Page last updated at 19:33 GMT, Saturday, 17 May 2008 20:33 UK

China blocks entry to UK rescuers

Building destroyed in China earthquake
The earthquake struck on Monday afternoon

A UK search and rescue team who flew to China after the earthquake have been denied visas and forced to return home without being able to help.

The International Rescue Corps team arrived in Hong Kong with specialist search equipment on Wednesday.

But for reasons that remain unclear, the 10-strong UK team and a Canadian group were blocked from entering China.

China has sent 50,000 troops to Sichuan province to search for survivors of the earthquake, which has killed 28,000.

'Every possible route'

International Rescue Corps (IRC) team member Derek Jolly, 38, told the BBC News website that the team had initially been promised visas, "but when we arrived, suddenly the game had changed".

He said the team, which is voluntary and funded by donations, had "gone down every possible diplomatic and political route" with no success.

"What was disappointing for us was the Chinese government sent out a kit list with their initial request for help, saying this is what we need," said Mr Jolly.

There's a window to pull people out alive, and really we're coming to the end of that anyway
Derek Jolly, IRC

"We then sent them a message through the consulate saying we have pretty much everything on the list."

The team brought with them specialist equipment including carbon dioxide probes and sonic equipment for listening to people in voids in buildings.

Mr Jolly said he could not be certain of the reason why the team was denied entry, but suggested a possible reason was a lack of infrastructure at the earthquake zone for foreign rescue teams.

Tough decision

He said: "It sounds like they couldn't guarantee the infrastructure would be in place locally for rescue teams to be allowed in en masse, so they made the decision to cope on their own."

Mr Jolly said British Airways had donated the team's flights, but other than that the mission had been funded by the charity, which relies on donations.

He said one Chinese man handed him $350 on the plane to Hong Kong, and that the level of welcome by local people had made the group's inability to help even more upsetting.

"They were so pleased to see a western team had come to help and now we feel we've kind of let them down."

He added: "We offer help to anyone who wants it and because of the UN agreement we're signed up for, if they don't want it, we have to respect that."

Orphan requests

But Mr Jolly said that although the decision to leave had been made reluctantly, realistically there was now very little chance of rescue teams finding anyone alive.

"To be fair, at this stage we would be making the decision whether to move out today or tomorrow," he said.

"There's a window to pull people out alive, and really we're coming to the end of that anyway."

Meanwhile, the British charity Save the Children said China had been inundated with offers from people overseas, who want to adopt children left orphaned by the disaster.

But it warned that much more time is needed to re-unite survivors who may be living far from their families.

The charity said many people in China leave their child with grandparents, while they seek work in other parts of the country.




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