UK residents of EU banned from flights in post-Brexit ‘travel chaos’


                Quelques jours après qu'une souche de coronavirus «mutante» ait ruiné les projets de Noël des vacanciers des deux côtés de la Manche, la bureaucratie et la confusion liées au Brexit ont soulevé des obstacles pour les Britanniques qui tentent de rentrer chez eux dans plusieurs pays européens.

                                    <p>Après une saison des fêtes déjà tempérée par la pandémie de Covid-19, le blues du Brexit a débuté tôt pour les Britanniques vivant dans les États de l'UE qui les considèrent désormais comme des «ressortissants de pays tiers». 

Over the weekend, several Brits expressed dismay on social media after being barred from boarding flights to the EU countries in which they live. Others have complained about the difficulties in accessing the social benefits to which they are entitled.

Most of the complaints were about flights to Spain, which is home to the largest number of Britons registered in Europe, although Spanish authorities said the issue was resolved by mid-Sunday.

British in Europe, an advocacy group representing Britons in the EU, said similar issues had arisen in Italy, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands. He spoke of “travel chaos for British residents in the EU trying to return home” and violations of the Withdrawal Agreement guaranteeing the rights of British residents in the EU.

“Britons in the EU have encountered difficulties, with people banned from flying or having their passports stamped, even though they have valid UK passports, EU residency documents and PCR tests,” wrote the group in a Sunday statement.

The chaos comes amid strict travel restrictions due to a variant of the coronavirus that has been blamed for faster contagion in the UK. He also highlighted the bureaucratic complexities caused by Britain’s departure from the EU, compounding the frustrations of expatriates directly affected by the results of a referendum in which many were unable to participate.

Lost in translation

“The combination of the expiration of the post-Brexit transition, the new strain of coronavirus and the end of the public holidays has created a perfect storm,” said Matt Bristow, spokesman for the British in Germany, of the British in the German branch of Europe, in an interview with FRANCE 24.

Suite à la découverte de la variante du coronavirus au Royaume-Uni, de nombreux pays européens ont interdit les voyages depuis les îles britanniques, à l'exception de leurs propres ressortissants et des citoyens britanniques ayant des droits de résidence. 

Dutch border police reported on Sunday that several British travelers were refused entry after failing to provide an “urgent reason” to travel to the Netherlands. “They all had a negative PCR test, but forgot the rule of thumb, that they must have an urgent reason to come, such as work or serious family problems,” a police spokesperson told the local TV channel NOS.

But Brits residing in EU countries have faced similar obstacles amid confusion over the paperwork required to prove residency.

In such a case, Britons attempting to board Lufthansa flights to Germany were falsely told that they had to hold permanent residence in order to travel, according to the German branch of the British in Europe.

“Why is @Lufthansa_DE still telling passengers that the Bundespolizei have said they can only let in permanent residents [Germany] to get on flights? British citizens covered by the Withdrawal Agreement are allowed to enter even without 5 years of residence ”, the group wrote in a Twitter message on Monday.

According to Bristow, the erroneous call stemmed from confusion among German officials and airline staff over the rules for British nationals after Brexit, coupled with the loss of some German nuances in the translation.

He highlighted other difficulties encountered by some Britons in Germany since the beginning of January, including bureaucratic obstacles to accessing unemployment or childcare benefits.

Bristow also noted discrepancies between European Council directives and some national regulations, citing the case of a British national who was banned from making a stopover at Munich airport en route to his home in Austria. He added: “The borders that had long been invisible to Europeans are actually still there for some, as the British are now discovering.

ID card backlog

Confusion over paperwork and terminology has also disrupted travel to Spain, where a new registration system for foreign residents suffers from a backlog due to the high number of applications.

Madrid announced last year that British nationals residing in Spain would be given photo identification to replace the current residence papers worn by EU nationals. Tens of thousands of people have applied for the card, but many are waiting to receive them due to the demand on the system.

In the meantime, the UK and Spanish governments have declared that the old Foreign National Identification Document (NIE) and the New Foreign Identity Card (TIE) are valid for travel.

Despite this, several Britons living in Spain have been barred from boarding Iberia and British Airways flights to Barcelona and Madrid after airlines claimed their papers were no longer valid.

Photographer Max Duncan, one of the many travelers who were turned away at Heathrow Airport on Saturday, tweeted that British expatriates were “distressed because (they) could not return home” after learning that their residency certificates were no longer sufficient.

Iberia admitted Sunday evening that a communication from the Spanish border police of January 1 had created “some confusion” and that it had been clarified afterwards.

The Spanish Foreign Ministry spoke of “an isolated communication problem with certain airlines which affected a very small number of travelers”, assuring that air traffic between the United Kingdom and Spain was proceeding “normally”.

Passport stamps

Some travelers who passed check-in were quick to report another problem, noting that their passports were stamped upon entering the EU – in violation of the Withdrawal Agreement’s provisions.

In a written exchange with FRANCE 24, Kalba Meadows, co-founder of France Rights, the French branch of the British in Europe, said: “It appears that the passports of British nationals returning to France are regularly stamped, to many. [if not all] entry points. ”

She added: “This can lead to later problems, as entering France with a passport stamp can mean entering as a visitor and not a resident, which sets the clock for a maximum period of 90. days out of 180 days. a third-country national can stay in the Schengen area. ”

Meadows said his association had raised the issue with the British Embassy in Paris, noting that the difficulties faced by many travelers had been compounded by the understaffing at UK embassies during the holiday season. France Rights has also issued detailed instructions for Britons in France, stressing that their passports should not be stamped if they reside in France, have applied for residence, or can prove they lived in France before the end of the transition to Brexit on December 31.

Des timbres de passeport ont également été signalés dans les principaux aéroports allemands, ajoutant à l'anxiété ressentie par les résidents britanniques déjà craintifs des conséquences du Brexit, a déclaré Bristow.

“People fear that they will run into problems later, that they will lose some benefits and rights,” he said. “They have all the right documents, but there is concern that the message may not reach officials at all levels of government.”

Clarissa Killwick, who co-leads the “Beyond Brexit – British Citizens in Italy” Facebook page, reported a similar concern among Britons in Italy. She cited media reports that at least one British national, a professor at the European University Institute in Florence, was banned from a Ryanair flight to Pisa because she could only produce a residence document on paper instead of a photo card.

“The point is, we’re in entirely new territory as four-day-old third country nationals, which makes everyone very nervous,” Killwick told FRANCE 24. “That, combined with the twists and turns of the pandemic , is sending people’s stress levels through the roof. ”

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