A Lambeth backpacker stranded in Peru has been ‘left in the dark’ by the UK government for a week, receiving little communication about repatriation flights.
Cai Davies, 26, has been trapped in Arequipa, a town over 1000km from the capital Lima, since last Monday after the south American nation announced it would close all airports in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said on Saturday that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had obtained permission for a flight to leave Peru ‘early next week’ to rescue more than 400 British nationals.
However, this news came after days of criticism from trapped travellers that the FCO had failed to communicate or provide feasible options to return home.
“When we found out about the border shutting and travel ban we had less than a day to respond to it,” said Mr Davies.
“We’ve been getting the same stock standard answers from the government, MPs and FCO. It does feel like we’re being left in the dark.”
Mr Davies said he was aware of Israeli backpackers who had been able to secure a chartered flight out of Lima on Thursday for free.
On Wednesday, Britons were directed to a Colombian-owned Avianca flight costing between £3,000-£3,500 per person.
The UK Embassy in Peru also directed Britons to an Iberia flight from Lima to Madrid leaving today, noting the airline could not guarantee onward travel to the UK.
Backpacker Joe Claridge, 33, from Brighton is confined to his hostel in Cusco in a 12-person dorm. He has been travelling around South America since November with his girlfriend.
He said the city was on ‘complete lockdown’ with curfew measures imposed from 8pm to 5am.
“You’re only allowed to go out on your own in the day, you need to bring ID and the army stops you in the street,” he said.
“I’m just depressed really because there’s been no information. It’s a bit like being in prison.”
Hundreds of marooned British holidaymakers and charity workers have been coordinating via social media to share flight information and exert pressure on the government.
Spokesperson for the group #UKstuckinPeru Sarah Baxter said: “Many stranded citizens have contacted their MPs with pleas for help from the UK government to take action to resolve the situation as they watch other foreign citizens leave hotels and depart the country via coordinated repatriation flights home.”
Other countries have mounted significant repatriation efforts for their citizens. On Tuesday Germany launched a €50m airlift for those stranded abroad.
Coordination between the Peruvian government and France, Germany the US and Australia are also underway.
More than 37,000 concerned relatives have so far signed a petition calling on Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to bring their loved ones home.
A spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said yesterday: “We are working round the clock to make flights available next week for British people who wish to leave Peru but who are currently unable to do so on commercial flights because of the travel restrictions that have been imposed.”
I spoke to my counterpart in Peru today, @GMeza_Cuadra and we committed to work together in the coming days, so Britons in Peru and Peruvian nationals in UK can return home, amidst the challenges of tackling Covid-19.— Dominic Raab (@DominicRaab) March 21, 2020
While hundreds of Britons wait anxiously to board flights back home, life under lockdown is taking its toll.
“It’s been quite emotional. I’m the only one here who speaks English as my first language and it can get quite lonely,” said Mr Davies.
“It doesn’t feel like the British government are acting fast enough for us. Especially for one of the most powerful economies in the world – it feels like all talk and no action.”
Featured image shows Cai Davies, right, with his partner Jonathan.