By SJA Jafri + Bureau Report
LONDON/ ISLAMABAD: Around 50 British parliamentarians have asked UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to urgently answer and give evidence on why Pakistan and Bangladesh have been added to the “red list” countries starting from April 9, 2021.
The letter has been written by parliamentarian Yasmin Qureshi, the chair of the All Parties Parliamentary Group on Pakistan (APPG), and signed by parliamentarians from the Labour and Conservative groups.
This is the biggest intervention yet made by the MPs after Pakistan and Bangladesh were added to a list of risky countries and comes soon after British Pakistani lawyer Barrister Rashid Ahmed announced that he will be initiating a legal challenge to the UK government for singling out Pakistan.
The letter, passed to this reporter by Qureshi, 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 April 9, 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 1.1 million British Pakistanis and a large number of British Bangladeshis. 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 is 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.
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 to remove countries from the red list, so that constituents can make realistic travel plans.