With sudden border closures leaving thousands of Britons stuck overseas, Nick Trend offers advice for those affected
What is the problem?
According to the Foreign Secretary, some 40 countries have decided to shut their borders with little or no notice in the last three days. Hundreds of thousands of UK citizens have been caught out, with high-profile cases in Peru, India, Dubai and Bali (for advice on individual countries, see below).
There may be many reasons – because they were out of touch and hadn’t heard the latest news, because – like all of us – they have been caught out by the speed of events, or perhaps because they had a return flight booked which they assumed would be OK but which has now been cancelled. Perhaps they were too far away from an airport to get there in time, or all the flights were booked.
In some countries people have been evicted from hotels and had extreme difficulty in finding places to stay. Some – with medical conditions – have said that they fear running out of drugs.
The Foreign Office has struggled to cope. People have been unable to get through to embassies and consuls, and it has been heavily criticised – most recently in the House of Commons yesterday – for failing to act quickly and proactively enough to help stranded British citizens.
If I’m stranded and I can’t get a flight, what should I do?
There are still quite a lot of flights operating to many countries – though obviously not as many as usual and they could stop at any time. Take at look at the Heathrow arrivals board online, for example, and you will see flights operating today from New York, San Francisco, Toronto, Santiago (Chile), Moscow, Amsterdam etc.
If you definitely can’t find a way home, sit tight – try and contact the British Embassy in the country concerned or the local British consul and ask them for advice and assistance. Contact details are here. It’s their job to look after you in an emergency. If you can’t get through, recruit help from home – through friends and relatives – and contact your local MP, who is able to intervene directly with a minister in the Foreign Office.
Try not to panic – this issue is now getting a lot of traction and it is highly likely that you will be able to find a flight before too long. One of the problems has been that some airports aren’t allowing even transit passengers to go through which makes flying from Australia and New Zealand tricky, but arrangements are being made with Singapore to help with this, so hopefully there will be some more flights soon. Although don’t take your foot off the pedal – there won’t be many and you will need to make sure you are on one.
If hotels are closing and I have nowhere to stay what are my rights?
In a foreign country under a state of emergency, you don’t really have any local rights other than those spelled out in the country concerned. You will have to fall back on the British Embassy (see above) and the local police for assistance.
Advice for Britons in India
The Foreign Office says: “We are working with the Indian authorities and airlines to support British nationals who want to leave India and return to the UK. To support this we need to collect information on British nationals currently in India to advise when commercial flights to the UK become available. If you are a British national who is currently visiting India and you wish to return urgently to the UK, please email [email protected] Please include your full name (and the names of any family members with you), date/s of birth for all named family members), your passport number, visa status and contact details, including your exact location in India. Please confirm your date of arrival in India and details of the return flight that you had planned to take back to the UK. Please also inform us if you have any special circumstances such as a medical condition we may need to be aware of.
“If you are a British national in India, you should be prepared to stay in country until commercial flights resume. You will need to be ready to comply with local isolation, testing or quarantine requirements, and to rely on the local health system. Given that many additional state level restrictions remain in place, and continue to be introduced, moving within India may be more difficult than normal for British nationals. For example, hotels in some states have been instructed to refuse entry to foreign nationals and some states have entry restrictions in place and may quarantine foreign nationals on arrival. Unless you have an urgent reason to travel within India you may have to stay where you are whilst the flight ban and lockdowns remain in place. Indian Government has announced it is expanded testing, including through private laboratories, though testing is still available only on the prescription of a registered medical practitioner. If you are symptomatic (the latest we understand according to the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, is coughing and fever and/or shortness of breath) noting a history of travel still applies unless you have been in contact with a confirmed positive case; and would like to get tested and understand the process and availability of doing so, please contact a registered medical practitioner.
“The situation remains fluid and we advise British nationals to continue to monitor the local advice on any state level restrictions and follow the instructions of the local authorities.”
Advice for Britons in Australia
The Foreign Office says: “Flight options from Australia to the UK are becoming increasingly restricted following the tightening of entry restrictions for Australia and for countries through which flights transit.
“A number of airline operators have announced that international flights to/from Australia have been suspended or will be suspended shortly.
“British nationals who live in the UK and are currently in Australia should seek to make arrangements to return to the UK now, where and while there are still commercial routes available. You should contact your airline, travel provider or tour operator and insurance company now to make arrangements to do so as soon as possible. You may otherwise find you are not able to leave Australia when you had planned to.
“The British High Commission in Canberra is issuing regular updates on Twitter and Facebook with the latest available information on flight departure options for British nationals wishing to leave Australia.
“If you are unable to leave Australia and your visa is nearing expiry, you should contact the Australian authorities as soon as possible. See the Department of Home Affairs website.”
Advice for Britons in Dubai
The Foreign Office says: “The UAE have announced that inbound and outbound flights will stop as of midnight Tuesday 24 March.
“We know that British travellers in the UAE will have been affected by the recent suspension of flights. The British Embassy is collecting information to help understand how.
“If you are a remaining British traveller and in difficulty, contact the British Embassy on [email protected] Include your full name, passport number, visa status (resident or tourist), contact details and your particular circumstances.
“In the meantime, you should continue to contact your airline or tour operator regarding any possible return flights. This will ensure any demand is logged in the airlines own assumptions about the number of people waiting to return to the UK. The British Embassy is in constant contact with the local authorities, airlines and other diplomatic missions to explore all possible avenues.”
Advice for Britons in Indonesia
The Foreign Office says: “British nationals in Indonesia who wish to leave, should make arrangements to do so as soon as possible.
“The number of international flights out of Indonesia is reducing daily, to destinations within the region and globally, so you may not be able to leave Indonesia when you had planned to. Flights and medical evacuation may not be available, or become very expensive if you do not depart soon. Support for British Nationals in the country is available 24/7 on +62 02123565200.”