Britons home from Peru tell of 'confusing and stressful' experience trying to get repatriated
Britons who returned to the UK after the coronavirus pandemic left them stranded in Peru have told of their "confusing and stressful" experience trying to be repatriated by the government.
The flight, which landed at Heathrow Airport on Monday morning, was the first of three chartered by the government to bring stranded Britons home from Peru.
While those who landed said they were relieved to get back to the UK, many complained about the “scramble” to the airport in Lima following short notice and poor communication from the UK Foreign Office (FCO).
Citizens stranded in Peru were reportedly given an hour to reply to an email and confirm that they would be getting on the flight.
“We were put on standby but we didn’t get the email until midnight and we had to be at the airport at 7am so a lot of people were asleep and never got it,” said one of those returning from Peru.
Shona McKenna, who had been in South America since January 30, said: “We had 50 people on standby but only 12 turned up to the airport.
“The communication wasn’t great, we didn’t know when we were going to come home and when the emails came out there wasn’t a lot of time.
A message from the British ambassador to Peru for any Britons wanting to get home:
“The first flight, a lot of people missed it because they didn’t get the email in time.”
Ms McKenna's friend Stacey Coogan, who had been with her in South America, said: “It was confusing and a bit stressful, because the first week no one could get hold of the embassy – because they all had to work from home as well – so the first week was a bit of a nightmare.
“We’re just glad to be home.”
It is not known how many people are expected to be brought home on the three flights.
Kate Harrisson, the British ambassador to Peru, posted a message on her Twitter urging anyone in Lima who wants to return to Lima, to "make your way" to the Air Group No. 8 military airport.
She said: "We will be attempting to board as many British nationals as we possibly can on to the British Airways flights that will leave."
Since the outbreak of coronavirus in Wuhan, the Foreign Office has helped to bring home almost 1,400 people on specially chartered Government flights from China and Peru and 1,900 people on cruise ships from places including California, Brazil and Japan.
But there are still thought to be thousands of Brits all over the world who have been stranded by coronavirus lockdowns, with people known to be stuck in places such as India, Panama and Vietnam.
Despite initial efforts to return Brits from infected parts of China at the outset of the outbreak, many are now criticising the government for not being quick enough to act.
Following pressure, the government said it would make an announcement "imminently" on efforts to repatriate Britons.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We have been working with airlines on options for government to charter flights.
“You can expect an announcement on that imminently.”
On Twitter, comparisons have been made between the UK and other countries around the world which have been quick to bring home expats and travellers.
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One user suggested the government should feel "shame" over its failure to bring his son home from Nepal, and compared the UK to Germany - a country that claims to have repatriated more than 160,000 of its nationals.
Another user stranded in Laos, who has been appealing to the Foreign Office for help, wrote on Twitter how Germany had responded to his pleas for help quicker than the UK.
Sam Jermy told ITV News the Asian country is "going into national lockdown from Wednesday" and he's worried he will be left without any options.
He says the embassy in Laos has been "hardworking" but he feels it doesn't have a lot of "power or leverage with UK government".
Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary who took the government's daily coronavirus press conference on Sunday, defended the foreign secretary's repatriation efforts, saying Dominic Raab had been working "extremely hard" to bring stranded Brits home.
“He has spent this weekend speaking with his counterparts in a range of countries, where there are citizens who we want to get back safely to the UK as soon as possible,” he told the briefing.
On arranging further rescue flights for those still abroad, Mr Jenrick said: “We haven’t ruled out repatriation flights and we are doing those in some cases."
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He added: “If we need to do more steps of that kind in the days ahead, then we will of course do so. We want to get those British citizens back safely to the UK.”
On Saturday, Business Secretary Alok Sharma rejected a suggestion that the UK had been slow to help its citizens stuck abroad to get back home.
He said: “Where there have been no other options for British nationals to come back to the UK we have, of course, have laid on repatriation flights.”
He added: “We will continue to work round the clock to make sure that we get our people back.”