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Travel firms pull out of Tunisia

Published 09/07/2015

An armed policeman patrols on the beach after 30 Britons died in an attack by a gunman in Sousse
An armed policeman patrols on the beach after 30 Britons died in an attack by a gunman in Sousse

Travel firms are pulling out of Tunisia as a holiday destination after the British government warned against all but essential travel there amid fears of a fresh terror attack.

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised British tourists to leave the country following intelligence that a terrorist attack is "highly likely".

Thomson and First Choice immediately cancelled all outbound flights to Tunisia for the summer season running up to and including October 31.

The firm does not currently have any customers in Tunisia but "as a precautionary measure we have taken the decision to repatriate all British Thomson and First Choice staff currently working in Tunisia within the next 24 hours," a spokesman said.

All 30 of the Britons who were killed in the beach massacre in Sousse were Thomson and First Choice customers.

Thomas Cook UK & Ireland cancelled all future bookings to Tunisia up to the same date. A spokesman said it will be bringing all of its customers back to the UK "as soon as we can".

The spokesman added: "The safety and well-being of our customers is our primary concern. As always, we have been closely following the advice from the FCO and local authorities to monitor the situation in Tunisia. In response to the recent change in FCO advice we have taken this decision to bring all Thomas Cook customers back to the UK as soon as we can using third party carriers and on our 10 scheduled flights over the weekend.

"Thomas Cook is strongly advising its guests in the country to return on these flights. We are also sending our specialist assistance teams to Tunisia to offer customers additional support in resort.

"We are committed to doing everything we can to support our guests in Tunisia at this time and will work to bring them back to the UK safely and as soon as possible."

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told the BBC: "While we do not have any information suggesting a specific or imminent threat, since the attack in Sousse the intelligence and threat picture has developed considerably leading us to the view that a further terrorist attack is highly likely."

UK authorities have been working with their Tunisian counterparts since the beach massacre, b ut despite increased security since the shootings the Government said the extra measures did not go far enough.

In updated travel advice, the Foreign Office said: "Since the attack in Sousse, we have been working closely with the Tunisian authorities to investigate the attack and the wider threat from terrorist groups in Tunisia.

"Although we have had good co-operation from the Tunisian government, including putting in place additional security measures, the intelligence and threat picture has developed considerably, reinforcing our view that a further terrorist attack is highly likely.

"On balance, we do not believe the mitigation measures in place provide adequate protection for British tourists in Tunisia at the present time and we have therefore changed our travel advice accordingly."

Holidaymakers should contact their tour operators about returning to Britain and independent travellers should make their own arrangements to leave, the FCO said.

Between 2,500-3,000 British tourists are believed to be in Tunisia and around 300 independent travellers.

The Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) urged people due to travel to Tunisia to contact the company they booked through.

It said: "For anyone due to travel, you should be aware that travelling out to Tunisia at this time is likely to invalidate your travel insurance policies. Most insurance policies will still provide cover for travellers in a country at the time of Foreign Office advice change.

"Those with holidays booked within the next 48 hours to Tunisia are advised to contact your travel company to discuss available options. If you have booked a package you will be entitled to a refund or alternative holiday."

Monarch Airlines said it is currently arranging to repatriate all customers in resorts "back to the UK as soon as possible" in response to the changed advice. Flights have been organised to take them out of Tunisia by this weekend.

A spokesman said the airline is cancelling all flights to Enfidha for the rest of the summer season with "immediate effect". All customers who have already booked to travel there will get a full refund or credit or they may be able to change their destination.

Customers who booked through a travel agent or tour operator should contact them for advice as soon as possible.

Michelle Ayres, a British tourist staying at the Riadh Palms hotel in Sousse, said she had not been given any information directly.

She told Channel 4 News: "We haven't been told anything. Everything we have heard is only what we have read online.

"There's no rep here, so it is just literally all British people together discussing what we have all read on our own operators' websites."

She added: "Everyone's view, not just myself, is if us Britons are at risk why put us all on the same buses to remove us from the hotels? Surely, that is the risk that they want?

"We all feel perfectly safe within the hotel. They have been amazing."

Jet2.com and Jet2holidays said all of its travellers are out of Tunisia and that it has no plans to return there this season.

Malcolm Tarling, of the Association of British Insurers, suggested that anyone who has booked to go there should speak to their tour operator or travel agent and perhaps make alternative arrangements.

He said: "Some, but not all, travel policies may cover cancellation due to government advice not to travel. Tour operators, travel agents and air carriers should be able to arrange return to UK for people currently there on holiday."

The gunman who killed a total of 38 people in the beach massacre, was killed by police. Islamic State (IS) later claimed responsibility for the attack.

This bloodshed came after gunmen killed 22 people, again mostly tourists, at the National Bardo Museum outside Tunis in March.

In response to the terror attacks Tunisia announced plans to build a barrier along the border with Libya - including fencing, a sand wall, trenches and surveillance posts - to keep out extremists following recent terror attacks claimed by the Islamic State group.

Tunisia's government has promised new laws to increase police powers and provide for harsher penalties for terrorism convictions. Immediately after the Sousse attack, the prime minister pledged to post armed guards at tourist sites and close mosques outside government control.

Thomas Cook said it is putting on an extra flight tomorrow to bring its customers back to the UK.

Nabil Ammar, Tunisian ambassador to the UK, said the British Government's announcement was what the terrorists wanted.

He told BBC Two's Newsnight: "This is what the terrorists want. By damaging the tourism, by having foreigners leaving the country, they damage the whole sector and put so many people out of work and on the streets.

"Hotels have to close and this is an important industry.

"One of the sources of terrorism is lack of hope. It is not the only motor of it but it is one of the very important origins."

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