London – Agency:
Around 50 British parliamentarians have asked Prime Minister Boris Johnson to urgently answer with full data and evidence to why Pakistan and Bangladesh have been added to the “Red List” countries starting from 9th of April 2021.
The letter has been written by Yasmin Qureshi MP, Chair of the All Parties Parliamentary Group on Pakistan (APPG), and signed by parliamentarians from Labour and Conservatives. This is the biggest intervention yet made by the MPs after Pakistan and Bangladesh were added in the list of risky countries and comes soon after British Pakistani lawyer Barrister Rashid Ahmed announced that he will be initiating a proper legal challenge to the UK government for singling out Pakistan.
The letter, passed to this reporter by Yasmin Qureshi MP, questions the UK Government’s decision to place Pakistan and Bangladesh on the travel “red list” with the ban coming into force at very short notice at 4am on 9 April 2021.
It says: “The placing of these countries on the red list will have a huge impact on many UK residents. The UK has over 1.1m British Pakistanis and a large number of British Bangladeshis in the UK. Whilst we support measures where there is a clear need to act to protect the UK in relation to COVID-19, we have major concerns about the way this plan has been implemented without providing clear evidence for that decision.
“Many UK citizens have travelled to those countries in accordance with the Government’s COVID-19 guidelines. The vast majority will have travelled to visit family, including elderly relatives, whom they may not have seen for over a year. They will have already paid for return flights but are now in a position where they will have to pay for new flights in order to return before the ban is put in place. Flight costs are currently around £2,000 per single ticket. Most of the people who have travelled will have paid for return flights priced at around £500 which are now useless.”
The MPs have said that the vast majority of UK residents currently in those countries will have had to save up for some time to fly to Pakistan and Bangladesh. Most of those who have travelled are not rich or even moderately wealthy people but are working class citizens, the PM has been told.
The MPs demand in the letter: “We feel that the Government should do everything it can to help our constituents left stranded by this decision. They are being put into a position of either being stuck abroad or getting into considerable debt to pay to get home. We are asking for the Government to explore charter flight options or to provide financial support for those stranded. If this cannot be done, then measures need to be put in place to extend the cut-off date.”
The MPs have questioned why the UK government has not provided any data to support the travel ban. The letter says: “We have major concerns about the lack of available data and evidential and scientific reasoning which have been used to put these countries on the red list. Based on available data, many other countries not on the red list have more positive COVID tests per 100,000 people than Pakistan. The current rate of infection in Pakistan is also reportedly lower than the UK. We would be grateful if the full data and evidence can be provided to show why these specific countries have been added to the red list and provide an urgent clarification of the decision-making process. We would also like to know if the Government has a roadmap of how countries are added and removed from the red list to see the consistency of how this is applied.”
The MPs have asked the PM to reply as to when the next review date will be for removing countries from the red list, so that constituents can make realistic travel plans. MPs who have signed the letter and signed by Rushanara Ali MP, Chair of the APPG on Bangladesh; Rehman Chishti MP; former Chair of the APPG on Pakistan; Afzal Khan MP – Chair of the APPG on Britain-Pakistan Trade and Tourism; Debbie Abrahams MP, Tahir Ali MP, Paula Barker MP, Apsana Begum MP, Hilary Benn MP, Paul Blomfield MP, Tracy Brabin MP, Dawn Butler MP, Liam Byrne MP, Ruth Cadbury MP, Stella Creasy MP, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi MP, Clive Efford MP, Margaret Ferrier MP, Mary Kelly Foy MP, Lilian Greenwood MP, Andrew Gwynne MP, Emma Hardy MP, Rachel Hopkins MP, Rupa Huq MP, Imran Hussain MP, Kim Johnson MP, Khalid Mahmood MP, Shabana Mahmood MP, Seema Malhotra MP, John McDonnell MP, Navendu Mishra MP, Matthew Offord MP, Kate Osborne MP, Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP, Naz Shah MP, Virendra Sharma MP, Henry Smith MP, Jeff Smith MP, Royston Smith MP, Stephen Timms MP, Kelly Tolhurst MP, Claudia Webbe MP, Mick Whitley MP, Mohammad Yasin MP and Valerie Vaz MP.