Coronavirus: Foreign Office urged to help stranded non-UK nationals who have British residency
Shadow foreign secretary says NHS workers are 'desperate' to get back to frontline in UK
In an update to MPs, the Foreign Office minister Nigel Adams said 1.3 million British nationals had returned to the UK since the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan, with an estimated 50,000 people remaining stranded overseas.
While the majority have returned via commercial flights, Mr Adams said the Foreign Office had brought back 19,000 people on 93 charter flights from 20 different countries and territories across the world.
In response, Ms Nandy, who was recently appointed shadow foreign secretary, pressed the minister on what support was being provided to non-UK nationals who had spent many years living and working in Britain.
“Many that I’m in touch with are extremely vulnerable,” she said. “Others are NHS workers who are desperate to get back to the frontline. But some of them have been told that they are at the back of the queue while others have been told to contact other countries’ embassies for help.
“Now we were recently shamed by the treatment of those who made Britain their home and have lived and worked here for decades and we mustn't allow this to happen again, so I hope he'll take this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to those non-UK nationals and guarantee them the same rights to return home.”
Responding to her comments, Mr Adams said: "We are indeed prioritising British nationals on these repatriation flights, that's our first priority. Those that are vulnerable and those that face the greatest risk, this might be because a country doesn't have a health service that's comparable to the NHS.
"But we always do our best to consider making space available for others where there are, not least those who are, as (Ms Nandy) mentions key workers, in particular NHS, where we can, where possible."
The shadow foreign secretary also raised concerns about there being “no accurate assessment” of the number of UK nationals stranded abroad due to covid-19, and criticised the government for being “frustratingly slow” in organising charter flights.
“Our best estimate at the moment is around 50,000 people and hopefully by the end of the today we will have passed the returned of 20,000 British nationals on the charter flights,” Mr Adams said. “It’s tricky collecting the data,” he added. “I won’t pretend that it’s not but I can assure her that when we do have that informational, we will keep [her] updated."