Brits stranded in Tunisia as national carrier staff fear flying amid coronavirus

Britons stranded in Tunisia are facing further delay to their return home after aircrew with TunisAir refused to fly to Europe due to concerns over coronavirus. (AFP)
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Updated 25 March 2020

Brits stranded in Tunisia as national carrier staff fear flying amid coronavirus

  • TunisAir staff fear flying to Europe due to coronavirus

LONDON: Britons stranded in Tunisia are facing further delay to their return home after aircrew with TunisAir refused to fly to Europe due to concerns over coronavirus.

Many Brits are still stuck in the North African country after the Tunisian government suspended all international flights and shut its land and sea borders on March 18. 

Tunisia has under 100 confirmed cases of coronavirus, but swiftly took stringent measures to prevent its spread.

The tough measures caught many holidaymakers by surprise, with European governments scrambling flights to recover their nationals. 

But many Britons remain as the UK Embassy in Tunisia has struggled to organize repatriations.

The embassy said workers from TunisAir were unwilling to fly to Europe “on grounds of their individual safety and potential exposure” to coronavirus.

“Over the past few days, (we have) been working with the Tunisian government and Tunis Air to try to secure a flight to the UK,” the embassy said in a statement.

“However this option is now looking extremely difficult as Tunis Air are unable to find air crew who are prepared to fly to Europe on grounds of their individual safety and potential exposure,” it added.

“We will continue to look for ways to enable (Britons) to return to the UK as soon as is practically possible.”

Some Britons stuck in Tunisia have turned to begging the public for funds to cover flights home. 

Crowdfunding page GoFundMe reported a 54 percent rise in the last week for campaigns related to people being stuck abroad. 

Elizabeth Hazlewood, from Shrewsbury, was due to fly back from Tunisia this week but has been stranded since the government canceled outbound flights.

The 52-year-old support worker created a crowdfunding page to solicit support for her return home.

“I am running out of money rapidly. I really am stressed because of the situation and feel totally lost and alone,” she said.

The crisis in Tunisia is by no means the only example of Britons stranded overseas. Thousands are still desperately trying to secure flights home from around the world. 

On Wednesday, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the government is trying to organize flights with a number of countries including Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Peru.

“Where commercial options are limited or prevented by domestic restrictions, we are in close contact with the airlines and local authorities in those countries to overcome those barriers to enable people to return home,” he added.

Meanwhile, Tunisia is ramping up measures to keep citizens safe from coronavirus. The government introduced a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. from March 18. On Sunday, it launched restrictions to limit movements to those of “extreme necessity.”


18 killed in clashes in northwestern Syria

A heavily damaged building following Russian airstrikes and shelling on the town of Binnish in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province on Monday. Three members of the same family were killed in the strike. (AFP)
Updated 41 min 14 sec ago

18 killed in clashes in northwestern Syria

  • Russian airstrikes on the town of Binnish in Idlib province killed three people from the same family on Monday, according to the Observatory. An AFP photographer saw plumes of smoke rising from the site of the attack

BEIRUT, JERUSALEM: Clashes between opposition groups and pro-Assad fighters in northwestern Syria on Monday thwarted regime’s advance and left 12 pro-regime men dead, a Britain-based war monitoring group said.
Another 17 pro-regime fighters were wounded while on the opposition-led side six fighters died, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The forces loyal to Bashar Assad had launched an attack with artillery and heavy gunfire in Syria’s last major opposition bastion, said the war monitor.
But the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) alliance, headed by ex-leaders of Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, and their allies reportedly thwarted the advance.
Four HTS and two other opposition fighters were killed in the clashes in a rural area of Latakia province, the monitor said.
The HTS-led alliance also controls large areas of Idlib province and slivers of territory in neighboring Aleppo and Hama.
The region they hold is home to some 3 million people, nearly half of whom have been displaced from other parts of the country.
Syria’s 9-year-old war has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced nearly half of the country’s pre-war population.
The opposition-held area is a regular target of attacks by regime forces and their Russian and Iranian allies.
A Russian-backed regime offensive between December and March displaced nearly a million people in the region.
A Moscow-backed cease-fire agreement in March has reduced violence in the area, but shelling and airstrikes by the regime and its backers continue.
Russian airstrikes on the town of Binnish in Idlib province killed three people from the same family on Monday, according to the Observatory. An AFP photographer saw plumes of smoke rising from the site of the attack.

Golan Heights Activity
The Israeli military said it thwarted an infiltration attempt from Syria early on Monday staged by four suspected militants it accused of trying to plant explosives.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said Israeli troops earlier spotted “irregular” activity in the Golan Heights. Israeli troops opened fire on the suspected militants, some of whom were armed, after observing them placing the explosives on the ground, Conricus said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Forces loyal to Bashar Assad had launched an attack with artillery and heavy gunfire in Syria’s last major opposition bastion.

• The opposition-held area is a regular target of attacks by regime forces and their Russian and Iranian allies.

There was no official confirmation that the four suspected attackers were killed but a grainy video released by the army shows four figures walking away from barbed wire marking the frontier. The four then disappear in a large explosion that engulfs the area.
The Israeli military has not said if the four are suspected of ties to Iran or Hezbollah, two Syrian allies. However, Conricus said Israel held the Syrian regime responsible for the incident.
Addressing Likud party lawmakers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that Israel “thwarted an attempted sabotage on the Syrian front” and would continue to “harm all those who try to harm us and all those who harm us.”
The incident comes amid heightened tension on Israel’s northern frontier following a recent Israeli airstrike that killed a Hezbollah fighter in Syria. Following the airstrike, the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights was hit by explosives fired from Syria and Israel responded by attacking Syrian military positions and beefing up its forces in the area.
Israel has been bracing for further retaliation and last week it said it thwarted an infiltration attempt from Lebanon by Hezbollah militants, setting off one of the heaviest exchanges of fire along the volatile Israel-Lebanon frontier since a 2006 war between the bitter enemies.