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MP Rushanara Ali battling to get Brits stuck abroad onto rescue flights back

PUBLISHED: 17:00 31 March 2020 | UPDATED: 17:33 02 April 2020

MP Rushanara... her own  staff affected by virus and not at full capacirty. Picture: Mike Brooke

MP Rushanara... her own staff affected by virus and not at full capacirty. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

Constituents stuck abroad by the emergency travel lock-down caused by the pandemic have been in touch with the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow in a desperate bid to get flights back home.

Bethnal Green & Bow MP Rushanara Ali (left) on NHS picket campaign in Whitehall in 2018 along with former Poplar MP Jim Fitzpatrick (yellow jacket). Picture: NHS campaignBethnal Green & Bow MP Rushanara Ali (left) on NHS picket campaign in Whitehall in 2018 along with former Poplar MP Jim Fitzpatrick (yellow jacket). Picture: NHS campaign

Rushanara Ali has managed to get one of them on a chartered ‘rescue’ flight to Heathrow from Peru and is working to get more on flights back.

“We have several people stuck abroad,” the MP told the East London Advertiser.

“I got news about one constituent stuck in Peru, but have since had a message on Twitter that they are on the rescue flight back.

“We are hoping to get another two repatriated from Peru. There are also people stuck in India, Bangladesh and Australia, some with health issues.

Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow. Picture: Mike BrookeRushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow. Picture: Mike Brooke

“We have cases of people sick who are abroad and are worried for their safety, especially in places where health services may be inadequate. It’s a concern and really worrying.”

Rushanara made plans to work from home two-and-a-half weeks ago because she was concerned that “we would end up like this” with the growing crisis on the Continent gradually edging closer to home shores.

She has “catch-up” sessions every day with her Parliamentary staff by phone and video link, now that her surgeries to meet constituents have been closed.

“We’re doing casework by email and telephone,” she insists. “It’s a good system because we have stopped surgeries, as it’s not appropriate meeting people face-to-face.

“I am in contact with my staff over Zoom and Google every weekday and at weekends when it’s urgent. It’s full time, seven days a week, constantly monitoring emails and checking messages with my staff.”

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Rushanara, who was first elected for Bethnal Green & Bow in 2010, is handling many more cases from constituents than normal.

“I get a lot more inquiries about government proposals,” she added. “We get a flurry of cases whenever new announcements are being made from Downing Street.”

But the Coronavirus crisis doesn’t stop her normal work as a Labour Opposition MP, although she is urging constituents not to swamp her with issues that can wait.

“My appeal to people is that we are having to handle life or death situations,” she points out.

“So if they have day-to-day gripes, please hold back and be patient. We have to prioritise. If they get no response from my office, it’s because we are focusing on issues like benefits and wages.”

Rushanara is also dealing with her constituents in the East End who have health issues. All this, while still lobbying government ministers in her role as an MP.

“We’ve been applying pressure on the Foreign Office and the Foreign Secretary,” she reveals. “We are dealing with issues of the self-employed and are putting pressure on the government to help them and to respond to those still being left out.

“We are trying as MPs to help people directly and using our influence in Parliamentary select committees which meet online and by working in our network with government ministers to highlight issues.”

But MPs have few staff to cope, some themselves affected by the virus. Even Rushanara’s own team is affected, with two down with symptoms and having to operate “below capacity”.

Rushanara has been working a 14-hour day and is “just getting on with it”, but says she is fortunate her team can work from home.

MPs are on duty seven days a week, messaging all day, especially dealing with cases of those stuck abroad desperate to return home.


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