolating.

“And clearly the FCO are working hard to arrange scheduled flights home. But it is important for a stranded individual to know that their consulate knows they are there and knows what they are doing on their behalf.

“Following the unsatisfactory replies to my emails from the FCO I wrote to the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, setting out the problems for each of my constituents who’d contacted me and asking for his help.

“The exceptions to this were our consular office in Vietnam who kept in touch with a 22-year-old unable to return after his holiday and contacted his mother who was anxious to have him home.”

In a positive note, Harman said a stranded GP desperate to return to work had been able to come back to Southwark after airline company Qantas stepped in and offered a free flight home.

Contribute
diana says:

Maybe it was not such a good idea to go away during a global pandemic after all …and guess who ends up paying the tab

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