Sheffield siblings ‘abandoned’ overseas fearful they may not make it home after being made redundant

A brother and sister from Sheffield who have been ‘abandoned’ overseas say they are fearful they may not make it home after being made redundant due to the coronavirus.

Wednesday, 25th March 2020, 5:23 pm
Updated Thursday, 26th March 2020, 4:47 pm

Amira Mahmoud, 23, from Basegreen, travelled to New Zealand on a working visa last month and up until recently had a job in hospitality before restrictions were imposed by the country’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stating that all restaurants, cafés, bars and leisure facilities, were to close.

Meanwhile in Australia, her brother Ben, 24, is in a similar situation and is currently unemployed after being made redundant from his job as a gym manager.

Both stuck in foreign countries, Amira says they are desperately trying to get home but feel like they have been ‘abandoned’ by the UK government.

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(L-R) Boyfriend and girlfriend, Alec and Amira, who are stranded in New Zealand due to the coronavirus crisis

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She said: “We’re all pretty terrified and don’t feel comfortable stuck in countries thousands of miles away from home. Whilst we’re lucky we’re in first world countries, there’s no support for us here and the priorities are on the citizens of their own countries. We feel completely abandoned by the UK government and feel let down.

“We’re angry that nobody knows the answer but we sympathise that this situation is in nobodies control.

“We’ve paid our taxes in the UK, we’ve paid council tax, we’ve always worked since we were legally allowed to and we’ve all been to university so we’re reasonably well informed and understand that upon our return we’ll voluntarily self isolate for the safety of others and ourselves.

Ben, Amira's brother, is stuck in Australia

“We just want to be home with our families and the security of having a home.”

Amira began travelling with her boyfriend Alec, 24, in December, having previously visited Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Sri Lanka before heading to New Zealand (NZ) where they both secured jobs in hospitality.

She says the pair only became aware of the severity of the coronavirus crisis a week after entering the country after speaking to family and friends back home.

“We did start looking for flights home immediately but in other countries Covid-19 had already affected them to the point transits were not allowed,” she said. “We decided it was perhaps best to stick it out in NZ because they didn’t really have any warnings or issues about coronavirus.

“It only became a proper issue on March 17 as the venue we worked in was completely empty of customers and the venue had to shut four hours early. That night we looked for flights and booked one to come home on March 22.

“This was then unable to happen because Singapore wouldn’t allow us to travel through without conducting a 14-day quarantine in their country which is obviously not feasible.

“When this was cancelled they said the refund would take around 10 to 15 days leaving me short of £1,500.”

Eventually, Amira and Alec were able to book alternate flights home via Hong Kong, but a few days before their scheduled departure, NZ went into lockdown and that is when the pair lost their jobs.

Amira said: “NZ seemed to be on the ball with dealing with the pandemic, there are only 101 cases here but they went into complete lockdown pretty quick. Whilst this is good for them it gave no forewarning for us.

“When NZ went into lockdown we checked our flights and Hong Kong had banned all transit meaning we can’t get back to the UK. We had already paid for flights so we requested the refund to be told that it won’t be available in our bank for six to eight weeks which is just ridiculous and leaves us down by another £1,200.

“We have rung multiple airlines, the embassy and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to find out that there is nothing that can be done and that we have to ‘wait it out’.”

Frustrated, the pair are also unable to receive support from the NZ government as they are British nationals leaving them fearful they may soon be homeless and unable to afford their rent.

They have also been told they will not receive any financial support from the UK government as any universal credit or jobseekers meetings have to be conducted in the UK.

Amira added: “They actually suggested we ask family and friends for financial support, as if we hadn’t already, but in our case our families aren’t particularly wealthy.

“We’re currently renting a room in a house of seven people. We pay $280 a week – £140 – and this is expected to continue with no consideration that we actually can not afford to pay rent. We have food, we’re safe and we’re fine for about two or three weeks before we end up in real trouble financially.

“Ben is pretty much the same. He had flights booked which also cancelled due to the countries we fly through not allowing transit. Any flights that say they’re available, which when looked into aren’t due to their route, are about £3,000-12,500.

“He also has no support from government. In both our cases the embassy have been useless but I suppose they only know as much as we do.”