Stranded abroad: 600 South Africans brought home, more than 3 000 still waiting - Pandor

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The government has brought home more than 600 South Africans stranded abroad, while 3 639 citizens across the globe have indicated that they would like to return, says International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor.

Those who have returned had been quarantined in line with regulations, Pandor said in an update on Thursday.

She added that the government had entered into an agreement with South African Airways (SAA) to use return legs to bring SA citizens around the world back home.

So far, SAA has repatriated South Africans from Germany, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Nepal, Portugal, Belgium, the UK and Ghana.

Private chartered flights by individual companies have brought back South Africans from Afghanistan, Namibia and the Maldives.

Some still waiting

Many more are still stranded overseas, while the government tries to find solutions to bring them back home.

"We are aware of the 34 South Africans stranded in Lima. Through our ambassador in Peru, we are in regular contact with the group and all efforts are being made to try to get them back home," Pandor said.

She said 307 more citizens were stranded in Thailand and 140 in Bali, Indonesia.

In Pakistan, plans to repatriate citizens were also in the works, with the Pakistani government still to grant approval for a flight to land and passengers to board.

In Zimbabwe and Namibia, South Africa conducted emergency medical evacuations and assisted a family with the repatriation of the remains of their loved one in Turkey, Pandor said.

"Two-hundred South Africans have crossed into our borders by land and have been quarantined, while 400 nationals are still due to cross into the country in coming days when their citizenship has been verified and other processes followed," Pandor said.

Repatriations only for those in distress

"I wish to, once more, assure all South African that every effort is being made to repatriate as many South Africans utilising the flights repatriating foreign nationals, and other means that might be available as we discuss with other nations."

She appealed to all South Africans who were not necessarily in distress, but wanted to come back, to remain where they are.

"These lockdowns are meant to minimise the movement of the people, to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic."

Pandor said the government had not budgeted for these missions, and repatriation efforts were mainly focusing on those who had bought a return ticket to South Africa, students who had asked to vacate their residences, the elderly and the sick.

Help overseas

Speaking on Talk Radio 702, Pandor said they had also assisted a group of 139 elderly South Africans, who were part of cruise in Italy, with chronic medication.

It was not immediately clear, however, whether the Italian government had given the go-ahead for the group to return early next week, she said.

Pandor said some countries were not able to repatriate citizens and that South Africa would need to look at how they could be assisted.

"We are fortunate that we've been able to use SAA, that foreign countries have hired SAA and allowed us, without much cost, to bring back our citizens on the return flights."

Pandor said South African ambassadors, as well as her team, were working around the clock to ensure those in need were repatriated.

"We are dealing with a situation none of us ever expected to be confronted with. In that context we must just strive to do the best we can."

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