LONDON: A British Labour MP has criticised the UK government’s decision to curtail travel from Pakistan in view of Covid-19 cases, dubbing the move “consciously and knowingly discriminatory”.
Bradford West MP Naz Shah wrote a letter to UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, asking for an explanation about why Pakistan was added to the ‘red list’ when it has “substantially lower cases” as compared to France, India and Germany.
“What scientific data is any decision being led by?” she wrote, noting that France, Germany and India had 403, 137 and 24 infections per 100,000 persons, respectively, whereas Pakistan had 13.
She pointed out that the South African variant was not a concern in Pakistan whereas “it is in France”. “This begs the question why hasn’t the government extended the red list to France, Germany and India”.
Letter prompts Asad Umar to question whether UK decision is based on science or foreign policy
Her letter came after the UK said Pakistan was on the list of countries from where travelers would have to pay to quarantine in a government-approved hotel effective April 9.
Passengers from Pakistan will be denied entry to the UK unless they are British or Irish nationals or have residency rights. The cost for one adult in a hotel room for 10 days is £1,750, which does not include the mandatory £210 each passenger has to pay for testing in this period.
The announcement came as Pakistan’s National Command and Control Centre (NCOC) for Covid-19 reported over 5,000 new cases in the previous 24 hours, with over 80 deaths. The government has been criticised for low testing and a slow vaccination drive, and officials have warned that the third wave of the disease is yet to peak.
MP Shah said the decision to include Pakistan in the ‘red list’ led her to conclude that the government did not have a coherent strategy to deal with the list and that it was applying its decisions by “politics not data”.
“It is knowingly and consciously discriminating against Pakistan and the Pakistani diaspora community,” she wrote, asking for a clarification and answers to her questions.
Federal minister and NCOC head Asad Umar tweeted Ms Shah’s letter and said the UK’s decision raised an important question. “Every country has a right to take decisions to safeguard the health of their citizens.
“However, the recent decision by UK govt to add some countries including Pakistan on the red list raises a legitimate question whether choice of countries is based on science or foreign policy,” he wrote.
Ms Shah is a British politician of Pakistani descent who was elected in May 2015 from Bradford, a district that has a 20 per cent Pakistan-origin population. In July 2018, she was appointed Shadow Minister of State for Women and Equalities.
MP Shah was barred from Labour party’s activities for three months in 2016 in a row over anti-Semitism, after she admitted her social media posts about the Israel-Palestine conflict were anti-Semitic.
She was re-elected as the MP for Bradford West in the 2019 general election. She is a fierce advocate for British Pakistanis in the UK, and has frequently called out racism and discrimination by both the government and the media.
Last year, she called out rightwing paper The Telegraph, which ran a report saying Pakistan was responsible for 50 per cent of the UK’s ‘imported’ Covid-19 cases with data from Public Health England (PHE) involving just 30 cases.
Ms Shah at the time said the headline and the report had “racist undertones” and unfairly shifted the blame of the UK’s failures on Pakistan.
British Pakistanis ‘thankful’
Dozens of Twitter users responded to the MP’s letter and praised her stance, with one thanking her for “being the voice of Pakistanis”.
Some even tagged their constituency MPs and urged them to join Ms Shah in raising concerns over the travel ban for Pakistanis.
Distressed travelers expressed hope that the UK government would rethink its decision. “Please take Ramazan into consideration and postpone the decision so we can get back home. Pakistani placed [the UK] from Category C to B and the UK placed it in the red list so it’s not our fault,” said one account.
Another said: “My mother (67 years old) who is scheduled to return to the UK from Pakistan on April 13 would now have to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days but she isn’t well to do that due to her medical condition. Why isn’t there no medical exemption? It is ridiculous.” He added that flights before April 9 were not available.
Students said the decision had left their plans to travel to the UK for university and educational training in limbo. Journalist Zahrah Mazhar told Dawn she had planned to go to the UK in June on a fellowship programme which has already been cancelled twice. “This will probably be the third time!”
Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2021