The past few months have been anything but “business-as-usual” for the United Kingdom’s Ambassador to Cambodia – Tina Redshaw – so to reflect, she sat down with Khmer Times for her first interview. The ambassador discussed the trials and tribulations of COVID-19, what the embassy is doing for UK citizens who remain in the country and its vision for the future.
KT: What programme or policies has the UK Embassy been implementing during the COVID-19 pandemic to assist Cambodia?
Ms Redshaw: Early on in the pandemic, the UK Government responded to the World Health Organisation’s request for assistance by bringing in two teams of four British medics to work in the country’s provincial hospitals. These teams have predominately been working in an advisory role to assist those referral hospitals set up isolation rooms and other safety measures.
In addition to our immediate medical COVID-19 response, the UK Government has also had a long-standing programme assisting de-mining operations in Cambodia, through a consortium of UK operators HALO Trust and Mines Advisory Group, and the Norwegian Peoples Aid. In early April, HALO Trust de-mining teams delivered COVID-19 awareness posters and hygiene products to remote communities in Cambodia’s border areas.
Looking at an international response, the UK Government (through funding the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) is also at the forefront of the search for a vaccine to the virus. We are also ensuring, as a vaccine is developed it remains affordable and distributed on a fair and equitable basis.
KT: How is the UK Embassy assisting Cambodia’s economic concerns due to the virus?
Ms Redshaw: Of course, the local economy is something we are watching very carefully. This is to ensure that once social distancing measures are relaxed or fully removed, we can assist the industries we have connections with to get back on their feet as best as we can.
This brings me back to our mine clearance programme, I would like to note that workers have remained employed with these various groups and are continuing to work and be paid for their services. I understand this is only a small example, but we still like to think we are continuing to contribute both directly and indirectly to those workers and their families.
KT: Moving now to your own UK citizens who continue to remain in Cambodia, what assistance can they expect from you and their embassy?
Ms Redshaw: We are continuing to inform UK citizens who remain in Cambodia and who want to get home, information on weekly commercial flights which are still currently available from Phnom Penh International Airport. As we understand some citizens may be having financial troubles, we are offering loans for these flights from the UK Government which can be repaid upon return.
That said, we don’t believe there are too many who still need to return home as last month, along with our Embassy in Hanoi and the Irish Embassy, we did organise a “special commercial” flight with Vietnam Airways to fly from Phnom Penh to London (via Hanoi) carrying over 100 passengers.
All additional information plus other travel advice is being communicated both through the UK Government’s “travel advice” website and on our official Facebook page “British Embassy in Cambodia”. However, because we are a small embassy we cannot reply quickly to all questions and emails although we have been looking at trending questions and then providing answers as a group.
KT: This publication has reported direct complaints from some UK citizens who believe their embassy has “not done enough” to assist stranded citizens to return home, what is your response to them?
Ms Redshaw: This [pandemic] has come along very suddenly and it was only a few weeks between the UK’s official travel guidelines changing from “we encourage people not to travel” to “we urge people to return home” so we fully understand that this caused considerable concern.
We have done absolutely everything we can to assist people to return home, perhaps some of our citizens’ hopes were for an immediate repatriation flight to be organised. However, repatriation flights are not easy to arrange and many people may not understand the time and behind the scenes negotiations which are required to organise such a flight. With well over 1.5 million UK citizens travelling overseas at the time, the UK government had to prioritise repatriation flights to those places with no commercial options available.
During the negotiations of the Malaysian flight organised by UK citizen Jerry Lewis through his contacts in the airline, we were making direct contact to the Cambodian Airport Authority and the airlines Head Office in Kuala Lumpur to help this flight go ahead.
KT: How are day-to-day operations at the embassy and what are the embassy’s plans post COVID-19?
Ms Redshaw: While Cambodia has not specifically implemented strict ‘work from home’ restrictions, like some other countries, our team thought it was appropriate to follow social distancing guidelines and have half of our staff working from home on alternate days.
Looking to post COVID-19, one of our biggest priorities is the global CoP 26 climate change conference the UK Government will be hosting next year. This [climate change] is an area the UK Government and the Cambodian Government is already working on together.
As much as COVID-19 is devastating the world economy, it is also providing us with a rare opportunity to rebuild better and allow countries to seriously consider implementing new policies to improve the lives of their people and the economy.