British tourists in Tunisia have been placed in “an alarming position” because the Government was “slow off the mark” to respond to the crisis in the strife-torn North African country, Shadow foreign secretary Yvette Cooper has said.
As frightened tourists sheltered in near-deserted resort hotels in Tunisia, Ms Cooper urged British Airways and other carriers to put on extra flights to bring people home.
Speaking in the House of Commons, she also suggested tour companies improve their refund policy in respect of Tunisia trips.
Ms Cooper said the Foreign Office had been slow to change its travel advice and that British tourists had been told it was not necessary to leave, only to hear from their tour company that they were being brought home.
But in a statement to the Commons, Foreign Office Minister David Lidington said most of the British tourists remaining in Tunisia did not wish to leave and those who had wanted to go home had been able to “leave swiftly”. He also said the Government “had not been lax” in the way Ms Cooper had described and that they would “look at any lessons that needed to be learnt”.
As Tunisia’s interim leaders announced a new national unity Government after the overthrow of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Mr Lidington said that there were now about 1,000 British nationals remaining in Tunisia.
He said that there had been around 5,000 Britons in Tunisia last week, with most of them tourists on package holidays. More than 3,000 have since left.
Mr Lidington said there was “no indication” that Britons were being targeted by rioters or looters but that there was “always a chance” that tourists could get caught up in trouble. He said anyone concerned about their safety should remain within their accommodation.
BA operated its normal service between Tunis and Gatwick on Monday. It said it did not plan to put on any extra flights on Tuesday and that there was still availability on its next flight from Tunis to Gatwick which is due to arrive at the West Sussex airport on Wednesday afternoon.
BA added: “We are monitoring the situation in Tunisia carefully. We continue to operate flights to and from Tunis to help as many of our customers as possible. We would not operate a service unless we were confident that it was safe to do so. Customers who are booked to travel to or from Tunis in the next 72 hours can claim a full refund, rebook to a different date or to an alternative destination.”