The British Embassy in South Korea has stepped in to support thousands of young people who have been pulled out of the World Scout Jamboree.
Yesterday afternoon, the UK contingent announced it was withdrawing from the international event which brings together 45,000 Scouts from across the world.
Scouts from the UK and other countries had a delayed start to the jamboree due to flooding at the campsite. Since arriving on Wednesday afternoon, a heatwave led to scores of young people requiring medical attention. There were also concerns about unhygienic conditions and a lack of food and proper facilities at the campsite.
Four and a half thousand Scouts from across the UK have started leaving the campsite today and the remainder will follow tomorrow. The British Embassy is helping to arrange a new programme of activities in the capital city Seoul where they will stay until they start flying home next weekend.
Gareth Weir, the Deputy British Ambassador in South Korea, met with some of the Scouts earlier today.
They have expressed their disappointment but say they are making the best of the situation. Georgia Ellams, 16, from Wrexham explained: We are disappointed we can’t continue with the friendships we made at the jamboree, but we understand why we had to go back to Seoul - the UK made the right decision.”
Celyn Jones, 17, and also from Wrexham added: “We are tired but ready to make the most of what Seoul has to offer.”
Simon Carter from UK Scouts told ITV News: “We are starting to arrange an exciting programme for them over the next few days to ensure they can experience all the culture Korea has to offer. We plan to run these activities in partnership with any other contingents who depart the jamboree site early”.
The US and Singapore are also pulling out of the jamboree and there is speculation that other countries will follow in the coming days.
In a statement, the World Organisation of the Scout Movement said it had “asked the Host to consider alternative options to end the event earlier than scheduled and support the participants until they depart for their home countries. The Host decided to go ahead with the event, assuring that they will do everything possible to address the issues caused by the heat wave by adding additional resources.
“We continue to call on the host and the Korean government to honor their commitments to mobilise additional financial and human resources, and to make the health and safety of the participants their top priority.”
How have the authorities in South Korea responded?
Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said during a news conference that South Korea is determined to continue the event as planned through August 12. He promised additional safety measures including more medical staff, air-conditioned vehicles and structures that provide shade.
Choi Chang-haeng, secretary-general of the jamboree’s organising committee, insisted the event is safe enough to continue. He linked the large number of children needing medical attention to a K-pop performance during the opening ceremony, which he said left many teens “exhausted after actively releasing their energy”.
Parents have taken to social media to express their anger and disappointment. Some have called for their children to be refunded, having fundraised several thousand pounds for their jamboree experience.
Peter Naldreet from Sheffield has two children in the South Yorkshire Unit. He told ITV News: “It’s been stressful. We wanted them to have what should have been the opportunity of a lifetime. Instead we’ve just had to be in constant contact, back and forth, to make sure they are ok.
"There are a lot of questions to be asked afterwards but, for me, it’s all about making sure the time they have now is well spent and they still get the chance to mix with other Scouts from different nations – that’s what it’s all about.”
Another told us that her daughter is in good spirits considering everything that has happened: “My daughter is currently in Korea and planning to make the absolute most of her time left at the site. She has had a great few days and been in regular contact with us throughout. She is gutted to be leaving the site but sees it as a great adventure”.
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