Anger and terror was growing last night among 1,500 Britons left to their fate in revolution-torn Tunisia. With gun battles raging, an army curfew in place and machete-wielding mobs roaming the streets, they pleaded for more flights to take them home.
UK DAILY MAIL — Among them were holidaymakers who were actually flown into the North African country by British Airways on Friday, when the violence was at its height and the Foreign Office was warning Britons to leave.
One woman stranded in Hammamet said: ‘Before we left we called British Airways and said, “We have just seen there has been rioting in Tunisia, is it safe?” and they said it was no problem and not to worry.’
Although package operators such as Thomas Cook and Tui, which owns First Choice and Thomson, laid on emergency flights to bring all their passengers home as soon as violence flared, BA has said it cannot change its schedule and the next flight home will not be until Wednesday.
In the meantime Britons face being robbed at unofficial roadblocks set up by renegade soldiers and civilians. Those who managed to take coaches to the airports ran the gauntlet of screaming thugs banging on the doors with nail-studded clubs. Between 1,000 and 1,500 expats, independent travellers and small tour group holidaymakers remain in the country, according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. They are furious that they have been abandoned.
A spokesman for British Airways said: ‘We have six flights a week to Tunis and if those are fully booked we cannot put on extra to get people out.’
FCO staff in Tunisia seemed overwhelmed by the number of tourists. Although a six-strong ‘rapid deployment force’ was sent in to help consular staff, as few as four were thought to be on the ground helping British subjects.
At Gatwick airport yesterday, those who had managed to escape sobbed as they described their ordeal.
Mother-of-two Laura Gibson told of seeing bodies in the street and having her luggage slashed open by armed police who suspected her of carrying weapons.
The 27-year-old from Dunfermline was visiting her Tunisian husband Mouez Jraidi, 21, in Kasserine. The couple married in September. ‘One of my husband’s neighbours was shot in the head in the street and they just left his body there as the riots carried on,’ she said.
‘It was awful. We locked ourselves in the house but you could hear screaming and shouting outside the house. You could see his body when you looked out of the window. I was desperate to get home to my children. My husband and his brother and father drove me to the airport but we got held up at gunpoint by the police on the way. They dragged us all out of the car and made us put our hands in the air. Then they slashed open my suitcase to look for weapons.
Robert Jenkins and his wife Allison booked a six-night break at the five-star Averos Hotel in Hammamet to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. Yesterday their party of four were the only guests. They were among the passengers on Friday’s British Airways flight to the war zone.
‘I can’t believe that BA allowed the flight to take off when they knew the Foreign Office had advised against non-essential travel to Tunisia,’ said Mr Jenkins, 51, from Fetcham, Surrey. ‘We hadn’t seen the news and the warning was not mentioned when we checked in or when we boarded.’