Returning Brits’ “horrible ordeal” not acceptable, says PM
By KEREM HASAN / Chief Reporter
A total of 183 people flew from Stansted to Ercan on Tuesday on an Anadolu Jet Boeing 737-800 aircraft char- tered by Cyprus Paradise owner and president of the Cyprus Turkish Chamber of Commerce (UK) Muhammet Yaşarata. 116 were expats who live permanently in North Cyprus but had been “trapped” in the UK after the imposition of travel restrictions.
The flight had been sched- uled for last Saturday, but was postponed through insufficient numbers. Mr Yaşarata told Cyprus Today: “We could not fly because so many people dropped out – from 219 people, to 116 expats. I would have made a loss of £30,000.
“Instead, the flight took place on Tuesday after we asked for Turkish Cypriots and students to also be allowed on. “In the end, we would have gone even if the flight wasn’t full, because of the outcry and messages from desperate people who were trying to get home to the TRNC.
“Although the ministry had approved the names of all pas- sengers, upon arriving, there was a moment where 67 expats were going to be refused entry because they did not have a valid residency permit.
We understand that they relied on the now non-existent over-60 concession, and that they were not able to renew their resi- dency because of the lockdown. “We put a lot of pressure on the government to intervene. This would have been a new scandal for our country. These people are the same for me as TRNC nationals; I do not see them as ‘expats.’ They cer- tainly would not have deserved this!”
Passengers who had paid £860 for the flight, a PCR test and 14 days in an approved quarantine hotel, suffered a further ordeal when all of them were kept on the plane for an hour before being allowed to disembark – only to face an even longer delay sitting on coaches. Many had travelled from far-flung corners of the UK to catch the Stansted flight, some having to book into airport hotels there, after the Saturday take-off was postponed.
They finally left Ercan two and a half hours after landing, but ran into more problems on arriving at their first desig- nated hotel, the Malpas in Çatalkoy, where they found there was room for only 40 people. Expecting to be taken to the second named hotel, the Riverside in Alsancak, the remaining passengers were held for a further hour before being bussed to the Olivia Palm hotel in Girne. Jean Bradley, 51, from Preston, lives in Lapta and is a retired general manager of the American army, was visiting her family in the UK. Her husband, David, works abroad.
“Every seat on the aircraft was full. One would have expected at least the middle seat to be empty, even though everyone had to wear masks for the entire journey. Upon landing into Ercan airport, there was a lot of applause and screams as people – many retired expats – were understandably happy and excited to have finally come home! “But, this excitement was unfortu- nately overshadowed after we were made to wait an hour inside the aircraft, then another hour on the coaches.
No informa- tion was given. Although our receipts said our stay would be Riverside — we were eventually taken to the Malpas to face more stress. We waited inside the coach for a further 45 minutes,with no food or water. “Then, we were taken to Olivia Palm hotel. Because there were no lifts it was difficult for some of us to climb the stairs.
We are very happy at the hygiene and comfort of the rooms. The only downfall was that there aren’t tea and coffee making facilities but they said they have done this for safety reasons and will pro- vide us hot water when we want.” Janice Harper, 58, who is from Buck- inghamshire and lives in Bahçeli, said: “I am over the moon to be here, having applied for the flight since April. “We were however, devastated to go through such a horrible ordeal of waiting inside the aircraft for some time, then again inside the coach at both the airport and Malpas. There was obviously a lack of communication and organisation.
We were taken to Malpas and waited a further 45 minutes, to be told the hotel was full and then taken to Olivia Palm in Girne, arriving at 11pm. Everyone was exhausted! I wouldn’t want to go through such ordeal again.” Mother Jacqui Sharpe, from Çatalköy, said her daughter, Gina, 21, studying to be a primary school teacher at Leeds Becket University, had travelled from Leeds to Cambridge the day before the scheduled Saturday flight. “We had to extend her hotel stay for three more days when we were told last minute that the flight was deferred to Tuesday. “Stress levels peaked after the flight was cancelled. There was confusion and disorganisation that gave way to the problems when they landed here.”
John Kerry, who is from South Africa and lives in Boğaz, said the group had been “shocked” after “having waited for many hours” inside coaches to be told that the hotel they had initially been taken to was full. “The organisation was evidently poor. We are delighted at the fantastic help of the staff at Olivia Palm hotel and (manager) İsmail Abidin who has gone all out to help us. “The sun is out. We are in Girne. It’s a fantastic feeling to be back home. I sup- port the quarantine procedure itself. It is best for everyone and the North Cyprus government has handled Covid-19 extremely well. We have to understand that Covid-19 is probably going to be around for a very long time. But it’s an amazing feeling to be here.”
Margaret Redican, who lives in Başpınar and is originally from Lan- cashire, said: “I am absolutely delighted Janice Harper to be here. When all the lockdowns started I thought ‘Oh my God, when will we ever be able to go back home?’ It’s like a dream.” Olivia Palm Hotel general manager İsmail Abidin, said they had only been notified of the guests by the Health Min- istry on the day of arrival. “We are a reg- istered quarantine hotel. We only opened last September and everything is brand new. We were only notified on the same day that there would be 62 people coming. We fully disinfected and prepared the rooms. There is a health official 24/7, and we are very close to the Girne state hos- pital.” Mr Abidin said when the expats arrived “they were very upset and stressed.”
“We took all measures and ensured all 62 guests settled into their rooms within 30 minutes. Meals are being provided three times a day and we are catering to individual requests.”
Involved in the organisation was a social media group set up by Catherine Hayes, the Foreign Residents Society (TFR) and its secretary Caroline Houghton, and Council of Turkish Cypriot Associations (UK), in coordination with the government and TRNC London repre- sentative . Caroline Houghton said they were upset at what had happened after passen- gers landed.
“Immigration didn’t have the full list of passengers. There was an obvious miscommunication between the Foreign Affairs ministry and immigration. On duty immigration police weren’t briefed. No one even knew Malpas hotel was full. I had a list of all the approved passengers, but they didn’t allow us to go airside and hand the list to officials, that would have helped. All the names had been approved and I don’t understand why problems were created.”
Expressing thanks to Mr Yaşarata for the flight, she added: “Some people dropped out, causing the flight to be post- poned. But then Mr Yaşarata promised that the flight would go ahead even if he made a loss! We are very grateful for this. “We don’t understand why, despite expectations of going to Riverside hotel, the group were taken to Olivia Palm. But this hotel is absolutely wonderful with brand new rooms and the meals have greatly improved. “Everyone wants 5-star accommoda- tion, but this is not a holiday. This is a government-assigned quarantine accom- modation and it is out of our hands. But Olivia Palm is a beautiful hotel. The ser- vices and efforts of the staff are very much appreciated.”
Prime Minister Ersin Tatar, who learned of problems from Cyprus Today, said: “I am very saddened and upset to hear this. We give big importance to our expat residents. It is not acceptable that people who arrived from a long journey be made to wait for hours, for whatever reason. “I will be ordering an investigation to determine what happened and why. Aside from this, my message to all who arrived: ‘Welcome home – hoş geldiniz!’”