Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Naledi Pandor said on Thursday that it is the government’s duty to ensure that South Africans who are stuck overseas are brought back home.
The minister was speaking at a briefing the department of international relations and co-operation (Dirco) held on social media about the repatriations of South Africans who are stranded abroad.
“As the department, in terms of international law, Dirco has the responsibility to provide assistance to South Africans [who] are in distress outside our borders. We have not neglected the individuals [who] have approached us, and said, ‘Please help’,” said the minister.
Although it is working on bringing citizens back, Pandor acknowledged that when the government was making plans to lock down the country it did not anticipate that there would be a need to provide assistance to South Africans who are overseas.
She said, so far, the department has recorded more than 3 600 people wanting to come back home.
Pandor said the government has repatriated 600 citizens from other countries in Africa. Internationally, she mentioned that recently 60 people were brought back from Brazil and more than 300 South Africans who had been stuck in Miami landed yesterday.
But the minister said some negotiations with other countries are proving difficult. She said the department has not yet “cracked” Thailand, and is still waiting for Pakistan to give it permission to repatriate 84 South Africans.
“All countries are in lockdown — it’s not a matter of saying ‘I want to come back’, and it happens tomorrow — we have to negotiate,” said the minister, adding that the department has to ensure that people who return know that they will be subjected to a 14-day quarantine.
For some people stuck overseas, getting home is even more tricky, as they are far from big flight hubs.
Stuck in Peru
A group of six hikers in Peru are stuck after they couldn’t get to São Paulo, in Brazil, where a flight that had taken Brazilians from South Africa was returning with South Africans from South America.
On March 15, Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra, declared a national emergency, and instituted a 15-day quarantine and other travel restrictions. This lockdown has since been extended to April 26.
After their own attempts to leave the country did not work when the lockdown was initially announced, the group approached the department of international relations and co-operation for assistance. They were given the option to fly out of São Paulo, but they could not make the flight.
The department then said travellers should head to Lima, in Peru, where the department will try to make a plan to get them to South Africa. One of the hikers, Razine Patel, said the embassy assured them that they were looking for sponsors for their movement out of Lima.
“The embassy kept saying that they were negotiating to get a chartered flight from Cusco to Lima and Lima to São Paulo”, she said. “The embassy warned us that these flights were going to be expensive but there was never a plane or an amount or a list to put your name on. The plan to get us the flights never materialised.”
Last month, the Mail & Guardian spoke to Tshepi Marishane and Nunu Ngoasheng, who were also stuck in Cusco. They are now back home because they arranged their own chartered flight from Cusco to São Paulo, with the department helping with travel permits.
Marishane said they were then able to catch the SAA flight returning home.
Dirco spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele told the M&G the department is aware of the group in Peru, but could not answer why they were left behind.