British tourists to be evacuated from Kenya after terror warnings
Hundreds of British tourists are being evacuated on chartered flights from Kenya’s coast after the Foreign Office warned them to leave because of terror threats.
Holidaymakers with Thomson and First Choice were told that their dream long-haul trips were being cut short and that they should pack and prepare to travel to the airport in convoys of coaches under armed guard. Both companies said they were cancelling flights to Mombasa until at least October.
As many as 500 people were affected, sources said. Half were due to leave on Thursday from the international airport at Mombasa, Kenya’s main coastal city. The rest were booked on a second chartered jet due to fly home on Friday.
Britain warned on Wednesday that tourists should not travel to Mombasa city or to popular beaches to its north because of the threat of terrorism, and those already there should leave immediately.
Andy Coughlan, a musician from Swansea, and his wife Irene, 53, were on “a dream holiday” after Mrs Coughlan was told that breast cancer she had been fighting had gone into remission. They had arrived only on Tuesday morning.
“We’re absolutely devastated,” Mr Coughlan, 53, told The Telegraph. “Ren had been seriously ill for a long time and this was the first time after all the chemo that she was ready to travel.
“She said she wanted to wait for her hair to grow back. As soon as it did, we were on our wayhere. Now we have to turn around and go back again, and it seems for absolutely crazy reasons.”
Other British tourists booked by other companies were not being evacuated, Mr Coughlan said.
His wife said that a safari planned as part of their holiday was “the part I was most looking forward to”.
“Now it is gone,” Mrs Coughlan, who worked for Tesco’s, said. “I’ve always loved the idea of seeing the animals in the wild. We were supposed to be going on safari today, but instead we’re being told to pack and go back to England.
“I can’t believe it’s happening. I’ve been looking forward to this holiday for such a long time.”
The couple, as well as other Thomson and First Choice clients, were staying a hotel outside of the Foreign Office’s new alert zone, on Diani beach an hour south of Mombasa.
“This is not even in the area that is supposed to be a problem,” Mr Coughlan said.
“We’re not getting a clear explanation of why our holidays are being cut short. We’re just being told to get back to UK then we can start talking about booking another holiday somewhere else from there.”
A key road connecting resorts south of Mombasa to its airport goes through the city centre, which the Foreign Office warns is not safe. Tourists were said to be being evacuated via this route but with armed convoys.
A spokesman for TUI Travel, which owns Thomson and First Choice, confirmed it had evacuated all its customers from Kenya “as a precaution”, including those whose accommodation was outside the Foreign Office’s alert zone. It has also grounded all flights to Mombasa until at least October.
“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is now advising against all but essential travel to Mombasa island, Kenya,” it read.
“Thomson and First Choice have been continuously monitoring the situation as it developed and have been working very closely with the FCO and follow its advice at all times.
“As a result of the change in FCO advice, the decision has been taken to cancel all our outbound flights to Mombasa, Kenya up to and including 31 October. As a precautionary measure, we have also taken the decision to repatriate all customers currently on holiday in Kenya back to the UK tonight and tomorrow morning.
“Our experienced overseas resort team are updating all our customers currently on holiday in Mombasa of the change in FCO advice.”
Mr Coughlan said: “There’s no sense whatsoever that this is a dangerous place. All the Kenyans have been fantastic. When all the tourists are gone, how are they going to earn their living?”
Chris and Laura, from Grimbsy, were due to leave Mombasa on the first chartered flight on Thursday night. Their holiday had been cut short by a week.
“We are very, very unhappy,” said Chris. “It seems a real over-reaction.”
Kenya’s government called the new British travel advisory “an unfriendly act” that “plays to the whims” of terrorists by “causing fear and panic”.
“The challenges arising from acts of terrorism require concerted efforts to fight it and not behaving in a manner that accelerates it by causing fear and panic,” he said in a statement.
“Issuance of such travel advisories only plays to the whims of bad elements in society whose aim is to spread fear and panic among otherwise peace-loving people.”
More than 600,000 Kenyans are directly employed in tourism, which provides 12.5 percent of the country’s GDP.
Safari and wildlife areas are not affected by the new advisories, but coastal tourism is a mainstay and many tour operators said they feared a collapse in bookings following the warnings.
More than 70 people died in a four-day terror attack on the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi, the capital, in September that was carried out by Somalia’s al-Qaeda proxy al-Shabaab.
Since then, there have been a series of small bomb and grenade attacks on churches, including one in Mombasa, buses and close to a bar on a beach north of the coastal city. None appeared to target foreigners.
The Foreign Office constantly reviews its travel advice, but it was unlikely that the new warning for Kenya’s coast would be downgraded for several weeks, at the least, one security source said.
Source: The Telegraph