British nationals stranded in Pakistan have branded the UK government’s behaviour “appalling” after it failed to organise rescue flights to bring them home.
A campaign has been launched demanding urgent action from the Foreign Office (FCO), such as a subsidised charter flight.
#BritsStrandedinPakistan said in a statement: “We’re outraged our Government is not getting us home on subsidised flights. Many travelled before the wide spread of covid-19, before the UK asked us to return.
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“Pakistan is expected to be among the hardest hit of the developing nations according to the UN.”
The campaign claims the FCO waited for commercial flights to materialise – courtesy of Pakistan’s state-owned PIA airline – when it should have put on a charter flight for at-risk travellers.
It adds: “As British citizens, we ask: Has any of the £75m been spent on getting us home like those in Peru?
“Many wonder if we’re being treated as second class citizens”.
Those with relatives stuck in Pakistan say that airlines are making money from the crisis, charging above the odds for a flight that then gets cancelled.
“My mother (a British national on bereavement leave there from her frontline Health and Social Care job in the UK), has two rare blood and immunity conditions,” presenter Waseem Mirza told The Independent.
“We’ve been trying to fly her back since 15 March, but airlines take our money and cancel the flights within hours, leaving us out of pocket.
“Refunds are not expected – if at all – until end of April/May. Our travel insurance has also been a waste of money and time as they have yet to make any decision to reimburse us due to backlogs.
“So now, after five flight bookings (many more than £2,000 one-way), we’ve run out of cash and need urgent repatriation like Peru.”
Airlines including British Airways have changed their systems during the coronavirus pandemic, requiring customers to ring up to claim a refund rather than being able to fill in a claim online. Many are heavily encouraging passengers to rebook or accept a credit voucher instead of their money back, with wait times for a refund expected to far exceed the stipulated one week laid down in EU regulations.
According to an email sent from the British High Commission in Islamabad to stranded British nationals, there are no plans for a government-subsidised repatriation flight – the only option is to try to book onto a PIA flight.
“The Government of Pakistan has announced there will be a number of international PIA flights. We understand that some of the flights will go to the UK. If you are interested in booking a flight, please regularly check the PIA website,” reads the message.
Although PIA has said it will resume limited operations between Islamabad and the UK from 4 April, The Independent could find no available flights from 4-11 April when checking on the airline’s website.
Meanwhile, #BritsStrandedinPakistan says other nations, including Germany, have already bypassed restrictions imposed by Pakistani authorities to send repatriation services for their citizens.
“It’s an appalling and shocking way to treat us British nationals stranded in Pakistan, and we demand URGENT action to ensure the most vulnerable are not left to market forces, which have only sought to capitalise on a crisis by outrageously raising prices,” concludes the campaign’s statement.
The Independent has contacted the FCO for comment.
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