Coronavirus: Londoners stranded abroad 'desperate' to get home

By Sarah Lee & Olivia Demetriades
BBC News

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image source, Adrienne Newton/Pauline Pearce
image captionAntonio Daer and Adrienne Newton (left) and Pauline Pearce (right) say communication with the government has been "awful"

Two London families stranded abroad because of coronavirus are begging the government to get them home safely.

Adrienne Newton and Antonio Daer, both 60, travelled to Argentina on 1 March to visit family. The Foreign Office had not issued travel bans at that point.

They are now stuck in Córdoba and claim the British Embassy has not helped.

Meanwhile, former local mayoral candidate and "Hackney Heroine" Pauline Pearce has been stranded in Gambia for more than a month.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said it recognised "unprecedented" international travel restrictions were making it difficult for people to get home.

image captionAdrienne Newton and Antonio Daer travelled to Argentina on 1 March

Two weeks ago the FCO said it had put measures in place to fly Britons stuck abroad home.

But Ms Newton, a retired GP from Nunhead in south London, said there had been days where she had felt very upset and worried that no-one would know they were stuck there.

"It feels like, in a sense, that we have been abandoned. That we don't matter and that we are of no value," she said.

"Personally, I don't feel that we are in very safe hands. It feels very chaotic for reasons that are beyond me.

"Other European countries like France, Germany and Spain are organising flights as they know where their nationals are.

"It's hardly a logistical problem getting into Argentine airspace - they know where we are so we don't know if it is the cost as we are a long way away from the UK, whether it is a lack of political will or whether it's chaos and there aren't enough people in the job."

image captionPauline Pearce said she believed there were over 200 people stranded in Gambia

Ms Pearce, who was dubbed the "Hackney Heroine" in 2011 after she was recorded criticising the actions of London rioters, travelled to Gambia with her family for her daughter's wedding in mid-March.

She was due to return to the UK last week but her flight was cancelled and now a one-way flight back is costing between £500-£1,000 per person.

In a video posted on Facebook, Ms Pearce said money was tight and that it would cost her more than £3,000 to fly her family home.

She said she was concerned about running out of her asthma medication and her father's heart tablets.

"We're desperate to come home, folks, take this seriously. We know it's lockdown over there, but I'd rather be locked down at home in my yard, where I can do what I want, how I want, when I want," she said in the video.

"People out here are suffering, it's not just me and mine. There's a trailer-load more people, people with big health issues, with all sorts of problems. Britain, where are you when we need you?"

image source, Pauline Pearce
image captionMs Pearce filmed herself expressing her concerns on an empty beach in Gambia

Ms Pearce said she had only received "generic" replies to emails she had sent to the government asking for help.

"And then people are saying to me 'you can connect here, or get a flight there'," she said.

Ms Pearce added: "I can't connect because there's something called coronavirus. It's taking people's lives, why would I get a connecting flight?

"Why would I leave here where I'm healthy, to travel with multiple people on multiple flights and get coronavirus?"

The government has announced plans to repatriate UK travellers stuck abroad, but a week since posting her video Ms Pearce said she was yet to receive an update on her situation.

There is no register of how many British tourists are abroad - but the government said it could be anywhere between 300,000 and one million.

An FCO spokesman said its "teams around the world are working urgently to ensure that governments have sensible plans to enable the return of British and other travellers".

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