Even though Northern Ireland businessman James Hagan, partner Anne Heeks and Isle of Man pilot Julian Storey landed at Lanseria after completing health tests required for their landing permit, they were deemed “high risk” by Home Affairs.
Hired to free the trio so that they could fly back to the UK on a commercial flight out of OR Tambo, lawyer William Booth described the situation as “farcical”.
The private plane could not fly out of Lanseria either as all countries within its range had closed their borders, said Booth.
“The couple were celebrating Anne’s 60th birthday with a trip to Africa. They arrived in Africa well before the corona crisis and flew to Lanseria with all the required paperwork from Zimbabwe. Yet, Home Affairs deemed them high risk according to new visa restrictions because they are from the UK – even though they haven’t been there since January.”
While Booth fought red tape for the visas, the couple slept on the tarmac in a van supplied by one of the handling agents and were allowed into an airport building to use the toilet.
Hagan, the owner of Hagan Homes, the largest home builders in Northern Ireland, told an Irish newspaper that their frustration was compounded because Anne, a retired specialist respiratory nurse, wanted to return to the UK to assist in the health crisis. Their “once-in-a-lifetime” birthday trip had now turned in to a “living nightmare”, he said.
“This should have been resolved with one phone call to the director- general, who could have arranged for my clients to be escorted to their UK flight,” said Booth.
“Instead, I spent two days cutting through ridiculous red tape before Home Affairs saw reason and freed my clients, who are in their sixties.
“They were caused severe inconvenience and a great deal of trauma. This is not the way the government should deal with tourists.”
Home Affairs director-general Jackie Mckay did not respond to calls or a text message asking for comment.