Foreign Affairs Committee criticises Covid-19 repatriation efforts
In a new report, the cross-party Foreign Affairs Committee has said that the Foreign Office’s repatriation initiative to bring UK citizens home at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic was not swift enough.
The committee also said that the government was over-reliant on commercial airlines and criticised advice issued to Brits for being misleading in nature.
The Foreign Office was faced with bringing home around 1.3 million UK citizens who were travelling abroad at the time, and the committee says that it was simply “outpaced by events” in trying to get people back to Britain.
A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said: "Against the background of local lockdowns and international flight bans, the team worked tirelessly to keep commercial routes open as long as possible, while bringing stranded Brits home on 186 charter flights from 57 countries and territories.
"We have retained a repatriation team for the remainder of the year and boosted investment in our consular services and crisis management to ensure we are further prepared to support Brits caught up in the pandemic."
The committee concluded that too many Brits abroad were not given the support they should “reasonably expect to receive” and that too little action was taken to offer any financial support to any who were facing hardship while stranded.
The Foreign Affairs Committee acknowledged that support such as emergency loans was made available, but deemed that those in need of it were not made sufficiently aware.
Instead, initial advice issued recommended Brits stranded abroad to borrow money from associates.
The committee said that individuals who had responded to a survey had found Foreign Office advice either “outdated or unhelpful”, while four out of every ten people could not contact their nearest UK embassy when in need of help.
Conservative chair of the committee, Tom Tugendhat, said that advice was “confusing, inconsistent and lacking in compassion” as well as being found to be “misleading and outdated” and sometimes “entirely absent.”
Tugendhat added: "The lack of accurate, helpful information meant many felt forgotten and as though they had been left to fend for themselves."
The committee also pointed out that European countries such as Germany which has used more charter flights had been able to repatriate citizens far more swiftly.
It also highlighted statistics which showed that the German government chartered 260 flights to bring 260,000 citizens home, compared to the 186 charter flights used to bring home roughly 1.3 million British nationals.
The committee found that by the end of June, the government had spent £40.5 million of a £75 million fund dedicated to providing charter flights to bring UK citizens back from abroad.