Hove teacher describes being stranded in the Delhi heat by the volcanic ash chaos

Posted On 20 Apr 2010 at 8:10 am

Two Hove school teachers – a mother and daughter – are stranded in Delhi because of the volcanic ash that has caused British airspace to be closed.

They said that they have been threatened, harassed and intimidated – with no passports, no visas and the fear of arrest.

And dressed for the cold of the Himalayas, they have had to cope with temperatures reaching 46C (115F) in the shade – and falling only to 32C (90F) at night.

Kate Spencer, a teacher at St Andrew’s CE Primary School in Belfast Street, Hove, said: “At the airport three of our group fainted its so stuffy here. India’s suffering a heatwave.

“It’s suffocating. Even just trying to get water isn’t easy.”

Mrs Spencer – one of five St Andrew’s staff stranded abroad – said that her party had had their passports taken by airline staff.

She said that the harassment has included being woken late at night and early in the morning to be told to leave their hotel at once.

She added that staff appeared to be targeting women and telling them to get out even though there are no flights home.

And the threats have included being arrested if they step outside their hotel because they have no passports or visas, she said.

Yesterday, however, the Indian Government granted transit status to stranded passengers as the chaos continued, although it is unclear how many have been told.

Mrs Spencer and her party’s passports are being held by their airline, Jet Airways, which was due to fly them home from Kathmandu in Nepal.

The flight landed at Delhi on Thursday morning and has since been unable to leave because of the restrictions affecting dozens of European airports.

Mrs Spencer was travelling back from a trekking holiday in the Himalayas with her daughter Nicola Spencer, a teacher at Cottesmore St Mary’s Catholic Primary School in The Upper Drive, Hove.

Her party also includes two former St Andrew’s teachers – Fran Wates and Lynn Gough – and Maggie East, a friend from Hollingbury in Brighton.

They have hooked up with a group of 15 fellow travellers from Southampton and Winchester in Hampshire. Mrs Spencer praised them for their camaraderie and supportiveness.

The Hampshire group – from two churches – have complained of being held effectively under house arrest.

They told the Southern Daily Echo that they were being forced to go to the airport where thousands are stuck in chaotic and unsuitable conditions.

And they praised British Airways passengers at the same hotel – the Ramada – for smuggling food to them

Mr Kilby, from the Life Church in Southampton, said: “The airline said on Saturday if we don’t go (to the airport), the immigration authorities will arrest us, which is just crazy.

“We are not allowed to leave the hotel so we are basically under house arrest.

“But we have gone out because we were going stir crazy.

“I hope we are not stopped and asked for passports as we don’t have any.

“The airline tried to get us to go to the airport again this morning (Sunday), banging on doors.

“They are keen to dump us there in facilities with no water and blocked toilets.

“But I’m not prepared to put at risk young people and some poorly people with digestion problems.”

The group is now being allowed to stay, at its own expense, at the four star Ramada Hotel although, with money running out, it can’t afford to eat there.

According to the Foreign Office: “Our staff in India have been deployed at airports in Mumbai and Delhi, and have worked with the Indian authorities on extending permits for stranded British nationals.

“The Indian Ministry of Home Affairs have said that they will extend airside transit passes of British travellers stranded in India due to cancelled flights.”

Mrs Spencer said: “After a lot of hassling we finally got a hotel but we’re paying through the nose for it.

“The airline staff have been phoning us late at night or very early in the morning.

“It’s terrible. It’s been like a campaign of intimidation.

“They’ve been sending up guys to women’s rooms telling them: ‘Get your bags now. You’ve got to get out now. You’ve got to fly back to Kathmandu.’

“We’ve been told we have to fly to Bangkok or back to Kathmandu but we don’t want to go further away from home.

“We’ve been up in the Himalayas at the Annapurna base camp and we have micro fleeces and warm weather clothes.

“We have no hot weather gear. People are looking at us like we’re tramps.

“Everything is taking forever. We’re still trying to get our passports so we can go out legally.

“The Indian Government has finally given us transit status so we can do even simple things like change money.

“Initially the British High Commission didn’t want to know. The wheels grind very slowly here. It’s not an easy situation.”

Mrs Spencer said that yesterday her party was told that it had to go to the airport and that a coach would collect them.

They were then told that they would have to pay so they chartered one themselves.

She said that she chose Jet Airways after using the Indian airline about two years ago and being well looked after.

Her party flew out to Kathmandu on Wednesday 31 March and were due back on Thursday (15 April) in readiness for the new school term.

She said: “We know there are people far worse off than us but it’s not been a holiday.

“It actually has been a very unpleasant experience.”

“All we want to do is be in front of our classes.”

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