The coronavirus pandemic has put the UK in a tight spot. Thousands of Britons and Scots are stranded across the world, as countries begin to seal their borders and stop international travel.
In an effort to get their stranded compatriots home, the UK has sought EU help. This appeal was made despite the fact that the UK has already exited the European Union in early February.
EU finances to the rescue
According to international travel sanctions, any EU country can seek repatriation support from a fellow EU country during natural disasters and pandemics, under the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. The EU’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre then works with the respective EU governments to co-ordinate rescue operations and repatriations.
75% of the funding for such repatriation comes from a common EU financial assistance pool. Only the remaining 25% must be paid by the country requesting the repatriation of its citizens. Due to the spread of the coronavirus, this EU mechanism has already been invoked to sponsor over 60 repatriation flights. Two hundred other requests are under review with the EU.
However, due to its exit from the EU, the UK officially doesn’t remain a beneficiary to this financial and repatriation assistance. But, with the spread of Covid19 intensifying, the UK has sought help under this EU mechanism and is now commissioning multiple flights from across EU countries, to get its citizens home safe and sound.
In an interview with the press, Janez Lenarcic, the EU commissioner for crisis management confirmed that the decision to help the UK post-Brexit was taken “in a spirit of good co-operation to get people home and reunite families”.
In fact, the EU has continued to lend a helping hand to other countries too. Other non-EU countries like Turkey, Iceland, and Serbia have also sought and received help from the EU.
UK announces £75 million to repatriation efforts
Currently, an estimated 300,000 Britons are stranded in various EU and non-EU countries because of the international travel lockdown. To help bring them back home, the UK has set aside £75 million for rescue and repatriation. A small part of this fund is being used to partially-commission flights bound from the EU. The rest is being used to hire charter flights to airlift citizens stuck in non-EU countries.
The UK has been in talks with foreign governments to organize local flights to transport travellers from smaller cities to the primary travel hubs in the foreign country. For the next leg of the journey back to the UK, various commercial and charter flights have been mobilized.
Countries like China, India and South Africa, where borders and airports have been closed indefinitely, have become the top priority for the UK Government. Charter flights have been organized to get UK nationals out of these nations.
But what about the rest?
Airline’s responsibility, not the Government’s
The UK has been stretched for resources for the past few days. In an effort to ensure smooth repatriation, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has announced that countries with their borders open and still allowing air travel will not be receiving charter support currently. Travellers to these countries are advised to utilize the services of commercial flights to return home.
According to the Foreign Secretary, if any commercial airlines cancel their flights, travellers will not be eligible to seek repatriation support. They are, however, requested to re-book their flights on another commercial airline and seek refunds for their cancelled flights.
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