I am incredibly proud that Leicester East is one of the most diverse constituencies in the country. Our residents hail from across the globe. At a time of international crisis, our communities are affected across borders. At the last count, I was responding to over 200 Leicester East residents who are currently stranded in countries around the world, and I am receiving new cases every hour. I have been helping constituents who are stranded in India, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Kuwait, South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Australia, New Zealand and more.

I have received very worrying messages from those with underlying health conditions who are particularly vulnerable and often running low on their medication. Many of the health issues include asthma, diabetes and other underlying critical health issues, so I am deeply concerned they are stuck in remote parts of the world. Amongst others who I have been helping are those who have had kidney and liver transplants. Another is pregnant yet cannot return home from Pakistan.

Being stranded abroad during an international pandemic is unbelievably distressing, especially as many of those affected are staying in temporary accommodation, which could shut down any day now, and where it is difficult to abide by social distancing measures.

The government has promised a new strategy on repatriations, but for those of us who have been campaigning on this issue from the outset – and especially for the Leicester East residents stranded abroad and their families back home – what has been announced so far is wholly inadequate.

More commercial flights are simply not an option for too many of my constituents. I do not believe that leaving people to rely solely on commercial options is acceptable. I have heard from constituents who have spent thousands of pounds on flights, only for them to be cancelled, often with no cash refund available. In one of many examples, two Leicester East residents with asthma and diabetes have paid for 4 unused flight tickets from Pakistan that have all been cancelled. The government should not be leaving people to the mercy of exploitative private airlines who are ripping vulnerable people off, without helping them to get home.

The Foreign Secretary has given vague promises about charter flights, but none of the commitments or urgency other countries like Germany have demonstrated. We haven’t been given firm answers to any of the specific problems being faced, from the loss of travel insurance and accommodation to dwindling supplies of medicine and money. We need a fresh, comprehensive, and fully-funded strategy to bring our British nationals’ home, using every option at the government’s disposal. That is not what the government has provided, and it’s not good enough.

Many UK citizens have, quite rightly, shared their frustration about the lack of information and advice that they have received from the Foreign Office. Many Leicester East residents are stranded and even locked down in areas that have no international airport and no suitable internal means of transport available to the major cities which do.

The UK spent around £40bn on defence spending in 2019. As an extraordinary measure, I believe that RAF and military aircraft could be used to act as shuttle services to transport British nationals to the nearest appropriate international airport. Indeed, a similar strategy was leaked by government officials in a Telegraphreport on Sunday, before being rowed back a day later.

This would be an unprecedented step, but we are living through an unprecedented crisis. This diplomatic effort would need to be undertaken in the spirit of international solidarity, which is needed for us to combat this pandemic. The coronavirus crisis requires us to think big and challenge existing orthodoxies. We must do all in our power to bring our people back home.

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