Coronavirus: Brits in India slam UK government's 'shambolic' repatriation

By David Pittam & Gaggan Sabherwal
BBC News

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image copyrightFCO
image captionIndia imposed a lockdown on 25 March and the first British repatriation flight left two weeks later

British tourists returning from India have called the UK government response "shambolic" and "embarrassing".

Some said it took hours to reach anyone by phone, communication was confusing and the British authorities were "incompetent and uncaring".

One man, who is still in India, said he was told he was being taken to a flight but later found out this was an error.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said repatriation was a "huge and complex" operation.

'No help'

Andy Hadfield, 56, from Derbyshire, who was in India for a two-month holiday, arrived back from Goa on Sunday, three weeks later than planned.

He said he had already had his scheduled flight home cancelled before India's lockdown was initially announced on 25 March and then spent hours waiting on the phone. But he said when he got through to a British official he was offered "no help whatsoever".

image copyrightAndy Hadfield
image captionAndy Hadfield said he felt the FCO was "incompetent and uncaring"

Describing his attempts to get a flight home, he said: "You pay them £681 and get nothing - it just says you're on a list but there is no promise of a flight.

"The Germans, Belgians, Italians were all getting flown back. It was embarrassing; everyone felt our government just didn't care."

He said when the plane carrying more than 300 people landed passengers were told, if necessary, to get home via public transport or have someone pick them up.

"It's shambolic," he said.

'Did not sleep'

Chandni Ladwa, 37, arrived back in Leicester from the Gujarat region on Monday. She said she flew out in early March before it was clear how serious the situation would become and when the FCO still said travel to India was ok.

She said she only found out she had a place on a return flight the day before it left and had to argue with the transport company the FCO was using "for hours" in the middle of the night to ensure she would get to the airport the next day.

Miss Ladwa said the company said it had not been given her details by the FCO. She said the taxi did arrive the next morning, but three hours late.

"There's a four-letter word for what I think of the government response," she told the BBC. "There was just no-one to speak to."

image copyrightChandni Ladwa
image captionChandni Ladwa said there are still people "who know there is a last flight out but do not know if they are on it"

Amrik Mahil, 68, from Nottingham, is still in the Punjab area but was hoping to get a flight on Thursday because after that his medication for a blood clot would run out.

He has been in India since February and said he has not left the house he has been staying in for a month as there had been reports of assaults on people breaking the curfew.

Mr Mahil had been told he would be taken to the airport for the first flight out but was later told that was an error.

He added: "I did not sleep that night. The government needs to pull its finger out and get people home."

image copyrightAmrik Mahil
image captionAmrik Mahil said he has not been able to leave the house in four weeks

The FCO said it will have repatriated about 5,000 UK citizens from India by next week. But it estimated there were up to 20,000 in the country wanting to get home when the lockdown was first declared on 25 March.

A spokeswoman said it is keeping everyone updated through social media and has tripled its call centre capacity.

She added: "We are doing all we can. This is a huge and complex operation which also involves working with the Indian Government to enable people to move within India."

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