Madrid (AFP) – Blame it on travel restrictions COVID-19 or Brexit, but whatever the reason, some British citizens trying to return home in several European countries this weekend have been banned from taking flights .
The airlines rejected documents that were prior to Brexit as valid evidence of the Britons’ status as residents of Spain, Italy and Germany, even though Spanish authorities claimed the problem had been resolved by midday Sunday.
Their plight came amid tight travel restrictions due to the coronavirus variable that has been blamed for the speed of transmission in the United Kingdom and highlights the bureaucratic complications resulting from Britain’s exit from the 27-nation European Union.
Both the Spanish and British authorities said on Sunday that the green-colored certificate of EU citizenship with a foreign identity number issued by Spain remains valid for British citizens residing in Spain under the bilateral provisions that followed the UK’s withdrawal from the bloc on December 31. .
But travelers say British Airways and Iberia, which are part of the IAG group, have refused to let them board the plane for the past two days.
Iberia said in a statement late Sunday that a call from the Spanish border police on January 1 caused “some confusion” and that it was clarified later. British Airways did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Around 300,000 British citizens were registered as permanent residents of Spain, although prior to Brexit, many were living full or part-time in the country without formal registration.
Patricia Modi, a 69-year-old retiree who has considered the southern Spanish town of Zorgina as home for nearly four years, was among a group of at least nine people unable to board a British Airways / Iberia plane bound for Madrid from London’s Heathrow Airport. Saturday.
Modi said she and her husband, who says he needs to see his doctor in Spain, spent 1,900 pounds ($ 2,600) on testing for the virus, traveling to the airport and booking new tickets after being refused boarding. Their second attempt was also futile.
“Throughout the months of negotiating Brexit, we were always sure that nothing would change for us,” she said. Referring to airlines and authorities in both countries, she added, “It is horrific and we are suffering because of their inefficiency.”
After the coronavirus variant was discovered in the UK, several European countries have banned all travel from the British Isles except for their own citizens and British citizens with residency rights.
Travelers to Pisa, Italy and Berlin have also reported similar hurdles in aircraft operated by Ryanair and Lufthansa despite carrying documents accepted by the Italian and German governments, respectively.
“This appears to be a case where UK airport employees do not know which documents to accept or apply the rules more strictly than the German border police do,” said Matt Bristow, a spokesman for the Association of British People in Germany of Residents in that country.
Spain is implementing a new system for registering permanent foreign residents called TIE, but it is struggling with a backlog due to the large number of applications. Authorities told The Associated Press that TIE and “green certification” for EU citizens are still valid for travel for British residents under the new health restrictions in place until January 19.
“This should not happen,” the UK Embassy in Spain said in a Facebook post. “The Spanish authorities today reconfirmed the acceptance of the green residency document for travel back to Spain, as mentioned in our travel advisories.”
But Sam Dakin, a 32-year-old English teacher who has lived in Barcelona for the past four years, and his partner, who has been in the Spanish city for eight years, said they need more confirmations before they can rebook the flights.
The couple had been banned from flying on Saturday morning despite holding their testimonials, and then they were prevented from boarding another flight on Saturday night that British Airways had initially said they could board.
“Just because the government advisor said we could travel, we don’t know if it will happen when we come at the counters,” Dakin said. “We just don’t know where to get the answers.”
In a statement, Spain’s Foreign Ministry said there was “an isolated communication problem with some airlines affecting a very small number of passengers” and that air traffic between the UK and Spain was operating “normally” by midday on Sunday.
Associated Press writer Gere Molson in Berlin contributed to this report.