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UK finalises GBP 75mn rescue effort for Brits stranded abroad, including in India


Press Trust of India London
The UK government on Tuesday began putting in place processes involved as part of a historic GBP 75-million rescue effort to evacuate thousands of British citizens stranded abroad, including in India, due to border closures amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Addressing the daily Downing Street briefing on Monday evening, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had said that he had spoken to his Indian counterpart, S Jaishankar, among nearly 20 other foreign ministers over the weekend as he announced the new plan to charter special flights to bring back British nationals who find themselves stranded in the COVID-19 worldwide travel lockdown.
"We've not faced challenges in getting people home from abroad, on this scale, in recent memory," said the Cabinet minister, second in command to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson -- who remains in self-isolation after his COVID-19 diagnosis last week.
"Over the weekend, I spoke to foreign ministers from Australia, New Zealand, India and Brazil and Pakistan, and I also spoke to the Ethiopian Prime Minister, and in all of those cases urged them to work with us and keep commercial routes flying," said Raab.
Under the rescue effort being finalised, the minister said the UK government had struck a deal with airlines to evacuate British nationals from certain priority countries where commercial routes are non-operational, with India being one of them

"This is the greatest global challenge in a generation. An unprecedented number of British people are trying to get home," said Raab.
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said charter flights are already up and running to Ghana and Tunisia, with India and South Africa to be added to the list this week.
"We are negotiating intensely with countries around the world to secure permissions for return flights where airspace has been closed," the FCO said.
Once special flights have been arranged, these will be promoted through the UK government's travel advice and by the British Embassy or High Commission in the particular country.
British travellers who want a seat on the flight will book and pay directly through a dedicated travel management company.
"This is a worrying time for many British citizens travelling abroad. We've already worked with airlines and governments to enable hundreds of thousands to return home on commercial flights, and we will keep as many of those options open as possible," said Raab.
"Where commercial flights are not possible, we will build on the earlier charter flights we organised back from China, Japan, Cuba, Ghana and Peru. The arrangements agreed today will provide a clearer basis to organise special charter flights where Britons find themselves stranded. Our priority will always be the most vulnerable," he added.
These flights will be run by British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and EasyJet, among other airlines who have signed up to the deal.
The news will come as relief to thousands of British travellers currently in India who have been petitioning the UK government to fly them out of the country, which remains under strict lockdown to control the coronavirus pandemic.
"The UK must act now using whatever means possible to get these British citizens back on UK soil," urges an online petition on Change.Org calling to "Repatriate UK citizens stuck in India", which attracted nearly 50,000 signatures within days.
The FCO has called on them to stay updated on arrangements via its official travel advisory online as well as through the social media channels of the British High Commission in India.

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First Published: Mar 31 2020 | 7:14 PM IST

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