Thousands of European tourists being evacuated from Tunisia

Published on : Monday, June 29, 2015

Thousands of European touristsFollowing the slaughter by a gunman at a beach in Tunisia claimed by the Islamic State, European tour operators are scrambling to make alternative arrangements to send thousands of tourists back home from Tunisia.



Tunisia’s Prime Minister Habib Essid said most of the dead were British, and its health ministry said eight Britons, a German, a Belgian and an Irish citizen were among the casualties of the attack at a hotel in the resort town of Sousse.



It was the second big attack in the North African country this year, following an assault on the Bardo Museum in Tunis in March when gunmen killed a group of foreign visitors as they arrived by bus.



Tunisia’s tourism minister called Friday’s attack, in one of the country’s most popular resorts for Europeans, a “catastrophe” for the vital industry and authorities vowed to toughen security, drafting in army reserves and arming tourism police at beaches and hotels.


“More than 3,000 foreign tourists have left Sousse today,” said Saloua Kadri, tourism commissioner for the town. “Around 2, 200 British have left, and close to 600 Belgians too.”


Tunisian authorities named the gunman, who was shot dead by police, as Saif Rezgui, a student who they say was not known to authorities. He opened fire on Friday at the Imperial Marhaba hotel in Sousse, 140 km (90 miles) south of the capital Tunis.



Tour operators Thomson and First Choice, which are owned by German travel group TUI, said they had about 6,400 customers across Tunisia at the time of the attack, including several of the people killed and injured.


They sent 10 planes to evacuate tourists and said 1,000 had already been repatriated. They also said they would cancel all their holiday packages to Tunisia for at least the next week.


TUI’s German tour operator TUI also organised flights for tourists wishing to return home and TUI’s Belgian airline, Jetairfly, sent six empty planes to bring tourists back from the towns of Djerba and Enfidha on Saturday.


Nicola Harris was one of the tourists returning to Britain from Sousse. “I didn’t feel right staying and sitting by a pool knowing that two minutes’ walk away that many people had died, it just felt wrong,” Harris told Sky News.


As one counter measure, Prime Minister Essid said that Tunisia planned within a week to close down 80 mosques that remain outside state control for inciting violence. Tunisia, which has undergone a largely peaceful transition to democracy since its 2011 Arab Spring uprising, depends heavily on foreign tourism.

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