UEA nursing students escape from African riots

Three University of East Anglia student nurses arrived back in Norwich this lunchtime for an emotional reunion with their families after a narrow escape from strife-torn Malawi.

The trio – Pippa Jones, Adrian Quinn and Ciaran Scott – braved a 45-minute drive to the airport in the capital, Lilongwe, along a route where two people had been killed during violent anti-government protests which claimed an estimated 18 lives this week.

Miss Jones' father, Leigh, said the three would still be stuck in a Lilongwean hotel if it had not been for the kindness of four South African diplomats also staying there who helped them flee.

Despite Foreign Office advice telling British citizens to stay put, the diplomats got permission for the UEA trio to travel with them in their official car and they successfully made the risky journey in the early hours of yesterday.

The students, who are due to complete their nursing degrees next week, were at the end of a three-week trip to the poverty-stricken African republic where they spent a fortnight working in a hospital in Ekwendeni.


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But political unrest turned deadly earlier this week after president Bingu wa Mutharika vowed to use 'any measure I can think of' and deployed the army to curb demonstrations against his government.

Miss Jones, 21, from North Walsham, Mr Scott from Drayton, and Mr Quinn, from Bawburgh, landed at Heathrow early this morning and then travelled by train to Norwich, arriving just after midday.

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'Tomorrow can't come quickly enough. We want her home. It's been absolutely horrendous – very traumatic and stressful, ever since it started kicking off,' said Mr Jones, 48, talking from his home in Bradfield Road, North Walsham, yesterday.

'At about 6pm on Thursday we got a call from Pippa who had been told by locals that the whole of Lilongwe was a no-go area. People were getting shot and two had been killed on the way to the airport' .

Miss Jones had also said they had seen Mutharika leaving his presidential home, surrounded by armed guards.

Mr Jones said he, his wife Sue, 47, and their younger daughter Georgina, 18, had endured a sleepless night of worry, especially after Pippa texted to tell them about the South Africans' offer.

The family kept in constant touch with the UEA and for several hours Mr Jones said they had tried to discover more about the four diplomats. He was highly critical of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) which he claimed would not help him find out whether they were bona fide and told him it was up to his daughter to make that judgment.

'I thought 'four guys, Armani suits, sunglasses – they could be kidnappers. This could get even worse,'' he said.

Now he plans to write to each of the men expressing the family's profound thanks for their help and a 'stinking' letter to the FCO.

Despite his sleepless night, Mr Jones went to cover his 7am shift as normal yesterday at Cromer's Royal British Legion Halsey House care home, where he is a chef. Staff and residents had been concerned about his daughter whom they knew from her time there working as a carer, he said.

Before this week's drama, Mr Jones said his daughter had told him that the Malawi trip had been an 'amazing and life-changing' experience. Her work had included helping to deliver babies at the hospital. She is due to take up a nursing post in a burns unit at a Chelmsford hospital in September.

Miss Jones has followed her mother's career path as Mrs Jones is also a nurse and is based at St Michael's Hospital, in Aylsham.

A UEA spokesman said the third-year students, from the university's School of Nursing and Midwifery, were in Malawi as part of an elective placement programme which had been running for several years. The UEA had contacted them on Tuesday and advised them on how to stay safe.

A spokesman for the FCO said they did not comment on individual cases and she could not answer specific questions about Mr Jones' complaint. She added: 'The purpose of FCO Travel Advice is to provide information and views to help British nationals form their own judgments about travelling to, or operating in, a particular country. We advise all British nationals to check the travel advice before they travel.'

alex.hurrell@archant.co.uk

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