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Tunisia evacuation: British and Irish governments tell tourists to fly home, warning another Isis attack is 'highly likely'

By Claire Cromie and PA reporters

Published 10/07/2015

British tourists arrive at the Enfidha International airport in the Tunisian capital Tunis on July 10, 2015 after the British Foreign Office advised tourists to leave the North African country by saying it was unsafe for holidays.
British tourists arrive at the Enfidha International airport in the Tunisian capital Tunis on July 10, 2015 after the British Foreign Office advised tourists to leave the North African country by saying it was unsafe for holidays.
Fowers on the beach near the RIU Imperial Marhaba hotel in Sousse, Tunisia, as travel firms are pulling out of the country as a holiday destination after the British government warned against all but essential travel there amid fears of a fresh terror attack.
An armed policeman patrols on the beach near the RIU Imperial Marhaba hotel in Sousse, Tunisia, after the beach massacre

Both the British and Irish governments have now told tourists to leave Tunisia - with the UK Foreign office forcing travel companies to airlift holidaymakers home.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond warned a further terrorist attack was "highly likely" following last month's Islamic State massacre in the resort of Sousse.

A major operation has been launched to fly more than 3,000 tourists home after Hammond last night warned it was "too big a risk" to allow Britons to remain in the country.

Today the Republic of Ireland followed the UK's example, advising citizens to avoid all non-essential travel to Tunisia - its second highest threat level.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said "relatively few" Irish tourists are believed to be in Tunisia at present.

But Tunisia's ambassador in London, Nabil Ammar, warned that the move was playing into terrorists' hands.

He said: "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.

"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."

Foreign tourism accounts for around 15% of Tunisian GDP.

The country announced yesterday that it would build a wall around its border with Libya to keep out extremists.

Warning: Philip Hammond
Warning: Philip Hammond

Some Britons in Tunisia voiced anger that the Foreign Office had not changed its travel advice to warn against visiting the country immediately after the June 26 attack, when gunman Seifeddine Rezgui murdered 38 holidaymakers - including 30 UK nationals - in an outrage for which the Islamic State group has claimed responsibility.

But others said they were disappointed to have to cut their holidays short. Heidi Barlow, 34, said she was reassured by the armed guards posted at hotel entrances and beaches, adding: "People feel safe. They certainly didn't expect to have to leave."

Mr Hammond said the Government had been careful not to act in a "knee-jerk manner" by urging Britons to quit Tunisia after the Sousse attack.

But he told the BBC: "We now have a much better picture of the emerging scale of the threat as well as a much better understanding of the mitigations the Tunisians have put in place.

"We have had to take the decision that it is too big a risk to continue allowing British tourists to travel in Tunisia."

Tour operators have cancelled flights until October, but it would be "a commercial decision for them" if they wanted to resume them after that point.

Thomson and First Choice have cancelled all flights to Tunisia for the summer season, and extra flights are being laid on from today to evacuate up to 3,000 British package holidaymakers and 300 independent travellers believed to be in Tunisia.

The first evacuated holidaymakers will touch down in Manchester as funerals of Britons killed in Sousse take place.

Family and friends of Jim and Ann McQuire were saying their final farewells at a service at Abronhill church in their home town of Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire.

Irish diplomats now rank Tunisia alongside a number of countries where war, terrorism, political instability or disease is a danger including Lebanon, Egypt, Pakistan, North Korea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Sudan and Guinea.

Irish citizens travelling abroad are being urged to register their details on a special registration website - - in order to provide them with quick consular assistance in the event of an emergency.

"I strongly encourage Irish citizens in Tunisia who are not yet registered with the department but who plan to remain in Tunisia to register without delay," Mr Flanagan said.

"We keep our travel advice under constant review and will continue to monitor the situation in Tunisia very closely."

Tunisia Q&A

Why has the advice changed?

Until yesterday the Foreign Office had warned tourists of the "high threat from terrorism" in Tunisia, but stopped short of advising people not to go there. Hours after the attack in Sousse last month Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, in the face of criticism that advice should have been changed after the Bardo Museum attack in Tunis three months earlier, insisted the advice was "appropriate".

Empty deck chairs around a pool at Hotel Belisaire in Hammamet, Tunisia, as a British holidaymaker has said she is
Empty deck chairs around a pool at Hotel Belisaire in Hammamet, Tunisia, as a British holidaymaker has said she is "disappointed", after the Foreign Office ordered travel companies to pull tourists out of the country. Heidi Barlow/PA Wire

But the Foreign Office has now said that in the two weeks since the Sousse attack the "intelligence and threat picture has developed considerably", and they believe another terror attack is "highly likely".

The Tunisian authorities put in place extra security measures following last month's atrocity, but the Foreign Office said these would not provide "adequate protection" for British tourists.

What do you do if you have a holiday booked to Tunisia?

Travellers who have booked package holidays are advised to contact their tour operators as soon as possible to get a refund or change their holiday destination.

If you have booked your flights and accommodation separately you will have to contact the airline and hotel. If the airline cancels the flight in light of the latest advice from the Foreign Office you will be entitled to a refund. If not, you may be able to change your flight. Abta said cancellation fees could be charged if your insurance does not cover your bookings.

What if you are in Tunisia now?

If you are on a package deal you should contact your tour operator. Thomson and First Choice, Thomas Cook and Monarch have all confirmed they will fly their customers home as soon as possible.

If you have travelled to the country independently the Foreign Office has advised that you make your own arrangements to leave.

What happens if you have a holiday booked to Tunisia and want to go ahead anyway?

Many of the tour operators have cancelled their holidays to Tunisia for the rest of the summer season so you will not be able to travel there on a package deal.

If you are travelling independently you may be able to fly there on certain airlines but doing so, after the latest advice has been issued, will invalidate your insurance policy.

Other countries the Foreign Office advises people not to travel to:

:: Afghanistan - All or all but essential travel to different parts of the country is advised against.

There is a high threat from terrorism and specific methods of attack are evolving and increasing in sophistication.

:: Iraq - The Foreign Office recommends against all travel to most of the north and north west of the country, and all but essential travel to the rest of it.

:: Libya - All travel to Libya should be avoided due to the ongoing fighting, threat of terrorist attacks and kidnap against foreigners, and a deteriorating security situation throughout the country.

:: Central African Republic - All travel to the Central African Republic (CAR) should be avoided, with Britons being instructed to leave if it is safe to do so.

Tensions are high in the country, and there has been an increase in violence following an armed attack on a church and subsequent retaliation attack. There is an underlying threat from terrorism.

:: Russia - The advice is against all travel to within 10km of the border with the Ukrainian Donetsk and Lugansk Oblasts, and all but essential travel to within 10km of the border with the Ukrainian Kharkiv Oblast.

:: Sierra Leone - All but essential travel to Sierra Leone should be avoided, except for those involved in the direct response to the Ebola outbreak.

:: Somalia - The advice is against all travel to Somalia, including Somaliland except for the cities of Hargeisa and Berbera to which the FCO advise against all but essential travel.

There is a high threat from terrorism, including kidnapping, throughout Somalia, including Somaliland, and terrorist groups have made threats against westerners and those working for western organisations.

:: Syria - The Foreign Office advises against all travel to Syria, and Brits are advised to leave.

:: The Foreign Office has also has travel advice for: Angola, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Burma, Cambodia, Chad, Cameroon, Colombia, Congo, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Ecuador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Egypt, Georgia, Guinea, Haiti, Iran, Kenya, Kosovo, Lebanon, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Niger, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Turkey, The Philippines, Tajikistan, Thailand, Uganda, Venezuela, and Western Sahara.

Read more:

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