Stranded: The Brits Trying to Come Home

“It all changed so quickly.”

Perhaps a sentiment we all share, the world certainly feels a lot different than it did just two weeks ago.

British citizens abroad have been trying to navigate an unprecedented shutdown in international travel as the coronavirus spreads, flight prices increase and borders close.

We spoke to several UK residents who have struggled to make it home.

Matt and Holly, 27/28

“We are currently stuck in a little village called Jomsom in Nepal. We attempted to leave yesterday but the bus got turned around by the police half way down the mountain. We then heard rumours of a bus happening that was going from Jomsom to Kathmandu this morning at 11am. They needed a copy of our passport and visa and conveniently their printer decided to not work. We found a local who was willing to print out a copy for us after begging him for a good half an hour and handed it in. I think we have a seat on the bus but we don’t know yet. When they had finished printing the documents one of the locals asked us to move back and then came outside and put the papers under a rock for us to collect. They just want to contain any sort of spread and they’ve shut the airport so it doesn’t matter to them if we’re stuck in a village in the mountains.”

Alizon, 59

“I am currently in Spain and this morning I was stopped by two masked Guardia Civil who wanted to know where I was going. ‘To the solicitor to sign a power of attorney,’ I told them in bad Spanish through a mask made from an old pillowcase and some string. They let me through. We flew out two weeks ago as we had sold our house and the new owners wanted to complete quickly.  Lockdown began the day after we arrived and now no-one can leave the house except for shopping or visits to the bank or pharmacy. The buyer’s solicitor is in quarantine and the sale is on hold. Our belongings are packed in the hallway waiting for a removal van that cannot come. Today our flight home was cancelled for the second time. We must stay and live in a house that is ours but not ours. Today the internet went off. But we are still safe.”

Jake, 24

“Having arrived in Australia on a working holiday visa almost two years ago, I recently applied for sponsorship within Australia for a role with a multi-national company based in Sydney. I had gone through an incredibly lengthy process but was then told, less than a week before my initial start date, that due to COVID-19 the company was making cuts and my two year contract would be rescinded. With my visa end date rapidly approaching I wouldn’t be able to start a new role nor could I now get home due to flight cancellations. At this moment in time I’m currently in a hostel sharing a room with 9 other worried British backpackers, all hoping to get home and that the government may come to our aide.”

Rachel, 25

“Since September I have been working for an NGO in India teaching children in an underprivileged area of Mumbai. In February I began to hear of COVID-19 and how it had started to spread in China. Many people talked of the idea of the warm climate preventing it from affecting India in the same way as other countries. But last week everything began to change and schools across the country were closed. My family encouraged to me to return home. Reluctantly I agreed and booked a flight for 22nd March. It was then announced, all Indian international flights were to be cancelled from 22nd March and at the last minute, we had to book a new flight for the 21st. I made it out just in time as a 21 day lockdown was then declared, with police enforcing this on the streets with batons.”

Steve, 30

“We are a newly married couple that left the UK on 26th of Feb for a four-week holiday for my 30th birthday. What started as an amazing life changing holiday in New Zealand has left us wishing we never left. My wife is a nurse who is eager to get back to work, I am an accountant working for a small firm with many small business relying on our support to make it through the tough times. We have had 4 cancelled flights and the fact is that flights are being cancelled or shut down quicker than you can book them. The embassy has confirmed it is trying to reopen some routes but we have had no updates, timeframes and currently no action has been taken. In all honesty we don’t know financially how much longer we can stay out here and the uncertainty is rather stressful.”

Rob, 24

“I am currently in Australia and had planned to head to New Zealand with a few friends in early April. Obviously, because the borders have now closed for everyone except NZ residents, we can’t do that and have been trying to return to the UK for a couple of weeks now – cutting short a trip down the East Coast. It all changed so quickly. We booked a flight home through Singapore which was cancelled and had a flight booked for today (27th March) that would take us through South Africa. That was cancelled yesterday. The price of flights is getting ridiculous – and with no guarantee we can board we are kind of in limbo. Three of us are in a hotel room in Sydney just waiting for news. We’re hoping that the government might arrange flights for UK residents but we just don’t know.”

Ruaridh, 27

“I am stuck in a sense that all my flights from New Zealand have been cancelled but I don’t have it as bad as others. It’s frustrating that there are flights leaving to transit hubs that are closed so no point in booking them. For example, to get to Qatar is an absolute joke in terms of prices right now with the lowest I’ve seen for a seat being about $3000NZD. I’m not too upset about not being able to go home yet (couldn’t be in a nicer country) but it’s the fact that it seems like the government is taking their good time on helping us out. Granted it looks like things are moving now but I hear the Germans, French and even Irish have been able to bring back people from NZ and we’ve only just started to get the ball rolling. It’s not the end of the world, it’s just frustrating.”

If you or someone you know is struggling to get back to the UK – get in touch @UCLanLive.

For official government updates on foreign travel – please visit https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice