British red tape forces Scottish rescue team home from Japan

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by G.A.Ponsonby

A Scottish rescue team has been prevented from helping the rescue mission in Japan after the UK embassy in Tokyo refused to sanction their trip.

Grangemouth’s International Rescue Corps had travelled to the disaster hit country after Friday’s earthquake and tsunami devastated whole towns and villages leaving thousands dead and many more missing.

The team were forced to return after the UK embassy refused to give permission for them to work in Japan because it would have made the embassy legally responsible for them.

Grangemouth Councillor and SNP candidate for Falkirk East, Angus MacDonald, branded the decision outrageous and lambasted the refusal of the British Embassy in Tokyo to provide the relevant paperwork.

Mr MacDonald said: “This action by the British Embassy in Tokyo is not only outrageous, it is absolutely beyond belief. Here we have an experienced international rescue team refused entry, not by the Japanese but by the British, to a country torn apart by a natural disaster.

“This is the 32nd world disaster IRC have attended, yet their vast experience is not going to be utilised thanks to the stupidity of red tape at the British Embassy in Tokyo. The Foreign Office must first apologise forthwith, refund IRC their costs, and fly the team back out at the British Government’s own expense”

A spokesman for the team said it was “gut-wrenching” to be stopped from helping by “your own country”.

The Foreign Office said it helped them as much as they could.

A spokesman said it was a matter for the Japanese government as it is responsible for the rescue and humanitarian operations in the country.

It is reported that the team has had excellent help from the Japanese embassy in London and the authorities in Tokyo but it broke down when they couldn’t get the relevant paperwork from the British embassy in Tokyo.

An English based UK rescue team, the UK International Search and Rescue (ISAR), arrived in Japan yesterday at 11:00 GMT and were allowed to stay. Team leader Peter Crook said: “We’re already fighting against the clock and the logistical challenges. The quicker the team can get on the ground, the better, and they are working very hard to make that happen now.”

Japan is still reeling from the aftermath of Friday’s quake and rescue teams are now searching through debris in the hope of finding survivors.  In the port of Minamisanriku, 10,000 people are missing feared dead, and efforts to find survivors are being hampered by aftershocks and damaged roads.