Stranded Britons hit out at Foreign Office for not telling them to come home sooner

Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary, was criticised in the Commons for refusing to offer a 'cast iron' guarantee of repatriation

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Phil and Elly Baldock, from Uttoxeter, who are currently stranded in Pokhara, Nepal.
Phil and Elly Baldock, from Uttoxeter, are currently stranded in Pokhara, Nepal.

Thousands of desperate British travellers have been marooned around the world after international flight routes were slashed before the Foreign Office issued a warning on Monday to return home immediately.

Many who had already seen the writing on the wall have been scrambling for days to rebook cancelled flights while the airline industry descends into chaos as countries close borders to foreigners.

Stranded tourists with no foreseeable way home have been pleading with embassies and the Foreign Office for help.

Phil and Elly Baldock, 60, from Uttoxeter, had tried to rebook cancelled flights home from Nepal four times since last week before the country suddenly decided on Monday night to shut down completely.  

All domestic and international flights are grounded, public transport forbidden and shops and businesses closed. The couple are now cut off in the mountainous tourist town of Pokhara.

“We woke up this morning to be told that it’s a military lockdown and sure enough it is. We’ve got police, at least half a dozen all armed, going up and down the streets shouting with loudhailers,” said Mr Baldock.

“The problem we’ve got now is that all the shops are shut and restaurants are running out of food,” he said. “The hotel have said they will feed us as long as they can with what they’ve got…who knows how long it will be before they run out.”

Other European countries have offered assistance to their citizens and Canada has arranged flights as part of a massive global airlift described by its foreign minister as the “probably the largest repatration effort in Canada’s history in peacetime.”

But Mr Baldock said calls and emails to the UK embassy had gone unanswered.

“Austrians, French, everyone seems to know what they are doing but we’re in a total vacuum here,” he said.

“I’ve worked for 40 years and I feel desperately let down by the UK government that they can’t do what the rest of the European countries seem to have done,” he said.

On Monday, the Foreign Office urged up to 1 million Britons on holiday or business trips abroad to return home immediately. However, the United States had already issued a “do not travel” notice to its citizens on March 19.

“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,” said an FCO spokesperson.

The FCO was “working around the clock” to support British travelers and consular staff trying to help those in urgent need while providing travel advice and assistance to others.

“The Government is seeking to keep key transit routes open as long as possible and is in touch with international partners and the airline industry to make this happen.”

However, Dominic Raab was on Tuesday accused of offering “empty words” of reassurance to British tourists stranded abroad as he indicated he could not give “cast-iron guarantees” that everyone would be repatriated. 

The Foreign Secretary was challenged by Caroline Nokes, a former Home Office minister, over the inability of thousands of travellers to return home using commercial airlines. 

After Mr Raab told Britons to return to the UK immediately “while you still can”, Ms Nokes told the Commons that in many countries it was no longer possible to organise a return flight. 

The Conservative MP also criticised the “global network” of British embassies, telling MPs that several had been “closed and staff home flown home days ago, doors shut to our travellers”. 

Many British citizens have been caught out in Pakistan and India after domestic and international flights were cut with little warning at the weekend.

“I am trapped in Pakistan, my children are alone in England and they are very scared,” said Rubina Murfitt, a single parent, who is currently stranded in Karachi. “I am running out of money..I can’t afford a hotel any more.”

She added: “I have called the British high commission countless times. They only say check our website and subscribe to it so we can send you notifications but to be honest with you it has been few days..but not even one notification has come to me.”

The anxiety was overwhelming, she said. “I am so worried about my children I can’t eat. I have not slept for the last 72 hours.”

Elderly travellers are particularly vulnerable.

“My parents are stranded in India, and it’s really frustrating. Flights are cancelled out from India back to the UK, my dad is low on his medication and is on the high-risk category for covid-19,” Karishma Raja told The Telegraph.

“The Foreign Office has announced to come home - but how can they when it’s too late?