Chinese Embassy in UK helps organize overseas students’ return

By Sun Wei in London Source:Global Times Published: 2020/4/9 20:00:39

The Chinese Embassy in the UK is helping to organize Chinese students who are seeking to return to China amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Passengers queue up for security checks before departing for Beijing, China, at London Heathrow Airport on March 28. Photo: Sun Wei/GT

According to an embassy notice on Thursday, by midnight on Tuesday, the embassy had received a total of 425 applications on the registration platform for citizens needing to return to China urgently. 

The notice advised that staying at home and avoiding unnecessary travel is the safest method of self-protection during the epidemic outbreak. However, school students aged 5-18 in boarding schools or living with elderly guardians who are unable to take care of them will be given priority in returning to China on the chartered flights. University students can also apply. 

On April 2, the Chinese embassy and consulate in the UK assisted in organizing the return of 181 Chinese citizens, including students, to China. 

There are 220,000 Chinese students in the UK, including 15,000 school pupils, Chinese Ambassador Liu Xiaoming said in an earlier interview. 

Staying is an option

The impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic on overseas Chinese students has been huge, putting them in a dilemma over whether to stay abroad or return home. 

Colin Chen, executive director of InterGreat Education Group, told the Global Times that since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the UK, his company has been helping the Chinese embassy in the UK to collect information on school pupils who are facing difficulties. Chinese pupils in the UK are in schools scattered all over the country, with some staying in boarding schools and some living with guardian families, which made gathering the information somewhat difficult, according to Chen. 

Chen said they are trying to reach out to individual Chinese students through the Boarding Schools' Association (BSA). As boarding schools are encouraging students to return home, there are only a small number of overseas students staying in schools with limited numbers of staff. This is also likely to be a long-term arrangement. 

Another problem facing overseas students is that some of the guardian families they live with have members over 70 years old who have been told to self-isolate for four months even if they don't have coronavirus symptoms, in a "wartime-style" lockdown by the government. As a result, it is difficult for elderly guardians to take care of young pupils. 

BSA Chief Executive Robin Fletcher told HuffPost UK in mid-March that many overseas boarders studying in the UK had already left their schools because of the threat of COVID-19. "The chief priority for all boarding schools is the safety and welfare of boarders," he said. 

There is a shortage of face masks on the market and sending medical supplies from China to the UK takes a long time. 

Sharing the anxiety felt by Chinese parents, Chen is trying his best with his colleagues in the UK to send face masks, medicines and daily necessities to foreign students in the country.

"Health Packs" prepared by InterGreat Education Group for Chinese students studying in the UK Photo: Courtesy of InterGreat Education Group

No easy return

While most overseas students have opted to stay where they are in order to avoid cross-infections on the journey home, some students do have difficulties living abroad without family members amid the growing pandemic. The next stage of their study is also unclear, as schools and universities have been closed or restricted access to campuses indefinitely to curb the spread of the virus. 

"It's difficult for me to make such a decision in a rush," Sophie Wang, a college student in London who had recently returned to China and completed a 14-day quarantine period in Beijing, told the Global Times, adding that her parents urged her to go back. 

Wang said many of her friends' parents spent 16,000 to 30,000 yuan ($2,300-$4,300) to secure all sorts of plane tickets to China for their children. 

As some of the flights were canceled on very short notice, they had to buy tickets repeatedly, which was very frustrating. 

"There is a lot of uncertainty," Wang said, adding that no matter how difficult it was, returning home will help her get through it, with more support from family and friends in China. 

To curtail the rise in the number of imported coronavirus cases, China is limiting the number of international flights in and out of the country. 

Starting from March 29, Chinese airlines were only allowed to run one route to each country, with no more than one flight per week for each route, according to a statement published on March 26 by the Civil Aviation Administration of China. 

The ticket is only the first step of a long journey back home, as there are several checks to go through and documents to fill in after the flight lands in China. Inbound passengers also have to go through a standard 14-day quarantine in designated hotels to ensure it is safe for them to go home. 

The pandemic has not only dealt a blow to international students, but also affected a large number of prospective students, with many English proficiency tests such as IELTS and TOEFL in China canceled. 

Zhou Chenggang, CEO of Beijing New Oriental Education Technology Group, told the BBC that based on the company's current data, the number of people applying to study in the UK has dropped by at least 50 percent compared with the same period in 2019. 

"The 14-day quarantine seemed to go quite quickly," Wang said, adding that she finally joined her family members after going through all the relevant procedures.

Newspaper headline: Long journey home

Posted in: EUROPE

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