Holiday operators Thomson and Thomas Cook have flown thousands of British holidaymakers who were stranded in Tunisia back to the UK on emergency flights as the country teeters on the brink of civil war.
According to the Daily Mail, passengers have spoken of their relief to have returned home safely but many holidaymakers remain crammed into airports waiting for the next flight home and it is thought that up to 3,000 British tourists will have to be rescued from the country.
Trouble continued yesterday as the military patrolled the streets of cities and looters raided shops while 42 inmates were killed in a fire and scores of others shot dead after two separate mass prison breaks. All flights due to head to Tunisia today and Wednesday have now been cancelled as troops take to the streets to control rioters.
Thomas Cook brought 1,800 tourists back to the UK in six evacuation flights and the same number were being flown home on emergency flights today. The tourists were left behind when a state of emergency was declared, temporarily closing the country's airspace.
The bloodshed also spread to the country’s Mediterranean resorts, popular with Britons seeking winter sun. In Hammamet, two protesters were said to have been shot dead and the police station set ablaze.
The Foreign Office warned Britons against all but essential travel to the country. It advised tourists who remain there to monitor news broadcasts, warning: ‘There have been demonstrations, some violent, in multiple locations.
A spokesman for Thomas Cook said it had ‘strongly advised’ all its holidaymakers to return home on six special flights – four to Manchester and two to Gatwick. It also said it had cancelled the next planned flights to Tunisia and one flight would return to the UK with 300 people on board.
Another major travel operator, First Choice, with 1,500 customers in the country, also cancelled its flights to Tunisia scheduled for Sunday.
Early this morning Thomson said it had cancelled all flights and would return all its customers to the UK over the next 48 hours.
ABTA, which represents travel agents and tour operators in the UK, said the Foreign Office guidance meant that all customers with package holidays to Tunisia who have not yet travelled would be entitled to make alternative arrangements, rebook for a later date, or claim a full refund.
More than 350,000 British tourists visit Tunisia each year. Around 250,000 British travellers travelled there last year, and in all some seven million tourists travel to Tunisia a year.
ABTA, The Travel Association, has issued advice for all those with Tunisia holidays planned and those who are currently in the country, following the FCO guidelines.