Scores of travellers board last repatriation flight from SA to Europe
For the past month ambassadors and high commissioners have had just one thing on their minds: how to assist their nationals get home when the world’s borders are closed and commercial flights suspended.
Sunday marked a milestone in the quest by European Union ambassadors to repatriate holidaymakers and others who needed to return to the EU’s 27 member countries, with the last charter flight on KLM leaving OR Tambo for Schiphol, Amsterdam.
Speaking at the Netherlands Embassy in Pretoria, the meeting point for around 280 travellers, Netherlands Ambassador to SA, Han Peter, said this was the last of six flights arranged from Cape Town and Johannesburg for Dutch and other European nationals.
The complex coordination task - which he said had occupied ambassadors for the past month - was led by EU Ambassador Dr Riina Kionka, working closely with ambassadors from various EU countries in South Africa.
Joining ambassadors Peter and Kionka at the send-off were Belgian Ambassador Didier Vanderhasselt, French Ambassador Aurélien Lechevallier, and Swedish Ambassador Cecilia Julin, and officials from all EU states whose citizens were among the group.
Peter said most of those booked on the last flight out had been visiting South Africa on holiday when the lockdown was announced, and some had made the journey to Pretoria from other regions. They were processed at the embassy and boarded onto 12 buses for the airport.
Negotiations for repatriation involved tracing citizens, securing flights and attaining various permissions from the Department of International Relations, Dirco.
Peter said an additional challenge for today’s flight had been getting 80 travellers to the meeting point from Namibia and Botswana, and permits for those travelling from other provinces such as KwaZulu-Natal.
With the last group safely en route home, a total of 1600 Dutch citizens and 700 other European citizens have been repatriated since the first flight on April 8. This excludes a number of flights which were arranged by the German Embassy.
Many other countries have been involved in repatriation, with 10 charter flights to the UK alone.
Meanwhile, the repatriation of up to 4000 South Africans continues. This week a flight returned from Saudi Arabia and today, an SAA charter flight is due from Perth with another from Melbourne on Tuesday bringing back South Africans who have been stuck in Australia since lockdown began on March 27.