Wildfires in Rhodes are a “wake-up call” to the effects of the climate crisis, a UK government minister said, as empty planes were sent to the Greek island to help evacuate stranded Britons.
After a mass evacuation from parts of Rhodes, members of the House of Lords were told that the situation had “stabilized” and there was no immediate need for the government to advise people to stop traveling there.
There have been calls for the Foreign Office to change its travel guidance to put Rhodes on the “red list” – to advise against all non-essential travel and allow some who don’t want to go to get a refund on their insurance policy.
However, Patrick Courtown, the deputy chief whip of the House of Lords, did not indicate there were any plans to do so but suggested that travel advice remained under constant review.
The Lord’s minister is confident that the situation is improving but added: “This is also a wake-up call when it comes to climate change, and it is important that the world recognizes it.”
The Earl of Courtown’s comments were made in the House of Lords, which is still sitting even though the Commons broke up for the summer recess last week.
The earl said there were no plans for a UK-backed evacuation, as commercial flights were still continuing and the main airport was operating normally. Six staff from the Foreign Office (FCDO) and four British Red Cross workers were at the airport to assist the travelers, he said.
Some peers say unless the Foreign Office changes travel advice, many Britons who have holidays coming up will not be able to cancel them and receive refunds, at a time when budgets are strained amid the cost of living crisis.
Courtown said: “The FCDO’s travel advice should not affect people’s ability to claim insurance for things like canceled hotel bookings or flight changes, depending on their policy and level of cover. We know, however, that there are some travel companies that use the FCDO’s advice as a reference point for policies.
“Our travel advice is focused on ensuring the safety of British nationals and is designed to give people the detail they need to make an informed decision. Our travel advice is regularly reviewed.”
The earl said some airlines have sent empty flights to Rhodes to collect passengers more quickly and more are expected to follow.
A government source indicated that there were several factors at play regarding the decision to informally advise against travel. They said doing so would have a significant impact on Greece’s economy, given the huge influx of British tourists who travel to Greece in the summer, which could strain diplomatic ties with Athens.
Temperatures in Greece are expected to reach 46C (115F) in some places on Tuesday as weather models suggest the country’s heatwave will be the longest on record.