Foreign Office Covid-19 repatriation ‘fell short’

The Foreign Office “fell short” in its repatriation efforts as the Covid-19 pandemic spread around the world, MPs have concluded.

The repatriation operation had been too slow, while advice had been misleading or confusing, the Commons oreign Affairs Committee found.

The cross-party committee said despite some “notable successes,” the FCO was “outpaced by events” as the pandemic unfolded.

The government was also too reliant on commercial airlines.

Around 1.3 million British nationals were travelling abroad at the height of the pandemic earlier this year.

The committee’s report said: “The FCO had to mobilise to support British nationals in the emerging crisis. This was an extremely difficult task, and many FCO staff and diplomats were required to work around the clock, away from the office and in unusual conditions to help get people home.

“However, there were areas where efforts fell short.

“The government’s repatriation operation was too slow and placed too much reliance on commercial providers. Other countries acted faster and organised more charter flights.

“The FCO was allocated £75 million to spend on repatriations, but only spent £40 million.

“While no one would advocate waste, the funds were allocated to rescue British citizens and the amount unspent suggests available lifelines that many needed, were not used.”

The committee, chaired by Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, added: “Whilst a relatively large financial package was developed for those suffering from Covid-19 related financial hardships in the UK, little was done to provide help for those UK citizens stuck abroad.

“The FCO had emergency loans available, but both take-up and awareness were low.

“The FCO should have done more to provide financial support to those citizens stranded abroad, and to communicate clearly what help was available to them.

“Many UK citizens stuck abroad reported that they were unable to access the information that they needed, whilst others were not treated with the empathy and compassion that they should expect.”

The FCO “must take a serious look at its communications strategy to avoid this happening again in the future,” the report said.

“Though there were notable successes, the FCO was outpaced by events leaving many seeing it as out of touch with the needs of those in difficulty.

“Too many UK citizens were not provided with the support that they should reasonably expect to receive.”

The Foreign Office said it had mounted a “large-scale” effort to get people home during an “unprecedented” crisis.

Share article

View Comments

Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

The highest official awards for UK businesses since being established by royal warrant in 1965. Read more.