‘We are desperate’: stranded passengers beg government for help getting back to UK

Simon Calder
Travellers have been left stranded at Lima's airport: AFP/Getty

As another Air France flight heads for Delhi to rescue French nationals from India, anger is growing about the slow pace of the British repatriation effort.

While Air France has flown more than 200 rescue missions since the coronavirus crisis began, the UK has yet to reach double figures in government-sponsored repatriation flights.

Four British Airways jets have brought UK citizens back from Lima in Peru; three flights were operated by Wamos in the early days of the crisis, from China and Japan; and single flights have operated from both Accra and Tunis in Africa.

On Monday the foreign secretary announced a £75m airlift for stranded British travellers. The Foreign Office said: “Special charter flights will operate in some countries to help British tourists and short-term visitors and their families to return to the UK.”

Yet two days on, plans for charter flights appear sketchy.

UK citizens in India are particularly concerned because of the ban on international flights, harsh lockdown and restrictions on internal travel.

One British traveller, Sundeep Patel, tweeted: “We are desperate to get back to the UK.

“We were due to fly back on 20 February but my elderly father fell seriously ill and sadly passed away.

“Really worried about my elderly mum who is at risk.”

Taran Kaur tweeted: “The majority of Brits are stuck in Punjab and can’t travel to Delhi. Please arrange flights from Amritsar to UK.”

Ravi Rehal tweeted:“Still don’t understand how British nationals were evacuated from Peru so quickly.”

The UK government is seeking to bring travellers back on normal scheduled flights where possible and has overseen the repatriation of more than 150,000 British travellers from Spain – as well as 12,000 from Egypt, 9,000 from Morocco and 4,000 from Jamaica.

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We recognise British tourists abroad are finding it difficult to return to the UK because of the unprecedented international travel and domestic restrictions that are being introduced around the world – often with very little or no notice.

“The government has partnered with a number of airlines who have committed to work together to get Brits back to the UK and up to £75m has been made available for charter flights were commercial options are no longer available.

“We’ll continue working around the clock to bring people home.”

While anxious travellers and their families wait for news, scammers have started to capitalise on the information vacuum by seeking money for non-existent flights.

The British High Commission in Delhi has warned: “We are aware of false rumours of flights circulating. Don’t get taken in by scams.”

The Independent is aware of clusters of stranded British travellers in Laos, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Bolivia and islands in the Pacific.

The chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat MP, said: “The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has left tens of thousands of British citizens stranded and in need of urgent consular support.

“In some cases these individuals are key workers; police officers, nurses and doctors, who are desperate to return to their lives in the UK and to aid in our effort to combat the spread of coronavirus. Sometimes they are people who are running out of essential medication.

“At moments of acute crisis like this, the FCO’s role representing and protecting Britons abroad becomes more important than ever.”

The committee is seeking views on accessing and using consular services during the crisis.

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