Friday, July 10, 2020

Batswana stranded around the world amid Covid-19

Scores of Batswana are currently stranded in countries around the world due to travel restrictions and the scarcity of commercial flights as a result of Covid-19.While many countries evacuated citizens from abroad through charter flights after the coronavirus outbreak, hundreds of Batswana have been been left behind and are now worrying about running out of money and food.The outbreak of the COVID-19 caught many Botswana citizens outside the region on study exchange programmes, tourist and business trips, it has emerged. While other governments chartered flights for their citizens stranded abroad, the Botswana Government is understood to be reluctant to charter flights.

Countries banned international flights in an attempt to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The suspension of air travel by the governments has left Botswana nationals abroad attempting to return home with limited options.  Batswana citizens abroad have claimed that apart from restrictions on movement by some countries which have made returning to Botswana challenging, failing to charter flights by the government to Africa has made it impossible.Botswana High Commission in London has since informed Batswana abroad seeking to return to Botswana that National Airline of Namibia was schedule to ferry citizens of that country to the neighbouring country.“29 seats are being offered to the citizens of Botswana. In this regard, Batswana wishing to take advantage of this flight are advised as follows to directly contact National Airline of Namibia at own cost,” Botswana’s High Commission in London stated.

While the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has asked Batswana in the United States of America and Britain among other countries to register to be repatriated, there are no flights to connect to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. It is understood that Namibia faced the same predicament but ended up taking a decision to send the National Airline of Namibia to ferry its citizens.The National Airline of Namibia will be repatriating Namibia citizens from London and Frankfurt on 2nd June. The flight will depart from London for Windhoek at 2250.It is understood that hundreds of Batswana are now facing quarantine or the risk of being isolated in foreign landsResponding to Sunday Standard queries, Director in the Ministry of International Affairs and Cooperation Mavis Matenge said more than 100 Batswana across the world, have expressed interest in being repatriated due to the COVID-19 global situation.“As you may be aware, the issue of facilitating repatriation or evacuation, is a key component of the Consular services that the Ministry provides to Batswana in foreign countries.

In this regard, the facilitation of the safe return of Batswana from various countries is conducted where possible. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, over 200 Batswana have been assisted to safely return home,” she said.She said the facilitation of repatriating Batswana is not limited to specific countries or regions.“As indicated, it is done where possible. So far, Batswana from different parts of the world who have requested for this support, are accordingly being assisted. Arrangements are already underway to facilitate the safe return of Batswana on 3rd June 2020; coming from over 10 countries which among others include: Australia, Canada, China, Ireland, Kuwait, Sweden, and the United States of America,” she said. ‘Matenge said ssupport has already been extended to Batswana in neighbouring countries, including those in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

“To date, through our diplomatic Missions in South Africa, over 400 citizens and permanent residents of Botswana have been assisted to safely return home. From Zimbabwe, 4 Batswana and 1 permanent resident, have also been assisted,” she said.According to Matenge, there were about 20 Batswana overseas who were initially unable to travel, as a result of COVID-19 lockdown measures and travel restrictions.“However, due to the easing of restrictions, these individuals will now be part of the group of Batswana being assisted to safely return home on 3rd June 2020,” she said.

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Sunday Standard July 5 – 11

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of July 5 - 11, 2020.