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British Citizens Abroad: FCO Help to Return Home

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:21 pm on 24th March 2020.

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Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 1:21 pm, 24th March 2020

The first thing to say is that we have all had constituents contact us to say that they feel vulnerable or are stranded, and I think we all understand how anxious people are in that situation. The No. 1 thing we want to do is provide some certainty. That starts with the point of contact, which is why I mentioned the call centre. It also relates to the missions. There have been some mistaken, if not outright flawed, suggestions that embassies or high commissions have closed. The buildings may have been restricted because of the measures taken by domestic Governments and local authorities, but those embassies and missions—with a very small number of exceptions, all of which are subsidiary missions —are all open for business, with people having to work remotely.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the cost of flights. We are working closely with airlines and travel companies to ensure that as many people as possible can get commercial flights home in a rapidly changing and fluid situation, and we are encouraging airlines to be as flexible as possible when people have to change their return flight.

The hon. Gentleman asked about Australia and New Zealand. I have set out in some detail the support that is being provided, but given the new restrictions that the Governments have introduced and the question hanging over transit hubs, I appreciate that there is acute concern for people there. We have had to rapidly respond to that. I have given information to the House on what Australia is doing. The high commission is open. UK nationals abroad can call the embassy or register their details. I have an email here about how that can be done, which I can give to Members on both sides of the House. I can tell the House that more than 1,700 British nationals have registered their interest. In relation to New Zealand, in addition to the work being done, we are—as I think I mentioned in my opening remarks—working to find accommodation for those who want to know that they at least have a place to stay, if they cannot get a commercial flight out.