Britain denies red tape blocked rescuers' Japan mission

16th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

British rescuers hoping to help with the disaster effort in Japan said Wednesday they had been forced to return home after the British embassy in Tokyo denied them the necessary paperwork.

But a British Foreign Office minister said the team had left Japan because it did not have the "necessary transport and translation support in place" when it arrived.

He said the final decision on whether the 12-strong team of volunteers, from the Scotland-based charity the International Rescue Corps (IRC), could help with the rescue had been taken by the Japanese government.

One of the group's rescuers, Willie McMartin, said the team had been granted permission by the Japanese embassy in London to travel to the quake- and tsunami-hit region.

But when they arrived, the British embassy refused to give them the authorisation letter needed to obtain a permit to travel to the disaster area, he said.

"The UK embassy in Tokyo refused to issue that letter, in spite of having talked to the Japanese embassy in London, because they said they would then become responsible for the team," he told the BBC.

He added: "We were not asking them to take responsibility. We simply needed a sheet of paper to say that we were a genuine, bona fide, UK-based organisation."

McMartin said he was "disgusted" by the attitude of the embassy, and said he felt "sheer disbelief" at the situation.

Foreign Office minister Jeremy Browne said the British government had the "greatest respect" for the work the charity did in disasters around the world.

The "misunderstanding" about their attempt to help in Japan was "therefore most unfortunate," he said.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Office advised British nationals in Tokyo and to the north of the capital to consider leaving the area.

© 2011 AFP

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