Cape Town – Thousands of South Africans stranded abroad are bracing themselves for a long wait as efforts to bring them home are delayed.
As many as 2 313 citizens are stuck overseas at airports, in hotels or school residential areas, who were unable to leave before flights from high-risk Covid-19 countries were denied entry. Among them are more than 700 students.
The Department of International Relations and Co-operation said 16 South Africans have been repatriated from the Dubai International Airport and the Hamad Airport in Doha.
Department spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele said it had hoped another 16 would arrive from Germany over the weekend after a group of Germans were repatriated on Friday.
“However, we emphasise that we are prioritising those struck at airports, students who find themselves kicked out of residences and the elderly, those who can stay put with the assistance of consular services, they must stay so that the purpose of travel restrictions can be adhered to,” said Ngqengelele.
Meanwhile, Allan Huysamen from Cape Town and Allister Nunn from Joburg are still waiting to be rescued from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia.
“We have been here for over a week. I was in Indonesia on my way home and my original flight was with Singapore, but it was cancelled.
“I quickly booked a new ticket with Qatar and got stuck here,” said Huysamen.
“It’s been quite rough. The Malaysian officials gathered us into a gate with others stuck in transit, and that’s where we slept for a couple of nights.
“We’ve also spent a couple of nights at the transit hotel but they charge per hour, which is extremely exorbitant.
“We sleep at the gateway where we constructed beds out of the benches, and we found a staff canteen which makes relatively well-priced food, and there’s free water available around the airport. While we are okay, it is not good for the long run.”
Amid the scramble to repatriate the stranded, a Cape Town mother said she had been battling to bring her two sons into the city from Zimbabwe.
A refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cecile Cisuaka said she was separated from her children for three weeks after their father absconded with them without her permission.
“I got a call from border police in Zimbabwe three weeks ago informing me that he was travelling with the kids without documentation and they had arrested him,” she said.
“My children are now with social workers that side and I cannot get to them because of the lockdown. The first delay to get to them was the issue of getting documentation that would allow me to leave and return to the country (that gave me) my refugee status.
“I’m devastated without my children. There is no place I haven’t been to try and get help.”
The Department of Social Development’s Joshua Chigome said it still awaits feedback from the International Social Services on the matter.
“Currently, both countries are in lockdown, social support services have been made available to the biological mother during this difficult period. We have requested that ISS in Zimbabwe trace the children and conduct a welfare check.”
South Africans stuck abroad have used social media to organise groups and communicate on how to get home.
A group in Bali have formed a WhatsApp group.
Thobile Maseko is one of up to 200 citizens in Thailand who have reached out to government for assistance.
Desire Harmse, 69, and her husband Ben, 70, from Langebaan, are part of a group of roughly 40 in isolation in a hotel in Rome after disembarking the cruise liner Costa Luminosa, which had passengers who tested positive for Covid-19.
The ship set sail on February 24 from Fort Lauderdale, US, and docked at the port of Savona in Italy last month.
“We’re just hoping for the best. I got my things packed so when they do let us know, we are ready. There seems to be a little bit of a light at the end of this tunnel. So hopefully in a day or two’s time, we’re just praying, we’ll be able to get out of here,” said Desire.
Additonal reporting by Reeshni Chaslyn Chetty