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UK urged to help Britons stranded abroad during Covid-19 pandemic

A cross-party group of more than 60 MPs has urged the government to arrange charter flights to bring home British nationals stranded abroad as further stories of people stuck in dire circumstances emerged.

Hundreds of vulnerable British citizens are stranded in Pakistan with many of them running short of the vital medication they need to treat serious health conditions.

Accounts also emerged from Nepal, where hundreds of British tourists are stuck, some high up in the mountains with no way of getting back to the towns and home.

British nationals have complained of receiving little to no consular support and say there is a lack of clear advice from the Foreign Office. The cost of commercial flights has skyrocketed.

Among the British people stranded in Lahore, Pakistan, is 60-year-old Tanweer Ahmed Khan from Manchester, alongside six members of his family.

Tanweer Ahmed Khan is stranded in Lahore. Photograph: Tanweer Ahmed Khan

Khan’s daughter, Ikra Naser, said her party, aged four to 65, had been due to fly back to the UK on Friday after visiting a sick relative but they had been stranded.

Naser said: “My father has a severe heart condition and severe arthritis. He took enough medication to last until Monday but then we don’t know what he’ll do. My mum also suffers health conditions and she must travel with my dad to look after him, given how strong his meds are.”

The outward flights cost £500 each for a return but the family is facing paying up to £2,000 for a single trip back – if they can even find one to take. Khan said she had spent many hours contacting the FCO. “But they don’t seem to care. I’m scared for my parents.”

Another Briton, Adnan Aftab from Birmingham, said he was with his mother who had underlying health issues.

Aftab said: “The medication she takes weakens her immune system. She only has limited medication with her and soon will be completely out. We have already forked out £1,000 [on flights that were subsequently cancelled] and so don’t have anything left.”

Sahiba Sajid, an NHS hospital social worker from Leeds who is stranded in Pakistan, said: “I’m frustrated that I’m not able to return. The team I work in was already under a lot of pressure before I went abroad and I can only imagine how they are managing. I just want to go back and work but I’m stuck here instead.”

Afzal Khan, the MP for Manchester Gorton, said a significant number of British nationals were stuck in Pakistan.

Khan said: “I have been contacted by a number of constituents who are growing increasingly anxious about being unable to return home to the UK. Many have serious underlying health conditions and are running low on essential medication which is only adding to their anxieties. We are calling on the government to do more to bring British citizens home to safety.”

Julie McElhinney and Dave Wong, from London, were in the Nepalese mountains when it was announced that flights were to stop. “We struggled to find things in English to understand what was going on,” said McElhinney.

They managed to get to Kathmandu but information was still scarce. “We were gleaning information from fellow travellers and locals, basically trying to work on rumours,” McElhinney said.

“We and others have used family to phone the Foreign Office, the embassy and airlines but mostly just had generic information that they are working on it. There’s a lot of frustration that communications has not been good. We’ve managed to reschedule flights for 4 April but we don’t know if it will happen. The challenge for everyone is not knowing.

“We feel apprehensive about what could happen in the coming weeks. There is uncertainty about food, accommodation, flights. A large number of locals have fled Kathmandu for their villages so a lot of things aren’t open. Our Nepalese hosts have been trying their best to get us food and look after us but there’s a lot of fear here about the poor medical facilities if Covid-19 was to take hold.”

Wong said: “The main issue is the lack of transparency, action and progress from the British embassy when compared to our European neighbours.

“Further up in the mountains there are people worse off than us and are worried about how they are going to get home. They’ve spent all their money on multiple airline tickets and are struggling to get refunds.”


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