Lancaster mum stranded in India begs government for urgent help to get back to UK
A Lancaster mum-of-two stranded in India is begging the government to help bring her and thousands of other tourists back home.
Samantha Smith, 47, was travelling in India when the new directions were announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson for all holidaymakers to return to the UK.
But Samantha, who runs her own painting and decorating company as well as teaching English abroad, is in a remote part of northern India with no way of getting a flight home.
The latest announcement by foreign secretary Dominic Raab on Monday evening said the government would help provide charter flights where commercial flights were no longer available.
But Samantha said she is still concerned that not enough is being done - and said there could be up to 100,000 Brits stuck in India, many of them now sleeping on the streets with no access to food or water after local hotels and shops were told to close.
Samantha said she is fortunate to still be staying in a one-room guest house, but said most other countries have already flown their people home, and she is worried about how badly India will be affected when the coronavirus eventually sweeps through the country.
Samantha has been in India for eight weeks, and is currently in Rishikesh, about five hours from Delhi.
Her only route home would be to fly from Delhi, but she is unable to get there without official documents and proof of an onward flight.
"I have been trying for the last two to three weeks to get home but there has been no way I could do it," Samantha said. "The airline and travel agents both washed their hands of me."
"I desperately want to get to Delhi because the closer I am to the airport and the Embassy the more likely I am to get a flight.
"But you need a letter from the Embassy to get across the borders here. The only other option is to wait for a bus from the Embassy to collect us - most other nationalities have already been taken home like this.
"If other countries have managed to come and repatriate their citizens, why have we not? I don't understand it."
Samantha, who has a son, Joe, in Lancaster and daughter, Hannah, in London, added: "People are fearful for their lives.
"Tourists are being thrown out of hotels but the police are telling them they are not allowed to be on the streets either.
"Others are not allowed to get food or water.
"I am one of the lucky ones. I am in a room in a guest house although it doesn't have any facilities except a toilet.
"I am in a pilgrimage town so I am incredibly lucky because I feel safe here, and I am hearing horrendous stories from other parts of India.
"There are other British tourists here so I do not feel isolated, but we are all frightened to death and want to go home.
"When the virus really hits this country it is going to explode because there's no proper santitation here. The poverty that they live in is shocking, these people are really poor.
"I am really scared that we are going to be stuck here on a proper lockdown for two to three months."
Raab last night said this was the "greatest global challenge in a generation" that was affecting hundreds of thousands of British people across the globe.
"We appreciate that an unprecedented number of people are trying to get home," he said.
"I want to assure them that the government is working around the clock to support and advise British travellers to get home."
He urged Prime Ministers in other countries to work with the UK to keep commercial flight routs open, and said the government would partner with airlines to help get people home.
A £75m cash injection means special charter flights would be laid on at subsidised costs where commercial flights are not possible, he said.
But Samantha said travellers are feeling abandoned and frustrated by the lack of communication.
"I have resigned myself to sitting and waiting now," she said. "My hands are completely tied.
"I can't get to Delhi without permission and you can't get permission without a flight, and there are no flights. It's a neverending circle.
"I am hoping the government will put these chartered flights in place but they will need a lot, because there's probably 100,000 of us [in India].
"The communication needs to be better. Tourists from other countries have had their Embassies phoning them to tell them about flights and that they will be loaned the money they need.
"We have had none of that, you can't even get through to speak to anyone at the British Embassy; we just feel abandoned.
"I am now having to borrow money to stay here, and that's another worry.
"It just feels like the government doesn't want to spend the money to get us home. Other countries that aren't as rich or are suffering more from the virus than we are have helped their people.
"The German and French Embassies have also helped some of the English people here. There's a lack of collaboration from England.
"It's so frustrating. There are people here who desperately need help from the government, they are at their wits' end."
Lancaster MP Cat Smith said she hopes to hear soon how the government will help bring holidaymakers like Samantha home.
“I’m very concerned about the situation that Samantha finds herself in and have been putting pressure on the authorities to get her home to Lancaster," she said.
"Within hours of becoming aware of her plight I contacted the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British High Commission in India.
"My team have stayed in touch with her to update her on developments and advise her on the actions she can take. We have also had regular contact with her friends and family.
"Samantha has told me that the German Government sent seven buses several nights ago to pick up the Germans, Belgians and Dutch.
"We are now waiting for news on how the British Government intends to spend the £75 million announced yesterday to bring stranded travellers home.
"I hope there will be good news for Samantha shortly.
"In the meantime I’m relieved Samantha has somewhere safe to stay and I’ll continue to do all I can to make sure she’s reunited with her family as soon as possible.”
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